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NFL AM: Quarterback Carousel Nears End of Latest Spin

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It didn’t take very long for Robert Griffin III to find a new home, and where the former Redskins quarterback landed is quite the interesting fit.

The Cleveland Browns announced on Thursday that they have signed Griffin to a two-year contract that can be worth up to $22 million. According to reports, the deal is similar to the three-year, $21 million contract Chase Daniel signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, so it’s a low-risk move for the Browns, who are essentially paying Griffin high-end backup money. In fact, the stated value of the contract is only $15 million, with just $6.25 million guaranteed, a steal for a guy who could be Cleveland’s starter.

The Browns spent much of their time after announcing the signing on Thursday tempering expectations of Griffin’s role, indicating that he hasn’t been guaranteed a starting spot by any means and that he’ll have to earn his chance to play.

“We are excited about Robert joining the Cleveland Browns,” new Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “He brings starting experience to our team and organization. He’s a young, athletic, talented passer and he’s really just starting out in this league. Just like every player on our team, Robert will have to earn every opportunity he gets. He will compete with the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster and he helps improve our QB room, which was one of my goals upon taking the job. It’s a special room and we want to put special people and players in that room.”

With that in mind, the one taking on all the risk here is Griffin, who is looking to revive his career after spending the entire 2015 season inactive. He picked an interesting spot to do it. The Browns have spent most of the 2016 offseason in disarray after last season’s 3-13 campaign, the worst for the franchise since 2000, their second year back in existence. They started the offseason by bringing in Jackson as head coach, but a mass exodus followed when free agency opened, as they lost a pair of starting offensive linemen, their starting free safety and their best wide receiver. They’ve regrouped to some degree, and getting Johnny Manziel out of the picture will go a long way toward repairing the disarray, but replacing him with Griffin, just refocuses the spotlight, because it’s hard for people to let go of what RGIII could be.

The former Heisman Trophy winner is haunted by his own potential. At Baylor University, Griffin was a record-breaking star. He went second overall in the 2012 draft and burst onto the NFL scene with a dynamite rookie season. In his first NFL season, RG III threw for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. He ran for 815 yards and seven more scores. He was a superstar and he led Washington to the postseason. Then in the playoffs, Griffin got injured and he’s never been the same. When he returned, his injury limited his mobility, confining him and making him easier to stop. Defenses adjusted and RG III had no answer. He also struggled to stay on the field, nagging injuries sapping him of his athleticism.

It got to the point in Washington where the Redskins had seen enough and for the duration of his fourth NFL season, he didn’t even suit up, the once savior of a downtrodden franchise relegated to the sidelines while another quarterback selected 100 picks later in the same draft led Washington back to the playoffs. The two sides mutually agreed to part ways in the offseason, making Griffin one of the most puzzling free agents to hit the market in some time. He waited out the first wave of free agency and flirted with several teams in needs of a quarterback, including the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, before landing in Cleveland, where it’s hard to know what to expect from him.

As things currently stand with the Browns, Griffin would appear to be the guy for the Browns. Manziel is gone and Josh McCown is already rumored to be available on the trade market. The Browns very well could use the No. 2 overall selection on a quarterback, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll throw anyone into the first that quickly with Griffin available to start. He’ll have every opportunity to take the reins.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to join the Dawg Pound and help build something here in Cleveland…I’m just excited to come in and compete. Nothing’s ever been given to me in my life, so I just want to go out and compete with the guys and grow with this team. I feel like that’s all I’m really focused on,” Griffin said. ““(The experience in Washington) helped me become a better person and a better player and showed me how much I love the game of football. I cherish the opportunity to get another chance to play this beautiful game.”

But is being the guy in Cleveland really a much better situation for Griffin?

Being the quarterback of the Browns has sapped the life out of many a signal caller. If he does start a game for the Browns, Griffin will be the 25th different quarterback to do so for the Browns since the team returned to Cleveland in 1999. There’s little reason to believe he’ll buck that trend and take hold of the job for a long period of time. He’s in position to become another name on a long list in Cleveland.

Making that more likely is the lack of talent around him on offense. The offensive line group in front of him is in shambles after the departures of center Alex Mack and tackle Mitchell Schwartz. His receiving corps also took a big hit with the loss of Travis Benjamin. The Browns are in good shape at running back and tight end, but that’s about it.

