In a historically chaotic offseason, the subject that dominated headlines more than any other was that of the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback room. What began as a relatively simple question of whether the team would make a long-term commitment to Baker Mayfield mutated into a highly complicated predicament that has rostered the team with two quality yet futile signal-callers, as neither Deshaun Watson nor Mayfield are expected to be 17-game starters for them this season.
The Watson suspension is coming. I can’t predict its length with certainty because of the lack of a situational precedent, though it could be initially ruled indefinite as the investigation is ongoing. That said, I would not be shocked if it stretches the entire season.
In response to the team’s pursuit and acquisition of Watson, Mayfield requested a trade a few months ago. While there is an outside chance of a remarriage of convenience, if you will, I think the relationship between Mayfield and the team has reached an impasse.
He’d be unwilling to compete for an organization that appears to have lost his trust, and, from the team’s perspective, an unhappy face of the franchise is good neither for public optics nor culture. Team chemistry is an extremely intricate science, the formula of which is thrown highly out of balance in the presence of a disgruntled quarterback. The last thing an otherwise contending roster needs is its most important player actively seeking an exit strategy.
I anticipate that Mayfield finds a new team prior to the start of the regular season, which will likely require Cleveland to consume a significant slice of his contract pie. So, this leaves the Browns down to their third quarterback contingency plan entering the 2022 season. As long as Watson remains sidelined, Jacoby Brissett is the team’s most viable option under center.
The Jacoby Brissett Outlook
Team sources tell me that they are confident in Brissett’s ability to operate the offense. After effectively redshirting his rookie season in 2016 as an understudy to the game’s best in Tom Brady, Brissett has shown flashes of capable bridge starter ability while primarily serving as a very good backup in New England, Indianapolis, and Miami.
The best stretch of Brissett’s career came in the first half of the 2019 season. In the wake of Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement in August of that year, Brissett took the reins and led the team to a 5-2 start. The promising start to the season wouldn’t last, however, as injuries to key offensive skill players in T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack, and Eric Ebron precipitated a calamitous skid that saw the team lose seven of its final nine games.
During those first seven games, though, Brissett showed that he can play winning football under the right circumstances. In consideration of the talent around him in Cleveland coupled with the creative offensive mind in Kevin Stefanski, this is the best situation Brissett has had in his entire six-year career.
He will be protected by a very good offensive line, supported by an excellent backfield featuring Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and equipped with plenty of weapons in his 11 personnel grouping of Amari Cooper, David Njoku, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and rookie David Bell. The defense is highly talented in critical positions, too, with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney rushing the passer, Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II matching their opponents’ top targets, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the versatile ballhawk in the middle of the unit who can impact both phases.
Stefanski will certainly adjust to accentuate Brissett’s strengths, though the changes will not need to be too drastic. Play-action passing has been a staple of Stefanski’s system dating back to his time in Minnesota, and Brissett’s mobility makes him particularly compatible with that section of the playbook. Given the Browns’ strong running game, Brissett should be able to find success with the kinds of concepts shown below.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Brissett’s fit for the current situation is that he is made up of ideal football character. While some quarterbacks would struggle to accept the reality of being a temporary starter, he is oriented as a selfless, team-first competitor whose professional demeanor and habits will bring the best out of both himself and his teammates each day.
While he doesn’t make them the contender that Watson does, Brissett enables the well-constructed Browns to be competitive both within their division and throughout the league. He finished just shy of .500 in an unexpected starting season in 2019; now, in a much better situation, he gives Cleveland the chance to challenge each and every one of their 2022 opponents.