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Commentary: Watching Joe Flacco exit in free agency would be painful, leave Browns vulnerable

NFL cattle rustlers have convened in Indianapolis with their stopwatches, clipboards and dinner reservations, all of which are part of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the league’s annual company picnic, known within the industry as “The scouting combine” and, outside the industry, as “The Meat Market.”

It is that time of year when NFL gridiron detectives watch breathlessly as this year’s herd of bovines are paraded onto the field, where they are measured, weighed, timed, poked, prodded and otherwise gawked at.

There is a lot at stake, of course, because in many cases these are the NFL stars, and flops, of the future, and the evaluators who either will or will not recommend that their bosses draft them.

Coach Kevin Stefanski always trying to stay ahead of ever-changing NFL

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Not to mention the chance of one day being interviewed, or not being interviewed, after the game, on the sideline, by Erin Andrews.

So don’t sleep on “The Meat Market,” aka “The scouting combine.” Spectacle-wise, it has a lot going for it, especially when it comes to overblown importance, which is just the way the NFL likes it.

Like all other NFL teams that had a successful season, except for getting blown out and humiliated in their one and only playoff game, the Browns have boots on the ground at Indianapolis.

Because what happens in Indy stays in Indy.

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And here is what should happen in Indy for the Browns: Their scouts should attend all the backup quarterback drills. That may be difficult, because there are none. But they should still ask around, because you never know.

Ideally, of course, the Browns should bring back Joe Flacco, who saved their season, just when it needed saving. Had the Browns not waited until November to sign him, it’s not out of the question that they could have won a couple of more games than the four they won (out of five) after they did sign him.

Flacco is scheduled to be a free agent and, everything being equal, it would make all kinds of sense for the Browns to bring him back, perhaps on a two-year contract. But, of course, the problem is that Flacco can play the field and sign with whatever team offers him the best contract.

Kevin Stefanski, Ken Dorsey flying to L.A. to visit Deshaun Watson, looking to make QB, offense soar

It was clear that Flacco enjoyed his time in Cleveland. The players seemed to rally around him and Browns fans couldn’t get enough of him. The fault lies with Browns decision-makers, who chose to start the season without an experienced backup quarterback on the roster.

That decision was a case of tempting fate, and fate won — by a knockout.

It’s fair to say the Browns could have won two or three more games had they signed Flacco before the season began, or even shortly after it began.

Instead, they put all their eggs in the Deshaun Watson basket, and we all saw how that worked out. It was a huge miscalculation by Cleveland’s front office.

In today’s NFL it is fair to say that the two most important players on the roster of any playoff contender are the starting quarterback and the backup quarterback.

To have any chance at a truly successful season, you need both, but for too many games in 2023 the Browns had neither. That they still won 11 games and reached the playoffs is the reason Kevin Stefanski was the NFL’s Coach of the Year. Again.

For the Browns it was the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times was they reached the playoffs. The worst of times: They were only two games behind Baltimore for first place in the AFC North, and Cleveland conceivably could have won the division.

One of Cleveland’s losses was a home game against Baltimore, when Watson had indicated he expected to play that game, then didn’t.

That wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the next man up was Joe Flacco. But the Browns were still nine games away from deciding that having an experienced backup quarterback wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

By that time it was too late.

Not too late to reach the playoffs, but too late to have stolen a couple of more wins and, potentially, the No. 1 seed in the AFC and nothing but home playoff games.

Playing the would-have/could-have game, however, is pointless. The Browns finally conceding they needed a veteran, experienced backup quarterback came way too late.

It is compounded now by the fact that Cleveland’s best quarterback last year will almost certainly be playing elsewhere this year — and probably not as a backup.

Meanwhile, until further notice, Watson is a perpetual question mark for a franchise that is all dressed up with no place to go.

A full-season Flacco could probably get the Browns where they want to go, and who wouldn’t enjoy them getting there while ownership eats the contract of a $230 million backup quarterback?

Jim Ingraham is a sports columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette. Contact him at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter

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