If the Browns were to sign Kirk Cousins, he would look like Aaron Rodgers compared to his predecessors.
While it’s an intoxicating thought, it doesn’t mean throwing $90 million guaranteed and somewhere around $30 million a year at Cousins is the right thing for the franchise. The opening statement says way more about the 28 quarterbacks who’ve started for the Browns since 1999 than it does about Cousins.
With Alex Smith off the list after the Chiefs turned down the Browns’ offer and agreed to trade him to Washington, Cousins is next among the veteran options in this pivotal offseason. Cousins deserves copious consideration, but it’s not a no-brainer the Browns should make him the top option as they look to finally solve the quarterback problem that’s been an anchor on the organization for more than a decade.
Cousins will turn 30 in August, so he’s still plenty young to be considered the future. He’s started the last three years in Washington, so he has experience. He went to the playoffs and the Pro Bowl in 2016.
He’s an accurate passer (65.5 percent for his career) and capable of explosive performances. He’s smart and an overachiever — he was a fourth-round pick in 2012 but supplanted No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III.
Cousins is a starter in this league. He can lead a team to the playoffs. But can he resurrect a franchise?
The Browns have been so bad for so long, they need someone special to direct the turnaround. That’s especially true after 0-16 in 2017 and 1-31 over the last two years.
That quarterback must have a strong personality and unwavering belief, in addition to immense talent. He needs to be a top-10 NFL quarterback.
Cousins is squarely on the bubble in the ranking.
He’s not in the upper echelon — Tom Brady, Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz. And he’s a step below the tier of Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan.
That leaves him in a battle to be No. 10 with Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Alex Smith and up-and-comers Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff and Deshaun Watson.
As the Browns sort through their many options, they must first evaluate the draft prospects. If general manager John Dorsey is confident USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen or Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield will ascend into the top 10, then passing with the No. 1 pick in favor of Cousins would be short-sighted.
Younger, cheaper and with greater potential wins the argument. Of course, there’s plenty to be said for the certainty of Cousins compared with the unknown of a rookie.
Dorsey has watched film of the candidates to be taken No. 1. He’ll spend the next two-plus months watching more and filling in the puzzle with interviews, research and workouts at the combine, pro days and private sessions. Coach Hue Jackson and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will join the evaluation process.
Mayfield and Allen have dominated the early discussion because they were at the Senior Bowl, but the attention is sure to shift to Darnold and Rosen at the combine at the end of the month.
Before getting to the breakdown of the four, it’s imperative to note the pick would be paired with a veteran expected to start in 2018. Smith would’ve been ideal but he’s no longer an option.
If the Browns don’t pursue, or land, Cousins, they should offer the Eagles a second-round pick — the one Philadelphia included in the Carson Wentz deal — for Nick Foles. After leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl, he’ll want a chance to start, rather than sit behind Wentz, who’ll be back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Browns would provide that opportunity, and a year for him to showcase his talent to the rest of the league.
Foles is a better choice than Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford, AJ McCarron and Josh McCown. After Foles, the Browns should concentrate on Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater, if Minnesota lets them leave.
The veteran would be critical in 2018 as the Browns are desperate for victories. After that, it’s all about the No. 1 pick.
There’s a lot left to learn about all the top candidates, but the initial scouting report for each features strengths, weaknesses and question marks.
Darnold has good size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), is only 20 years old and makes a lot of really good throws. He doesn’t have the strongest arm and isn’t the best athlete of the bunch. The pressing question: Can he eliminate the turnovers? He threw 22 interceptions and lost 14 fumbles in two years as the starter.
Rosen is the best pure passer in the group with an easy motion and effortless delivery. His deep-ball accuracy is impressive, while he missed some underneath throws. He’s not a runner but has good feet. Three questions must be answered with him, and they’re biggies: Will he play in Cleveland? Does he love the game? Is he durable enough? He had shoulder surgery in 2016 and two concussions this season.
Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner, is a playmaker with a clean throwing motion and good accuracy, and his coach raves about his competitive nature. But he’s only a shade over 6-foot, didn’t have to make many difficult throws at Oklahoma and struggles to control his emotions. Can the Browns afford to spend the No. 1 pick on an undersized quarterback without elite physical traits?
Allen doesn’t have much in common with Mayfield. Allen is 6-5, 240 pounds with good athleticism and an arm that will rank among the best in the NFL. While he dazzles with great throws, he also confounds with too many easy misses, which is reflected in a 56.2 completion percentage. The question facing the Browns: Can he improve his footwork and fundamentals enough to be a reliable passer and take advantage of the immense potential?
Dorsey, Jackson and the rest of the Browns must start to answer these questions as quickly as possible. Once they do, the decision whether to chase Cousins and hand him the biggest contract in NFL history will be clearer.