Why Cody Kessler should be Cleveland’s Week 1 starter

The Browns shuffled through several QBs in 2016, and have no one locked in for 2017. Analyst John Kosko says the holdover should start with the gig.

| 1 month ago
Browns QB Cody Kessler

(Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Why Cody Kessler should be Cleveland’s Week 1 starter


The NFL combine is well behind us and the major free-agency signings inked, which means rosters, depth charts, and team needs are becoming clearer. While most teams answered some big questions already this offseason, the Cleveland Browns have perhaps made the waters muddier concerning their quarterback situation. The Browns’ QB room consisted of Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan at the end of the season, but the team has since released Griffin and McCown and traded for former Texans QB Brock Osweiler with the intention of trading him.

With 22 picks in the next two drafts — including a whopping eight in the first two rounds — the Browns have the ammunition to maneuver to draft or acquire their QB of choice. Regardless of who they choose tab as the franchise QB, Cleveland’s starting signal-caller for this coming season is a complete unknown at this point. With Browns fans uneasy and questions abound, the best option under center for the Browns come Week 1 of the 2017 season may already be in-house. Here’s one plan for how Cleveland should proceed at the quarterback position.

Why Cody Kessler should start Week 1 for the Browns

With most analysts agreeing that none of the quarterbacks in this draft class is likely ready to start Day 1, starting Kessler allows whoever the team drafts (assuming they draft one, which seems likely) to sit, learn, and develop for the future. Cleveland did not intend for Kessler to see the field in 2016, but injuries to both Griffin and McCown forced the former USC quarterback into action in Week 3.

Kessler played well enough in 2016, showing elite accuracy under 20 yards and excellent play under pressure. His weaknesses showed up, however, as he started holding on to the ball too long, had difficulties reading the defense, and took too many big hits. If the quarterbacks in front of Kessler had stayed healthy, the third-round pick likely would have had time to try to shore up his weaknesses and improve in practice before being thrown into the fire.

With an entire offseason to work on his mechanics, study film on his play and that of his 2017 opponents, and improve his arm strength, Kessler is poised to build on a solid rookie season. He ranked first among QBs in adjusted completion percentage under pressure (80.6), fifth in overall adjusted completion percentage, at 78.2, sixth in passer rating under pressure at 82.4, and eighth in PFF’s QB Rating at 93.41. Kessler is often overlooked by people outside the Browns organization, but his play earned him a legitimate shot at the starting gig this season.

With a revamped offensive line that has top-five potential, the Browns are set up to turn the corner. Kessler didn’t win any games in 2016 as a rookie but considering how young and bad the team was around him, QB wins is not a stat to judge the former USC Trojan (or any quarterback) by. He very well could have won his first game against Miami if it weren’t for a missed last-second field goal, and gave the team a chance for wins against Washington and Tennessee.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Kessler gives the Browns the best shot at winning the most games in 2017 and allows the team to develop a potential future of the franchise. Rookie QBs aren’t meant to succeed in the NFL, and recent excellent play from Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott have spoiled fanbases into expecting them to be great from the start. Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, Kirk Cousins and several other quarterbacks needed time on the bench before they were ready to take the reins and lead their teams to victories.

That isn’t the only step, though. The Browns can help themselves behind Kessler by …

Drafting a quarterback

This is a “no duh” step. With uncertainty at the position, the Browns need to keep taking shots at finding the guy to lead the franchise until it is no longer a question. Drafting a quarterback every year is a strategy former Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf employed even though he had Brett Favre on his roster. With no clear answer, the Browns need to do the same even though they drafted Kessler in 2016.

This draft doesn’t have a clear-cut front-runner at the position, so taking one first overall isn’t likely. Of course, if Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson come to a conclusion that one of these quarterbacks is impossible to pass up and don’t want to risk waiting for him at No. 12 (or even higher if the Browns look to trade up), then taking him at No. 1 makes sense. While it’s uncertain where the first QB will come off the board and who that will be, the Browns have a tough decision to make on where they want to pull the trigger on a signal-caller in a draft that is incredibly deep on the defensive side of the ball — a unit that has major weaknesses and needs.

