Hue Jackson is laying the foundation to reject a series of questions he is going to get from now until Sept. 9, when the Cleveland Browns start this season.
“As I said, and I’m not going to back off of this, and you can keep writing about the scenarios, but Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback of this football team,” Jackson said at the team’s minicamp last week. “That won’t change.”
We’ve heard this from other coaches before, and it’s rare for them to stick to it very long. It’s especially rare to be patient when you have a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback, like the Browns do with Baker Mayfield. Taylor is a good quarterback, but for a franchise that has lost 31 of 32 games the last two seasons, Mayfield represents so much more. He is hope for a better era ahead.
If Mayfield doesn’t start Week 1, that would be rare. After JaMarcus Russell, who couldn’t start Week 1 of his rookie season because he held out under the old rookie contract system, the next five first overall picks at quarterback started every available game, including the season opener. Matthew Stafford’s rookie season was cut short due to injury, but Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston started all 16 games.
Jared Goff was an exception. In 2016, the first overall pick sat and waited for a while (and had a poor rookie season when he did play, which he reversed in 2017). But the No. 2 pick that year, Carson Wentz, started all 16 games for the Philadelphia Eagles even after missing time in preseason with an injury. Goff’s first coaching staff with the Los Angeles Rams wasn’t known for its keen decision-making, so maybe that played a part. However, it’s the most recent example of a team actually not starting its top overall pick right away.
Nobody thinks Jackson is going to hold firm to Taylor being the starter all season. That really never happens anymore — and listen up, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens, because this applies to you and your first-round quarterbacks too. From 2006, the year after Aaron Rodgers and Jason Campbell were drafted in the first round and didn’t start a game, through last year, 30 quarterbacks were taken in the first round. Of them, 28 started at least one game as a rookie. The only exceptions were Brady Quinn in 2007 and Jake Locker in 2011, and neither of them did much in the NFL even after waiting and learning.
We’ll see Mayfield at some point this season. It’s just whether he can do enough to win the job by Week 1, and alter Jackson’s “That won’t change” proclamation. Mayfield, who is famously confident, didn’t mind that his head coach already said someone else is the team’s starter.
“I am always competitive,” Mayfield said, according to the team’s transcript. “It would not matter what he was saying in regards to the competition, I am still going to compete and try to win that job. I am going to listen to him, but I have to go compete, and first and foremost, I have to learn my job.”
Jackson said Mayfield threw the ball well at the minicamp. The issue for him was working under center, since he spent his entire college career out of the shotgun. Jackson and Mayfield were peppered with questions about his ability to take snaps from under center. It’s mostly figuring out the footwork, and Jackson said Mayfield is athletic enough to figure it out quickly.
It’s fine that Jackson says Taylor is the starter now. He’s a veteran and has had success in the NFL. Even though Mayfield has a great pedigree and will be the starter soon, the team might feel it’s in its best interests to not anoint Mayfield before he has earned it, even if that’s an outdated ritual. There’s no problem in Jackson saying in early May that Taylor is his quarterback.
The only question is how long he can stick to it before the inevitable happens and the Browns fans get to see if Mayfield can turn their franchise around.
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