If you believe all the chatter about the Cleveland Browns looking for trades to move out of the No. 2 spot in next week's NFL draft, you're forced to come to the following conclusions:
1. The Browns are prepared to enter 2016 with Robert Griffin III as their starting quarterback.
2. No, seriously.
That's the only logical endgame to this increasing talk that the Browns want out of No. 2 in order to get a bevy of lower picks with which to begin their rebuild. And, you know what? Maybe it isn't such a terrible idea. Without a surefire Pro Bowl quarterback available (Carson Wentz and Jared Goff seem to be so highly regarded in this draft merely because there's no one else to highly regard) it's a reasonable strategy. Not necessarily right, but reasonable.. Move down, pick some guys between No. 40 and No. 100, get a little draft depth and then throw RG3 into the deep end to see if he'll float. If he does, great, he's your quarterback of the future. If not, no problem, there are plenty of mediocre quarterbacks waiting for a chance to be Cleveland's next ex.
Of course, for you to buy this scenario you must take the Lake Erie-sized leap of faith to assume the Browns front office can do something - anything - right. This is, after all, the team that willingly drafted Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel in the past four years. But hey, even an awful, close-your-eyes-and-wear-a-bag-on-you-head football franchise is right twice every two decades. (Except for the Bills. Sorry, Buffalo.)
Is this the time for Cleveland to finally get it right? Your guess is as good as mine. Read anything about the Browns this offseason and you'll see how the addition of Paul DePodesta, a great statistical mind in baseball making his jump to the NFL with some fancy title in the Browns front-office hierarchy, and his use of analytics will be an automatic cure-all for the team. It's as if merely saying the word "analytics' will double the Browns' win total. Never mind that DePodesta's baseball teams missed the playoffs more often than not and that football analytics are so vastly different than baseball analytics that even if DePodesta can find a Moneyball-like edge in NFL evaluation, he's not likely to do it in his first five months on the job. (Also, ask Houston's Daryl Morey how great his analytics have worked in the NBA.) Crunching the numbers to evaluate talent is great and any sports franchise is silly to ignore that part of player analysis completely. But good analytics aren't close to being guarantees of success, particularly in a game that's as team-driven and teammate/opponent-dependent as football.
Same goes for the idea that RG3 and Hue Jackson will be a great fit. Why? Give me one reason why that'll happen? I like Hue. I like RG3. I don't think that makes them peanut butter and jelly though.
But perhaps the most important question is: Does Cleveland even want out of the No. 2 pick? Today that fact is gospel. Yesterday it was rumor. The day before it was hearsay. The day before that it was heresy. Don't trust it. Everything said in the lead-up to the draft has an ulterior motive. Nothing can be believed. Stories about presidential campaigns contain fewer lies and mistruths. Maybe Cleveland wants to stay put but by floating their interest in moving down they'll get a team, frightened at the prospect of starting the season with, say, Sam Bradford or Blaine Gabbert at QB, to overpay for the spot. If no one does: no harm, no foul. The Browns choose Wentz/Goff and then either throw them to the wolves in Week 1 or let RG3 and Josh McCown fight it out for the starting role and let Wentz/Goff play in year 2. If a team makes the trade: great! You might get two cornerstone guys early in the draft (Cleveland also picks at No. 32 this year) and can worry about finding a quarterback next year.
So what to do? Pull the trigger on a quarterback at No. 2 and hope that years of first-round busts (Tim Couch, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel) have led to a moment in which Cleveland can draft a star? Or do you throw a bunch of players against the wall to see if they'll stick, all while waiting until next year for a quarterback.
Like I said above, I don't think it's crazy to go into the season with Griffin as long as you do it with the expectation that he'll be horrible and 2016 will be a wasted season, collateral damage for the longer war of getting the franchise back to respectability and, one day, being contenders. But there's one problem with that plan: Cleveland is going to need a quarterback one day and surveying the landscape of the NFL and NCAA, there's not going to be a sure-thing available for a long time, either in next year's free agency or the draft. That goes double for the year after. (Though maybe Cleveland thinks Clemson's Deshaun Watson is the NFL's next big thing and that they'll be in a spot to draft him at No. 1 in 2017. But, come on, no analytics guy is going to bank on going 3-13 and hoping no one else goes 2-14. NFL teams don't tank because everybody's job, from the GM to the coach to the players, are far too tenuous. And, for that matter, there are no sure things in the NFL anyway.)
You can count on one hand the number of quarterbacks in the last 35 years who've entered the league with every expectation of success who actually delivered on that hype: John Elway, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Franchise quarterbacks don't just pop up every draft. You have to dig. You have to take shots. It took the Packers years to find Brett Favre. The Cowboys had to go through Quincy Carter and an ancient Vinny Testaverde before stumbling upon Tony Romo. The Patriots looked for 20 years, got Drew Bledsoe and then saw him fortuitously suffer a minor injury that allowed them to discover Tom Brady. (Bledsoe preceded both Brady and Romo. Maybe the Browns should just pull him from his winery to see if he can work his magic again.) The point is, you have to keep playing the QB lottery and hope one will eventual pay out. Having a year-in, year-out QB is the only way to sustain success. No one wins consistently in this league without one, unless you're Joe Gibbs in the 1980s, when the rules were a lot different and the pressure to win wasn't as stifling as it is today.
Without a solid, Pro Bowl quarterback type, Cleveland might sneak into the playoffs once or twice but they're not going anywhere deep, not in a division that has Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton. If they could get a guy just within sniffing distance of any of those three, that might be enough. But where is that quarterback? You're crazy if you think it's RG3. He's done nothing - literally nothing (and I'm not using "literal" in the metaphorical way) - since getting hurt at the end of his magical 2012 season. He never wanted to become a pocket passer. Now he and Hue Jackson are going to turn him into Joe Montana? Come on.
There can be nothing the Browns front office has seen out of recent Griffin that would make them realistically think he can be their quarterback of the future. They can hope. They can squint enough where they can convince themselves that he might have a shot. But let's just say that if they were in year four of their tenure instead of year one, they wouldn't have the luxury of letting Griffin play for a season.
So, if I were a betting man - strike that - if I were a betting man putting money on this draft, I'd say the Browns don't pass on their quarterback at No. 2 and maybe start RG3 with Wentz/Goff waiting in the wings. If I'm wrong and this deluge of possible subterfuge is correct and Griffin is sent out to the wolves for 16 weeks (or as long as his body will hold up - so probably Week 5), then he's being set up to fail as much as anything. He's a no-risk, little-reward signing. He's a quarterbacking sacrifice for a team that's unintentionally been making them for years.
But, as convenient and seismic as an RG3-aissance might be for the franchise, right now the Cleveland Browns can't truly be banking on the fact that the Redskins cast-off is their quarterback of the future. I don't care how much you tinker with the numbers - no amount of analytics will give you that result.
Stay put at No. 2. See what you have in Goff/Wentz (with the added benefit of having the Rams make the coin-flip decision for you). The Cleveland Browns organization bulldozed past impatience a decade ago. What's another few years?