Signing a veteran and holding on to Brock Osweiler until further notice

In term of signing another veteran, the Browns are running out of options and it’s the lowest priority in terms of what they need to do at the position. Since they released McCown — a quarterback who can step into a game without many practice reps — the Browns lack a player to help lead the room and provide knowledge and insight to a very young group of players. Osweiler, by all accounts, is a good teammate for the locker room and a very hard worker, even if that hasn’t translated to success on the field. The Browns have been trying to trade him for more draft assets but have failed thus far, and recent reports suggest that they might decide not to cut him.

Of the veterans available on the market, it depends on what the Browns look for in a third QB, but having a player who doesn’t take away practice reps from Kessler and a rookie is essential for the young quarterbacks and their development and growth. Chase Daniel and Ryan Fitzpatrick are two players who fit that bill, as they’ve been in the league for several years and don’t necessarily need a full complement of practice reps to be ready for game action. Fitzpatrick has shown to stay healthy for much of his career, while Daniel doesn’t have many live reps to prove he can stay healthy in the NFL. These players, including Osweiler, could conceivably compete for the starting job without being a likely long-term threat or option. Signing a veteran such as Daniel or Fitzpatrick provides insurance for a Kessler injury and allows the to-be-drafted rookie to stay on the bench, though the much improved offensive line should be more able to protect Kessler from injury than last year’s version was.

Having two viable veteran backups in training camp allows the Browns to utilize one for trade bait in case a team has a Teddy Bridgewater-like catastrophe this year. If that doesn’t emerge, cutting one doesn’t hurt anything and the Browns have the salary-cap space to take the hit.

What about Jimmy Garoppolo?

All this has sidestepped the issue that most Browns fans likely thought would be at the forefront of their offseason — New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Browns fans will clamor for a trade for Garoppolo, but if it hasn’t happened by now, it is probably dead. The Patriots reportedly are looking for multiple first- and second-round picks, and no one is likely to meet those demands. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has said multiple times that Garoppolo isn’t getting traded at this point. Sashi Brown covets draft assets too much to give up what the Patriots are looking for, regardless of how well set they are for the next two drafts.

With a loaded defensive draft class with potential to add at least two immediate impactful starters, an offensive line that has top-five potential on paper, and an entire offseason of continuity with the same regime and head coach, the Browns are on a path to finally dig out of the AFC North cellar. Kessler has a limited ceiling as his natural talent isn’t on the same level as a top-tier quarterback, but his play in his rookie season showed he can win games in the NFL with an improved roster around him.

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

  • Jamison

    Commonsense I love it please come work for the Cleveland media they’re terrible

    • Sufferfortribe

      What, you saying that Mary Kay isn’t any good? :)

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        i don’t know the daily side of browns media, but every time i hear MKC she sounds like one of the most connected reporters to any single team.

        • Sufferfortribe

          She has been used as a rumor mill to the point of nausea. Of all the Tribe scribes, she seems to be the most clueless.

          • Matt Stillman

            MKC has been clamoring for the Browns to take Trubiski at 1 and another qb at 12. No thanks.

      • SPB

        She’s a ditz who is infatuated with Jimmy G. Maybe when the Browns finally become winners then Cleveland can get some decent sports writers to cover the team.

  • ClevelandPOWND

    Agreee

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Browns come up with a new plan to solve their QB problem about every ten minutes. Some of their strategies resemble a Chinese fire drill when they try to implement them. Who exactly do they think is dumb enough to take Osweiler off their hands? Kessler probably won’t be any worse than all the other crazy options they are considering but any chance they have at regaining respectability will have to come from the defensive side.

    • tbihn

      You and the author are going on the assumption they expected to be able to trade Osweiller. In my opinion, they probably hope to, but didn’t plan to be able to trade him when making that trade. It’s clear that the FA’s that fit the age profile the Browns are looking for and fit the skills and positions are willing to sign with other teams for less money than the Browns try to offer them. Even their own FAs are taking less to play for other teams. So here’s a team with 100+ MM to spend and nowhere to spend it. The answer? Pay a ton to get a high draft pick. With the release of RGIII, that works out to paying $8MM of money they couldn’t otherwise spend for that pick. If spending that money would have a negative impact in the future for the team, I’d call it dumb, but it’s the Haslam’s money and it’s literally paying for an extra shot at a difference-making player. If they can actually trade Osweiller for a bag of nuts or Hue could work his magic with him, that would just be icing on the cake. The real meat of that move was to acquire a high draft pick and they did that.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Actually I’m just accepting the reason the author presented as to why the Browns acquired Osweiler. As I mentioned, the plans of the FO are changing constantly so any guess as to what their thinking might be is as good as the next. I agree with you that it would be unlikely that a team would trade for Osweiler on the hope that they could flip him in another deal at some later point but again we are dealing with the Browns who seem to be willing to try any strategy in the hopes that eventually something might work.

  • PGPG15

    this arm strength thing may not be so valid. Kessler threw 55 MPH at his pro day – that is better than almost everyone in this draft. Can someone explain?

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      pro day MPH results have got to be the most BS stat ever concocted for football

      • Oliver Clark

        It’s a relevant stat in general because throwing a faster ball consistently might indicate better arm strength or ideal mechanics.

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          it’s contrived and probably not accurate was my main point. pro day stats in general are more unofficial and inflated than those at the combine

    • SPB

      You’re absolutely right – the knock on Kesslers arm is total BS. When you don’t have anyone getting open deep and a porous OL – you can’t be blamed for not throwing deep. Check his college tape – he has a good arm and can throw the long pass.

  • Sufferfortribe

    At the moment, Kessler is the ideal QB for their offense. With the revamped OL, I see an increase in usage of the running game.
    Draft another big WR, or a TE, and move Coleman into the slot.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    trade the first overall pick for kirk cousins and move on to the future already.

    • crosseyedlemon

      But do the Redskins believe they can use that pick to acquire a better QB than they already have in Cousins? They have just recently put the ruinous RG3 years behind them and are moving on to the future themselves. I think they are more interested in establishing continuity and stability now than going on QB flyers.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        they don’t seem to want to pay kirk long-term so they can either franchise him again next year at over 34mil, transition tag him and get nothing in return if (when) he signs elsewhere (SF), or let him leave and get a 2019 3rd round comp. pick. the 1st overall pick this year is def better than a 3rd in 3 years from now.
        and from cleveland’s perspective he’s a much more proven and successful commodity than any unproven player in the draft and/or jimmy g and his 2 1/2 career starts

        • crosseyedlemon

          I think they sign Cousins long term if he can have a solid season in 2017. If they ship him to the Browns for that first overall pick they probably end up with someone who won’t be able to have an immediate impact and then they would find themselves in about the same position as the Broncos at QB.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            if they couldn’t sign cousins long-term before july 15th last year, then they won’t be able to do it this year either, and he def won’t re-sign after 2017 as an UFA. under the 2016 franchise tag terms he wanted at least 44mil fully guaranteed over the first 2 years at signing, now after being tagged a second time his starting position should be 58mil fully guaranteed over the first 2 years at signing. if they weren’t convinced last year, at a much lower rate, why would they be now? not to mention they don’t even have a GM…

            so if they don’t get a deal done this spring, he has zero reason to re-sign in the next league year for anything below 50mil a year, because that’s how washington has approached negotiations leverage wise.

            they can either sign him now, which they would’ve done already if they wanted to, as he’s only broken franchise records for consecutive years in a row or they: A; let him walk after 2017 for a 2019 third round comp pick, or B; trade him now for 2017 (and likely more) compensation while also not paying him 24mil in cash and cap.

            sure their alternative QB options would be weak, but they’re sleeping in the bed they’ve made, and their defense is so weak that they surely realize they’re not superbowl contenders as is, with or without kirk

          • crosseyedlemon

            As usual your presenting some excellent points for consideration. The Redskins themselves are aware that they are a few years away from being a serious title contender so they are willing to maintain a status quo at the QB position for now. It’s likely that a year from now the landscape around the league will be quite different with various new options presenting themselves for the QB needy teams. Maybe Cousins eventually ends up with my Bears…which probably wouldn’t be terrible considering we are now desperate enough to sign Mark Sanchez.

  • Dan Cole

    Get Myles with 1st pick and trade up into 6 or 7 to get Hooker and we’ll be a 8-8 team. If Gordon returns we’ll be 10-6 with Gordon playing WR1 Britt playing WR2 and Coleman in the slot. Keep Kessler as starter. Moving up might cost late 2 rounder.

    • AR1Fiiive

      Might thought to the T. Would be getting a all pro and a hall famer

  • SPB

    Finally – someone making sense. This is a defense rich draft and the Browns should take advantage with all of their picks to solidify that side of the ball.