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Commentary: Why can't Browns find a quarterback?

A lot has changed for the Browns in the last 17-plus years. Coaches, front offices, quarterbacks and even owners.
Yet so much remains the same. Low expectations, ugly opening losses and a franchise-crippling quarterback situation.
One week into this season, some profound questions need to be asked about the new regime, which has been in place only eight months. And I don’t think I’m overreacting.
That’s the fallout when your handpicked quarterback, Robert Griffin III, breaks a bone in his shoulder in the decisive season-opening loss to the Eagles and the rookie you passed on, Carson Wentz, beats you while looking better than most of the 25 quarterbacks who’ve started for your franchise since 1999.
The Browns have done millions of things wrong in their reincarnation. Poor evaluation and handling of quarterbacks is the No. 1 reason for the woeful lack of success. (Unnecessary painful reminder: Their most recent playoff trip was 2002 and last winning season 2007.)
Tim Couch, the first pick of the expansion era, never got the chance to fully develop. The Browns passed on Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. They wasted time on retreads Jeff Garcia (his presence kept Butch Davis from drafting Roethlisberger), Trent Dilfer and Jake Delhomme. They whiffed on Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel with No. 22 picks within eight years.
Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and the rest of the front office will follow their predecessors in failure, and firing, if they can’t find a franchise quarterback — and fast.
They’re off to a terrible start.
The Browns chose to take a flier on Griffin after a promising start and frustrating finish to his four-year Washington career. That he didn’t make it out of the opener without suffering a significant injury isn’t a surprise, and his future with the Browns is already in jeopardy.
If Griffin only misses eight games — the minimum he must sit after being placed on injured reserve — he would have the second half of the season to try to live up to his vast potential and show the Browns he deserves a second season to further prove himself.
If a re-evaluation in a few weeks shows he needs surgery and is done for the season, the Browns would be best served cutting bait. Griffin signed a two-year, $15 million deal in March but he’s only guaranteed $6.75 million. He’s due a $750,000 bonus in March if he’s still on the roster and his salary next season would be $6 million.
He had the chance to earn another $7 million in incentives over the two years, but the ones for this season are already off the table, and his likelihood of sticking around for 2017 took a big hit on the sideline Sunday.
The real disaster will be if Wentz turns into a top-10 quarterback when the Browns didn’t think he’d ever be among the league’s top 20. One game obviously isn’t enough to judge anyone, so assuming the Browns were wrong on Wentz is way premature, which coach Hue Jackson reminded reporters Monday.
“We’ll look back and see where he is over a period of time,” he said.
Chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta revealed the organization’s thinking in July with the top-20 quote to WKNR. If the Browns’ decision-makers didn’t like Wentz, then they were right not to take him.
If he turns into a star, the question then becomes whether this front office could spot an elite quarterback if he fell into its lap. Wentz is big, powerful and athletic with a strong arm. And he showed poise, fearlessness and great accuracy in his debut.
And he was there for the Browns’ taking with the No. 2 pick. No maneuvering necessary. Just stay there and grab him.
If the Browns can’t evaluate quarterbacks, where’s the hope?
All the draft picks in the world — the new regime has been good at stockpiling them, including through the deal with the Eagles for them to take Wentz — don’t matter if you don’t know a good quarterback when you see one.
The good news is it’s early for the front office. Brown had never run a draft and DePodesta had never worked in football before this year. And Jackson has had success with quarterbacks throughout his career.
But he’s not a miracle worker. He wanted Griffin and said “trust me” after taking Cody Kessler in the third round in April and the early reviews aren’t good.
If Griffin and Kessler are busts and Wentz is a stud, the Browns’ rebuilding project will be set back significantly. And even more pressure will be on Brown to use those extra picks and find the right quarterback in the next draft.
All eyes in the scouting department should be focused on Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. Because the Browns can’t afford to be wrong any longer.
ACTIVE DUTY

Defensive lineman Gabe Wright was promoted from the practice squad to take Griffin’s spot on the active roster. Wright (6-foot-2, 284 pounds) is in his second season out of Auburn. He was drafted by Detroit in the fourth round last year and appeared in seven games with six tackles.
Rookie Carl Nassib and Jamie Meder were listed as the starters at defensive end on the unofficial depth chart released Tuesday. Nassib replaced Xavier Cooper. Meder played at end with the first-team defense in the opener but had been listed behind starting nose tackle Danny Shelton on the depth chart. John Hughes had been listed as the other starting end opposite Cooper.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

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Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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