I wish I was surprised when I heard Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson throw offensive coordinator Todd Haley under the bus this past Sunday. I wish his deflecting after another loss, and doing so through the media, was something new.
It’s not. If you’ve followed Jackson’s time in Cleveland, you know this routine pretty well and, like me, aren’t caught off guard by his pointing the finger in defeat.
I am, however, worried about the impact it’s having within the locker room, specifically with rookie QB Baker Mayfield. Per Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network, said impact is not positive.
I see comments like this and think “oh God, here we go again.” Knowing Jackson’s track record in this department, I can’t help but fear he’s on the verge of ruining another rookie QB.
To me, how Jackson handled quarterbacks Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer during their respective rookie years was more than enough evidence against the idea of keeping him for another season. Never mind the fact he had won just one game in two years, he had yet to prove he was capable of grooming a young QB. With the Browns owning the first overall pick and undoubtedly planning to use it on another rookie signal-caller, why would you risk giving Jackson another quarterback to mismanage?
Owner Jimmy Haslam kept him despite this. Based on the above report, he’s learning why this was a bad idea.
In Mayfield, the Browns finally have a quarterback who’s inspiring hope among the fan-base. His charisma and undeniable athletic ability have reignited Cleveland supporters who’ve become far too burnt out from endlessly hoping the QB carousel will finally stop spinning.
Now, the still-inexperienced Mayfield is hearing from his head coach that Haley, the coordinator he works directly under, is bungling the offense. The young quarterback is finding himself in a situation where he’s getting mixed messages at a crucial time in his career, and is likely about to witness two coaches butt heads because one of them can’t stop blaming others for his failures.
The idea of Jackson’s constant deflections creating an environment which could hurt his quarterback’s growth should send panic throughout the Browns front office. Mayfield has shown more promise than any rookie QB Cleveland has seen in some time. That his progress could be stunted because his head coach is derailing everything as he attempts to save his own skin should keep ownership up at night.
Again, though, it sure as hell shouldn’t surprise anyone.
After all, we’re talking about a coach who continued dogging Kessler throughout the 2016 season, calling him out in press conferences for his inability to make a big play. The fact the former USC Trojan was thrust into duty far earlier than planned made no difference to Jackson, who went so far as yanking him midway through a game Cleveland was only losing by six.
As for Kizer, God only knows how he’s able to get out of bed in the morning after the unending mental gauntlet Jackson put him through last year. He was benched frequently, degraded even more often, all by a coach who kept insisting he was going to ride with his rookie through thick and thin. At one point, he claimed it was fair to wonder if Kizer – then just 21-years-old – would ever understand how to play in the NFL.
Despite all of this, Haslam saw fit to let Jackson get involved with another yet rookie QB.
Sadly, it’s going to get worse the longer he sticks around. History shows Jackson will only look harder for people to blame if the Browns keep losing. The farther the season spirals, the less he holds back. As a result, it’d hardly be surprising if suddenly Jackson was calling out Mayfield for the constant losing, and not the terrible environment he’s creating around him.
This is yet another reason why retaining Jackson was the biggest mistake the Browns could make. They selected one of the best available quarterbacks in the draft, then put him in the hands of a coach who’s shown no hesitation to derail a QB’s growth.
For Mayfield’s sake, hopefully Haslam finally has learned the error in his ways, if only because Cleveland can’t afford to have Jackson ruin another quarterback.