I ‘ve got a little secret for you….
The Cleveland Browns are not winning a Super Bowl with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback.
That, in a vacuum, is not reason enough to bench him for No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. But it matters in the long-run.
First, let’s backtrack a bit.
The Browns are, by all indications, committed to starting Taylor for the foreseeable future. Apparently this is part of an effort to get Mayfield up-to-speed on NFL life.
“What it takes [for Mayfield] is a broader understanding of what it takes to play the quarterback position in the National Football League, and it just doesn’t happen overnight,” Cleveland general manager John Dorsey said last week, according to ESPN.
Then came Taylor’s debut. It was less than stellar. Earning a dismal 51.8 QB rating, he completed just 37.4 percent of his passes for just 197 yards, with a TD and an interception mixed in. Yet, the Browns somehow eked out a tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which was—laughably—the best start to a season for Cleveland since 2004.
Taylor is a placeholder. He’s a stopgap. You don’t draft a quarterback No. 1 overall to not play him. His days under-center are numbered.
Mayfield’s potential was tantalizing in the preseason and, in fits and starts, looked like he might have a shot at being the guy who can help end and eternity of awful football in Cleveland. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t share a name with Taylor who feels the same about him.
So, why the hold-up? Other high-profile rookie QBs have been handed the keys from the jump—Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson and Sam Darnold come to mind. So, what does Mayfield have left to learn about being a QB in the NFL?
Mayfield hasn’t gotten a ton of snaps with the first team, so maybe the coaches feel he isn’t ready to take over under center. But there’s a remedy to that: Simply give him snaps in practice, and you can fix it in a couple of weeks.
And Mayfield has already had training camp, practices, film sessions and the preseason to get up-to-speed. How many practices will be enough? What film session must he ace when you know he’s ready? To be frank, you’ll never know. At some point the only remedy is to simply get out there and play. (Perhaps Mayfield is way, way behind in his development but no reports have indicated as such and, if that is the case, Cleveland has big problems.)
Or maybe the franchise feels it can win more games this season with Taylor. And that might be true. He’s 29 and experienced and, at times, solid.
“He is the quarterback,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said to defend Taylor’s starting role after the Week 1 tie, via the Associated Press.
That’s a very football-coachy thing to say but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Cleveland has begun to see a little bit of light amid an endless rebuild—it was a bad game but, hell, at least they tied Pittsburgh—and, again, you’re not winning a Super Bowl with Taylor. (If they do, well, God bless—I was wrong and it wouldn’t be the first time.) Taylor is worth what, at best an extra win or two? In the long run that doesn’t matter. And, who knows, Mayfield might be really good from the get-go.
Another key point: As lots of league observers have pointed out recently, the most valuable asset in football is a good rookie quarterback on his first contract. The NFL’s rookie pay-scale limits how much money they can make, which means the franchise can go out and load-up elsewhere while underpaying at that most expensive position. Look at the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles or the Los Angeles Rams—it works like gangbusters if you do it right.
But you have to strike while the iron is hot. You can miss your window in a snap. And the Browns can’t know exactly what they’ve got with Mayfield until they get him some real, non-preseason game time. Maybe you don’t start him Week 2 but you’ve gotta get him in there this season—soon, if you can.
Taylor is a known commodity. He’s fine. But when it comes to truly competing at an elite level, he has been found wanting.
Mayfield could be great. He could be terrible. He could be so-so. But there’s no way to know if the No. 1 overall pick continues to rot on the bench. Whatever they’ve got to do to get him on the field ASAP, they should.
Leaving Mayfield on the bench is playing a scared game. It’s pushing off the inevitable. It’s a half-measure and the NFL has no time for half-measures.