There is plenty of excitement surrounding the Cleveland Browns, and for good reason. On paper, the team is one of the NFL’s most talented groups and should contend for a playoff birth. There are multiple position battles that will be sorted out in the coming months, but one of the more under-the-radar spots is Baker Mayfield‘s backup. It’s an important position. Or is it? Here’s an early primer on Cleveland’s backup quarterback battle.
Taking an early look at the battle for the Browns’ Backup Quarterback Spot
There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to the backup quarterback.
- If your starter goes down for any period of time longer than three games, your season is over anyway, so why worry about the backup?
- Your backup must be able to win a game or two in the absence of the starter.
- Mentorship is the biggest impact that a backup can have, so if your starter is a young player, having a veteran behind him is very important.
Which thought process should the Browns employ?
Baker Mayfield will be entering his second season and is 24 years old. Last season, he benefitted greatly from the mentorship of veterans Tyrod Taylor and Drew Stanton. Taylor is now in Los Angeles, while Stanton will earn nearly $4 million this year. Ideally, Mayfield has already gleaned everything he can from Stanton, but that’s likely not the case. Making Mayfield better should be the priority, so Stanton will likely stick around.
That doesn’t mean that Cleveland has to sacrifice performance though. While Stanton had an ugly preseason in 2018, he reportedly looked stronger and played better in minicamp. More importantly, Stanton is 11-5 as a starter since 2010. It isn’t easily explainable, but it’s hard to argue with those results. Even if his record is the result of playing with good talent (which wasn’t the case in Arizona and Detroit), he will have the best group of skill players he’s ever had.
The Browns don’t want Stanton seeing the field at all, but there are certainly worse options at backup quarterback. However, that doesn’t mean Stanton won’t have to earn his spot. He has some competition.
Garrett Gilbert was signed at the beginning of April after the Alliance of American Football dissolved. Gilbert had been playing for the Orlando Apollos and was the AAF’s best quarterback during its short lifespan. He attended Mayfield’s Alma mater, Lake Travis High School, before attending Texas and eventually transferring to Southern Methodist University, after losing his starting spot. Gilbert spent two years at SMU and was drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. The Rams released him before the season and spent 2014 on the practice squads of St. Louis and New England.
Gilbert bounced around the league, making stops in Detroit, Oakland, and Carolina, before joining the AAF.
The Browns aren’t financially committed to Gilbert, as he’s on a two-year contract with just $1.5 million in dead money. However, Gilbert’s AAF play was obviously good enough to entice the Browns into seeing what else he could do.
Undrafted rookie David Blough is the third fighter for the job. Blough spent four seasons at Purdue, knocking off undefeated Ohio State in 2018. Blough looked good at rookie minicamp, but his lack of physical traits gives him an uphill battle to make the team. He does have heart, which general manager John Dorsey values highly.
Cleveland carried three quarterbacks on the roster last season, but that was because they had drafted Mayfield first overall, traded the 65th overall for Taylor for him to be the starter, and signed Stanton to be Mayfield’s mentor. This year, Cleveland should keep only Mayfield and Stanton on the active roster, and stash either Gilbert or Blough on the practice squad. Having a roster spot open for an extra offensive lineman, defensive lineman, or defensive back would be a better use of resources.
The backup quarterback battle is interesting, but the encouraging thing is that we’re finally talking about who will be the backup quarterback, not the starter. That spot is locked up for the next 15 years.
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