Shortly after the unexpected bombshell that the Washington Redskins had acquired veteran QB Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs, news broke that the Browns had also made an offer for Smith, setting up the narrative that they had, once again, failed to execute a key personnel deal. To be sure, the news of Smith landing in Washington dramatically alters the QB landscape, but the question Browns fans should be asking themselves is how much it impacts Cleveland’s off-season.
Smith no doubt made sense as an option for Cleveland. A veteran QB under contract that the Browns wouldn’t have to “convince” to sign with them. He would have been a plug and play option that arguably could have allowed them to use the #1 and #4 picks in the draft on other positions besides quarterback, helping to make the team better at multiple positions. Clearly the Browns thought this and, according to reports, they offered Kansas City a 2nd round pick for Smith. A narrative being shopped is that the Browns 2nd round pick and unwillingness to sign Smith to an extension is what cost them a deal, but that may be a little short-sighted of what the Chiefs eventually got from Washington. Kendall Fuller is a borderline elite slot CB in this league who is making $647K (2018) and $750K (2019) over the final two years of his rookie contract. It’s arguable that Fuller alone is a 2nd round pick value, combined with a 3rd round pick and Washington straight up out-bid Cleveland. I don’t necessarily buy any story that indicates this is a failure on the Browns part, but it may have altered the Browns off-season plans, although perhaps not how you might think.
Cleveland’s unwillingness to extend a long-term deal to the 34-year-old Smith could be a sign that, even had they acquired the veteran, they would have still attempted to pair him with a QB in the draft, likely at #1 or #4 overall. If they were going to draft a QB in that scenario anyway, then logic would say there is zero doubt they’re drafting one now. Enter Kirk Cousins. If Smith/Drafted QB was plan A, perhaps plan B is a golden ticket and key to the city for Cousins. The Browns have been linked to former Redskins QB on multiple occasions and they are considered one of a handful of teams competing for him as he prepares to hit free agency. Adding a proven quarterback to the team has appeared to be a desire by Hue Jackson who, when asked on Tuesday about last years QB situation in Cleveland said, “Do we want to be in that situation again? No, we don’t. You need to have a quarterback that knows how to win in the National Football League”. That doesn’t sound like a coach who is over the moon about entering 2018 with an unproven rookie QB at the helm. Certainly, they will be looking at all QB options, but that begs the question of whether or not Kirk Cousins is a “real” option.
Cousins will be in a position to demand potentially the most money ever paid to an NFL quarterback. Estimated annual values of anywhere from $27-30M have been floated and the Browns can afford to put a top dollar offer on the table with their cap space. But is that enough? On Tuesday, when asked about what would drive his decision, Cousins had this to say:
“Is money a part of it? Sure. Is it the only thing? No… It is about winning, and that’s what I want more than anything, so I’m going to be willing to make sacrifices or do what has to be done to make sure I’m in the best possible position to win.”
That’s a tough line for Browns fans to hear given the 1-31 record over the last two seasons. It could be a signal from the quarterback that he’s more interested in a team like the Denver Broncos or Arizona Cardinals (or even Minnesota Vikings if they don’t franchise Case Keenum) that is on the cusp of being a contender. Despite these comments, I still expect Cleveland to make a strong pitch for the veteran and I do think Cousins will hear them out. Cleveland has a lot more to offer than a team like the NY Jets or even the Buffalo Bills, and they have a lot more cap space than the Broncos and Cardinals. The fact that Jackson seems strongly intent on getting a proven commodity at QB and the fact that the Browns clearly engaged Smith and missed out, may actually change their entire approach to the off-season by setting them into a full court press for Cousins. If they land Cousins, it will completely alter their draft plan, putting a talent like Saquan Barkley on the table at #1 overall or even a trade back scenario in play. Time will tell, but the events of the past few days should tell everyone that the Browns are truly looking at ALL options at QB, and may not be 100% locked into taking one at #1 overall.
That’s my reaction to the news of the day, tell me what you think and comment below.