When the Cleveland Browns signed Joshua Dobbs to a one-year, $2 million contract back in the spring, it was a smart move. Good backup quarterbacks are hard to find, Dobbs fit the Browns' offense and he showed some good things in a late-season cameo with the Tennessee Titans last season. And $2 million is cheap for a viable backup QB.
Making a smart move doesn't matter if you follow it up with a terrible one.
When the Browns traded Dobbs in August, it seemed like a minor move and it made sense to them. They got a fifth-round draft pick from the Arizona Cardinals for Dobbs and a seventh-round pick. Why not get a pick upgrade, no matter how minor, for a quarterback they wouldn't use?
But this is the NFL. You never know what will happen. Deshaun Watson, who had missed three full games and most of a fourth earlier this season with a shoulder injury, will have season-ending shoulder surgery soon. The Browns, who have a 6-3 record, a favorable schedule and a good shot to win the AFC North, now have to turn back to rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (reports indicate he could be the choice), P.J. Walker or another random quarterback option the rest of the season.
If the Browns miss the playoffs — they've been just once since the 2002 season, so postseasons berths are a big deal in Cleveland — trading Dobbs will look like a massive mistake. And Cleveland didn't even get much back in return.
Browns traded Joshua Dobbs before the season
Late-round draft pick swaps are the NFL's way of trading a player and making it seem like a team got something back in return. The Browns moving up to a fifth-rounder was fine, but was it worth the trouble?
In hindsight, absolutely not. Dobbs is becoming one of the best stories in the NFL. He was competitive in a bad Cardinals situation, then got traded to the Minnesota Vikings and has been a big part of two Vikings wins to keep Minnesota in a position to get a wild-card spot.
It's amazing. Dobbs might be a big part of the Vikings overcoming a big quarterback injury to Kirk Cousins to make the playoffs. The Browns might miss the playoffs because they didn't have someone like Dobbs when Watson went down for the season.
Even worse, the Browns were quite familiar with Dobbs. He signed with the team in 2022 and was on the roster until late November, when Watson came back from suspension and they cut him. Dobbs went to the Detroit Lions practice squad, the Titans signed him when they were in a desperate spot and gave him two late-season starts, then the Browns brought Dobbs back this offseason.
They knew what he could do and still traded him without any real backup plan.
"We had a high opinion of Josh," Browns general manager Andrew Berry said back in October, the first time it looked bad the Browns had given away Dobbs to the Cardinals. "He had been here two seasons.
"I've often talked up here about the general manager's role, having a foot in the present and a foot in the future. That consideration and that transaction had elements of that."
At the time, rookie fifth-round pick Thompson-Robinson had looked good in preseason. However, he was still a fifth-round rookie and if Watson went down, the most likely outcome was that he would struggle if he had to play. Thompson-Robinson got one start on short notice with Watson out, looked bad and the Browns signed Walker off the practice squad to take over the starting job when Watson was out.
When the Browns traded Dobbs they were gambling heavily on Watson staying healthy and Thompson-Robinson being a playoff-level quarterback if Watson missed time. It was a massive loss on both ends. All to upgrade from a seventh-round pick to a fifth. It's a reminder that any NFL transaction, even a relatively minor one, can have huge implications.
What will the Browns do now?
Despite all the names being tossed around Wednesday, it's very unlikely any quarterback available in mid-November is helping the Browns.
Philip Rivers is fun to talk about, but he hasn't played since 2020, didn't look great that season and is about to turn 42 years old. Tom Brady? He has said he is done and he's 46. Matt Ryan looked absolutely awful last season, but you think he'll save the Browns' season out of the CBS broadcast booth this year? Come on. None of those options even fits the Browns' offense, which wants mobility in its quarterbacks. Even Carson Wentz was scooped up off the street by the Los Angeles Rams earlier this month.
These names are cool to talk about on social media, but pumping them up as viable options is disingenuous. Nobody out there is saving the Browns. Sorry.
It's a shame. The Browns had a good shot to win the AFC North if Watson stayed healthy. Their defense is among the best in the NFL. They have looked like one of the NFL's best teams when Watson was in the lineup.
Instead, the most likely outcome is the Browns struggle on offense the rest of the season and probably miss the playoffs in a loaded AFC. Even if they make the playoffs, it's hard to see Thompson-Robinson or Walker leading a deep playoff run. But hey, enjoy that fifth-round pick, Cleveland.