That’s why this is a huge risk for RG III. He’s got this one chance to prove he’s still got something left and he’s taking it in Cleveland. If he does earn a starting spot in Cleveland, how good could he even be with the lack of talent around him?  What’s the ceiling over the next two years in Cleveland even look like? It’s not very high, and it almost seems as though Griffin is destined to fail before he even suits up.

WENTZ IMPRESSIVE AT PRO DAY

Speaking of quarterbacks who could join the long list of starters in Cleveland since 1999, Carson Wentz held his Pro Day at North Dakota State University on Thursday and the performance of the projected first round pick is drawing rave reviews.

In an environment fit for a North Dakota native to thrive, inside the Fargodome with blizzard conditions just outside, Wentz was nearly perfect, completing 63-of-65 passes with one drop and a slight overthrow the only blemishes on his last big stage performance before next month’s NFL Draft. The eye-popping afternoon left Gil Brandt, one of the most well-respected scouts in the league, gushing about Wentz’s potential.

The blizzard conditions in North Dakota kept many NFL decision makers away from Wentz’s Pro Day, in fact Cleveland coach Hue Jackson was the only NFL head coach in the building. But there were 18 scouts in attendance from various teams and all will likely return to their facilities with glowing reports.

Wentz appears to have all the goods to be a start quarterback in the NFL. The only questions remaining are how high does he go and will he be the first quarterback off the board?

The Tennessee Titans sit in the draft’s catbird seat and with Marcus Mariota already positioned as their quarterback of the present and future, Tennessee could look to trade down to give some quarterback-needy team the chance to draft Wentz with the No. 1 overall selection. If the Titans hold onto their spot, there sit the Browns at No. 2, and despite their signing of Griffin, it seems likely they go quarterback there, with Wentz and Cal’s Jared Goff as their options.

The Dallas Cowboys have been tied to quarterbacks at the No. 4 overall pick as well, and the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles linger at No. 7 and No. 8 respectively. It’s unlikely Wentz makes it much further than that, if he even makes it that far. He’s shown too much potential the last three months to have his stock drop significantly in the few weeks remaining.

The meteoric rise of the North Dakota kid is nearly complete and Thursday’s performance showed once again that he’s almost assuredly a Top 10 pick. But like with so many quarterbacks before him, where he winds up might go a long way toward establishing what kind of player he can be.

QUARTERBACK DOMINOES FALLING INTO PLACE

With Robert Griffin III landing in Cleveland, and the draft prospects taking their places, the quarterback dominoes are just about done falling around the NFL. Just two remain and both have pretty logical landing spots.

The first of those is Colin Kaepernick, the much-maligned San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has been on the trade block for the last few weeks, with many teams, including those Cleveland Browns showing varying degrees of interest. The Griffin signing takes the Browns out of the Kaepernick hunt and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Thursday that talks with the Jets on Kaepernick have cooled. That leaves just the Denver Broncos dancing with the 49ers.

Denver of course is pretty desperate for a quarterback after Peyton Manning retired and they lost Brock Osweiler to the Houston Texans. They did trade for Mark Sanchez, but it’s highly unlikely John Elway goes into the season with Sanchez as his starter. The Broncos have expressed by far the most interest in Kaepernick, Gary Kubiak would be a good mentor for the still 28-year-old QB, and San Francisco doesn’t have a spot for him, especially when they’re rumored to be eyeing up Wentz, Goff or Paxton Lynch in the draft.

The Jets are the other team left without a seat holder in the quarterback carousel, but there’s an obvious fit there too in last year’s start Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Harvard grad is a free agent and has been rumored to be far off with New York in contract talks, but there is not a single team out there left that will be willing to pay Fitzpatrick starter money, so he has no leverage. It seems likely that sooner than later, Fitzpatrick and the Jets will come to an agreement on a short term deal to bring him back to New York.

If Kaepernick ends up in Denver and Fitzpatrick back in New York, that will send us to the draft with Wentz and Goff projected to Cleveland and San Francisco respectively. A team like the Cowboys or Eagles could certainly throw a draft day wrench into those plans, but regardless the quarterback carousel is just about done spinning for another season and that’s a bit of a relief after a dizzying offseason.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys