The Browns Should Not Draft a QB in the Top-5… They Should Draft Two.
Five or ten years ago, teams gamed the system by hoarding draft picks. The Browns can be the first team to do something truly revolutionary; maximizing the value of their draft capital by hoarding franchise QBs.
Urgent update: I was totally wrong! This has been done before! And the results of the previous effort are incredibly illuminating! Full explanation at the bottom, under my original article.
This Is What the Browns Have Been Building Towards
The Browns passed on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the last two NFL Drafts, gathering massive amounts of draft capital in the process. That draft pick hoarding, those QBs they let slip away… it’s all led to this moment. The perfect storm. Two top-4 picks, including the #1 overall, in a draft class that is loaded at the top with QB talent.
Since the rookie scale was changed, there hasn’t been a single instance of one team owning two picks in the top-10 of a draft.
Cleveland has two picks in the top-4.
In most years, there are usually between 1 and 3 QBs viewed as worthy of an early first round pick. Franchise-changers. But this year, there are 5. Whether or not these prospects ultimately succeed in the NFL, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson are all currently viewed as a potential franchise QB worth spending an early first rounder on.
For the Browns, it is the perfect storm of draft ammunition and worthy targets.
The Browns have proven themselves less-than-capable at identifying QB talent, so what do you do when you need to accomplish something you aren’t especially good at? You accept your limitations—face your shortcomings head-on—and give yourself as many shots as possible.
This is why the Browns need to draft Sam Darnold at 1 and Lamar Jackson at 4.
Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson Should Be Available, and Should Welcome Competition
The biggest concern with this draft strategy would be the potentially awkward situation these QBs would be put in. If the Browns are going to take two QBs in the top-4, they cannot select just any QBs and hope it works out… they need to select the right players with the right mindsets.
They need to find players who love to compete. Not someone who demands the starting job be handed to him, but someone who will grind every hour of every day to earn that starting job. The Browns need to find their Russell Wilson. Competition would not be a blow to his ego; it would be the driving force that keeps him in the film room, on the field, in his playbook longer than everyone else on the team. This player requires the physical tools capable of transforming an offense, and the aptitude to master the game at the NFL level.
Darnold is basically neck-and-neck with Rosen to be considered the top-QB in the class. Since Rosen’s already hinted at not wanting to play for Cleveland, Darnold has to be the top pick. Since most experts have the Browns drafting Darnold 1 overall, I’ll leave the full scouting report to them… but Darnold seems to have the character to compete for a job that’s not handed to him, and he plays biggest when the game is on him.
Jackson is actually my preferred QB for the Browns, but I have him being taken after Darnold because he has a much better chance of lasting until pick 4. The growth he’s shown as a passer and as a decision maker this past season has been fantastic. His anticipation and accuracy are dramatically improved. It shows the amount of work he is willing to put in, and it shows his ability to take coaching, to implement it and improve.
For the sake of brevity, and because I love a good portmanteau, this two-QB-combo shall henceforth be known as Lamarnold.
Back to the Browns.
The Browns Have the Cap Space to Address Other Positions through Free Agency
According to Spotrac, the Browns will have the most cap space in the league in 2018 (as soon as Garoppolo signs a long-term contract with SF) so they have plenty of money to spend on free agents. While for some that may mean “Go out and get the best free agent Quarterback (Kirk Cousins) money can buy!” that would be the wrong decision.
If they are going to throw money at players, why not throw it at Le’Veon Bell, in his prime? Or follow the Jaguars model and bring in top players to fix their middling defense? There’s plenty of WR talent available in free agency, and they’ve already been linked to Jarvis Landry, who would be a great pickup. Or how about they trade for a great player from a cap-starved team and take the contract off their books? They can afford it all. But they still need to spend wisely.
A QB Costs More in Free Agency Than in the Draft
The value of a draft pick and the value of a free agent buck are wildly different, and the Browns should spend each in a way that maximizes the value of the particular asset.
In free agency, Kirk Cousins will cost much more cash than Le’Veon Bell, despite Cousins just being a “good” QB while Bell is an elite RB. This is obviously because RB carries less positional importance than QB. In the world of free agency, positional values align perfectly with the amount they cost, because it is basically a free market and what is in higher demand will cost more.
But the draft is totally different. Every player at every position is worth the same amount of draft capital: whatever draft pick you have.
If the Browns wanted to choose between Cousins and Bell in free agency, they would have to pay probably three or four times as much to bring the QB in. But if the Browns had the opportunity to choose between Lamar and Saquon Barkley at pick 4 in the draft, they would cost the exact same amount: pick 4.
There is no good reason for a team to pay 4x as much in free agency to bring in a good QB over an amazing RB, when they could add the more valuable prospect in the draft for the same amount of draft capital it would cost for a player with less positional importance.
Abundance of Draft Capital Means There is Little Opportunity Cost
The obvious reason a team would typically not want to consider spending two early picks on a position where only one starter takes the field every week is opportunity cost; who is this team passing up in order to draft a backup?
This should not be a concern for the Browns.
One reason for this is because the Browns have spent the last three years amassing as much draft capital as possible. Even after picks 1 and 4, they still have picks 33, 35, 63, and 65.
Sure, they would have to pass on Barkley or Fitzpatrick… but how much difference would a player like that actually make? Myles Garrett is a generational pass rushing talent, and it was a no-brainer for the Browns to draft him #1 overall. And what did he get them? A zero-win season. The Browns don’t have any positions of need any more, except QB. Even if Joe Thomas retires, or if they want to fix their pass defense, or get more explosive at RB, it doesn’t matter. Only one hole matters (yes, that’s what she said) and it is at QB.
The real opportunity cost would actually come from spending big on a QB in free agency instead of taking advantage of the ability to draft two QBs, and have a 5th year option on both rookie contracts.
The Seahawks built their Super Bowl team while Russell Wilson was on his rookie contract, because they could spend big on free agent additions to create and maintain a dominant defense. Now that Wilson is on the mega-contract he deserves (the kind that would be required to bring in Cousins) the Seahawks have far less ability to add and keep talent on the rest of their roster.
Passing on the opportunity to add multiple elite free agents to support a QB on his rookie contract would be a far greater loss than passing on the opportunity to draft Saquon or Minkah at pick 4.
The Strength of this Draft Class Favors QBs Early, RBs and CBs Later
The most popular players mocked to the Browns at pick 4 are Saquon Barkley and Minkah Fitzpatrick. While Barkley is an amazingly talented RB, there is very little correlation between heaving an elite RB and actually succeeding in the NFL. In addition, RBs have short careers and are pretty easily replaceable. The 2018 NFL Draft also boasts amazing talent at the RB position. Passing on Barkley at 4 is a lot easier when they can grab Guice or RJ2 or Kerryon Johnson in the second round. Le’Veon Bell and Carlos Hyde could also be options in free agency.
There is more of a gap between Fitzpatrick and the second round DBs, but the depth at CB is still decent this year, with players like Joshua Jackson, Isaiah Oliver, and Jaire Alexander possibly slipping to the 2nd round. There are also be some good CBs (Johnson, Butler, Gaines) available in free agency and available for a trade.
But teams don’t let QBs reach free agency unless their play deteriorates or their contract becomes unreasonable. Why add a struggling QB or an unreasonable contract? Because you have the cap space? No! Bring in multiple players in free agency—great players—at less valuable positions, and pay up for them. Add the more valuable assets in the draft, where all positions cost the same amount.
Top Draft Picks Don’t Just Lose Their Value After the Selection is Made
A franchise QB is by far the most valuable commodity in the NFL. Much greater than draft picks. And if the Browns do draft a QB at pick 4, they are not just drafting a backup; they are also drafting a shiny new trade chip for the future.
Everybody acknowledges what kind of a haul a top-5 draft pick can bring in, but nobody ever talks about what kind of return a top-5 drafted QB might fetch, because no team has ever tried this before.
Backup QBs fetch great draft capital. Look at the Bradford trade, the Garoppolo trade. The aborted McCarron trade. And none of those guys could fetch anywhere near the kind of value of Lamarnold. The Browns could reasonably expect to recoup at least a first round pick, and most likely more, for whichever QB loses the competition.
- The Browns suck at evaluating talent.
- Because they suck, they need to give themselves as many chances as possible to hit on a QB prospect.
- They are in a truly unique position to maximize the value of their amassed draft capital.
- Maximizing value means taking advantage of the fact that franchise QBs are inherently more valuable than draft picks.
- Because of the unusually high level of top-end QB talent, this is the perfect year to implement this draft strategy.
- By not spending their cap space on a bulky free agent QB contract, the Browns can instead focus on spending that cap space on surrounding their rookie QBs with a talented supporting cast of veterans.
- Once a draft pick is spent on a QB, its value doesn’t just disappear—it is converted from one asset (draft pick) into another, more valuable asset (franchise QB) to be used as a future trade chip.
I understand that this is a big risk, that it bucks conventional wisdom in a way that might make the Browns the laughing stock of the league. But they are already the laughing stock of the league. What do they have to lose? More games? That’s not possible. They lost all the games.
This is why the Browns must draft Lamarnold with picks 1 and 4 in the 2018 NFL Draft.
I was totally wrong… this has been done before! Essentially.
I never thought I would say this, but Thank you, Mit_Romney! You are the wise reddit user who brought this to my attention, and for that, I am forever in your debt.
In the 1989 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected Troy Aikman #1 overall. Then in the Supplemental Draft, they selected QB Steve Walsh with their first round pick, meaning they had to forfeit next year’s first rounder for the rights to Walsh. That pick ended up being #1 overall. They could have used that pick on the consensus best RB prospect, Blair Thomas. Instead they settled for taking a different RB later in the draft, named Emmitt Smith.
And whatever happened to Walsh, you might ask? The guy who lost the QB competition?
In September of 1990 he was traded to the New Orleans Saints, who were desperate for a QB solution, in exchange for a 1991 first round pick, a 1991 third round pick, and a 1992 second round pick. A bounty.
The Cowboys saw an opportunity to maximize the value of their draft assets, and in Jimmy Johnson’s first move with the Cowboys, he shocked the world by grabbing two QBs with early first-round draft capital. Launching a dynasty. Because he wasn’t afraid of not filling small roster holes in one draft. He made sure he filled the big one, and set himself up with a highly valuable asset for the future. Because he wasn’t afraid of hurting Aikman’s or Walsh’s confidence by drafting competition. He said, “Let the best man win” and got a Hall of Fame QB out of it. Because even Jimmy Johnson was humble enough to know that just because he thought Aikman could be the future of the franchise… he might be wrong, and taking as many shots as possible would give him a better shot at success.
This didn’t even happen in the era of the 5-year rookie contract, and the Cowboys hadn’t yet acquired anything close to what the Browns currently have in draft capital to be able to support such a bold move.
On Monday, the Browns will be on the clock with the first pick in the draft.
Don’t draft scared.
photo: Bobby Ellis, Getty Images / San Clemente Times