For a moment last week, an NFC personnel man was presented with a watercooler debate. He was warned in advance: The question wasn’t meant to suggest the scenario would ever play out in an NFL draft room. Just for entertainment purposes, he was asked to present an argument – any argument – for why the Cleveland Browns should take quarterbacks with the first and fourth overall picks in this week’s NFL draft.
“It’s not even worth debating,” the executive said with an eyeroll tone. “That will never happen. It really can’t happen for a lot of reasons. That’s movie [expletive]. It’s not even worth getting into.”
That was a common refrain over the past week, when a handful of personnel evaluators were asked if there was even a slightly logical reason the Browns would take two quarterbacks with the first and fourth overall picks. While drafting USC’s Sam Darnold at No. 1 and UCLA’s Josh Rosen No. 4 overall might make a lively barstool argument, NFL evaluators will tell you the conversation is also just …well … dumb.
Even if it would (in theory) give Cleveland two top-end candidates to solve a decades-long problem, it invites too much immediate disaster. Played out in reality, it would fall apart as soon as the second quarterback came off the board at the No. 4 overall pick – at which point the agents of both players would contact the Browns to let them know someone needed to be traded immediately.
But that conversation and potential problems has a correlation to what might actually happen this week. In reality, the Browns very well may select two quarterbacks, something akin to the Washington Redskins in the 2012 draft, when then-coach Mike Shanahan plucked Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins in the first and fourth rounds. It may be yet another wrong decision, given Cleveland’s track record of finding new and more frustrating ways to screw up a quarterback decision.
With that in mind, the Redskins’ decision in 2012 is worth considering. In one way, that two-quarterback selection wasn’t ground-breaking. Since the draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1994, eight franchises have taken two quarterbacks in the same draft. But only the Redskins took their tandem in the top four rounds, creating a dynamic that didn’t exist elsewhere. While four rounds may have separated RG3 and Cousins, time would show that both were starting-caliber players.
Of course, that’s a good problem to have. Maybe even intended. And definitely the best situation Washington could have asked for when RG3 suffered a knee injury that changed his career. But there was a deeper element that speaks to quarterback investment like the one Washington made. And that is the mental toll it takes on both players.
From the years of covering the league and speaking with both Griffin and Cousins, there is no denying that Washington’s quarterbacks room was, at best, tense. And at worst, conflicted. A large part of that stemmed from the reality that Shanahan drafted two players who believed they could be starters. In a way, it removed the “support” dynamic that teams will build in the quarterbacks room, where a defined starter is flanked by a clear backup.
This is something the Browns will have to keep in mind if they spend a second draft pick on a quarterback. First, how high is too high? If the Browns take another quarterback in the second or third round – or even the fourth – that’s a player who enters the league alongside the No. 1 overall pick believing he is there to compete. That’s what happened with Cousins, who spent his time behind Griffin trying to become the best quarterback he could be first and foremost, and then being a supporting teammate to Griffin second.
That mentality may ultimately be what made Cousins into a starter. It also may have played a small part of why Griffin ultimately failed, because he returned from injury squarely in the middle of a quarterback battle. That’s part of what the Browns have to consider. When a team takes two quarterbacks in the same draft with meaningful picks, it’s essentially drafting a quarterback competition. Because both players arrive into the same franchise with the same rookie hunger, trying to carve out their place at the same position inside the same depth chart.
Over the long term, that would take a mental toll that even the Redskins couldn’t see coming. For years, Cousins felt like a second-class citizen at the quarterback spot, as if parts of the coaching staff and front office were always looking at him like he was the fourth-rounder who was just outplaying his expectations. That kind of cloud can linger into even the best years, and eventually, contract negotiations. Oddly, part of the reason Cousins got onto the wrong track with Washington was because he arguably started on the wrong track: Inside a situation where he was expected to get better but not really challenge the other quarterback who was drafted ahead of him.
For Washington, it was an unintended dynamic that eventually worked itself out through injury, and then imploded in later years, when Cousins never felt the organization was 100 percent sold on him. For Cleveland, that kind of outcome would be nothing short of a disaster.
All of which begs a question. If taking a quarterback with the first and fourth overall pick is dumb for the Browns because of the circumstances it creates, wouldn’t it be only slightly less foolish to spend a second- or third-rounder on another quarterback? Would the dynamic be that dramatically different between the players? Who is to say Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta wouldn’t look at Darnold and think, “I can compete just like he can.” And lest anyone forget, Tyrod Taylor would theoretically be sharing the same quarterbacks room, competing with the same players.
In the wider view, there’s no good reason for the Browns to take a pair of quarterbacks at the top of the draft. But it’s worth questioning whether they should take a second quarterback at all. Because while finding the right quarterback is often a game of odds, history has shown the Browns usually play that game poorly. And this may very well just be the latest bad idea.
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