Even the most diehard of Browns fans can readily admit that the 2011 version of their favorite team could be described in one simple word. Beyond the inefficiency, lack of talent and freak occurrences that colored a 4-12 finish, the Browns were simply an excruciatingly boring team to watch.
In contrast, a decidedly boring event like the NFL Scouting Combine at least offered Browns’ fans a bit of hope for some future excitement. Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III dazzled Combine watchers with his electric 40-yard performance. While such an effort is largely meaningless compared to actual NFL production, Griffin’s name is becoming attached to the Browns – a franchise desperate for any positive jolt of energy.
Of course, with anything relating to the Browns, there are layers upon layers to be unraveled with even a talent as exceptional as Griffin.
Let’s take a look.
The Fastest Man
It’s not often a quarterback runs a sub-4.50 40-yard dash. It’s even rarer when such a feat is actually overshadowed by the player’s cannon-like arm, college pedigree and seemingly ego-free nature. In the case of RG3, all of these traits led to a Heisman Trophy and vaulted the Baylor QB into the upper realms of this April’s NFL draft.
Previously characterized as the consolation prize in a draft that includes the league’s anointed next wunderkind, Andrew Luck, Griffin’s reputation as a potentially game-changing athlete is growing. The blend of Griffin’s Combine performance and the recent memory of Cam Newton have contributed to what could prove to be an arms race between teams interested in landing St. Louis’ number two pick.
Of course, anyone who paid attention to Griffin’s final year at Baylor – or anyone with access to YouTube – could have figured out as much several months ago. The draft annually inflates the value of quarterbacks – witness last year’s record first round haul – and there are several NFL teams currently lacking a true number one option.
And one team featuring very little speed.
Metcalf Up The Middle
Much like the Scouting Combine offers hopeful illusions of a player’s capabilities, there is no sure thing when it comes to a talented athlete fitting into a specific NFL system. Rocket-armed QB’s don’t enjoy instant NFL success unless a secure system is already established. A similar argument can be made for athletic, Spread-oriented quarterbacks – many of whom need to be re-programmed at the NFL level.
While some players possess the raw ability to transcend these NFL hurdles, often the results are allowed through the league’s more progressive coaching staffs. In Carolina, the Panthers modified their offense to fit Cam Newton’s extraordinary skills. Likewise, in Cincinnati, the Bengals’ offense grew with the development of rookie Andy Dalton. As both Newton and Dalton progressed, both teams’ offenses naturally evolved.
In Cleveland, a player such as RG3 would be entering a more rigid offensive system. Because of the philosophy shared by virtually every decision maker in Berea, it’s unlikely the Browns would make similar concessions to Griffin. Instead, Griffin’s talents would appear to have to be molded into Pat Shurmur’s classic version of the West Coast offense.
On the surface, such inflexibility would severely waste Griffin’s enormous talent.
But wait, it gets worse.
The Process – West Coast version
What follows is the idealist version of how prolific the West Coast can become.
Of course, it’s worth noting that Bill Walsh coached Joe Montana for nearly a decade during a period in NFL history where most teams still adopted run-first principles. Also, Walsh’s offense was a decade ahead of its time while Shurmur’s version has become dated – especially in light of how pass-friendly the league’s rules have become.
Anyway, it’s more than possible that Shurmur evolves as both a play-caller and head coach and his offense improves with the addition of more talent. However, such ideas are predicated on the belief that the West Coast offense requires several years of practice and patience. Considering that Griffin would be entering the league as a West Coast novice, the learning curve could be steep.
Adding to the issue is the realization that Griffin – like most college quarterbacks – is coming from an offense where he simply read the field and threw the ball to open receivers. In the NFL, Griffin has to learn to throw the ball to a designated spot – a practice that is foreign to most quarterbacks. In the West Coast offense, these types of reads are even more common – and space dramatically shrinks.
For a bit of quick evidence, refer to Colt McCoy’s brief NFL career.
All that being said, Griffin is still an amazing talent – a rare player capable of completely altering a team’s future. Despite Shurmur’s tepid hold over his offense, players like Griffin don’t appear often – or at least during a time when the Browns hold a top 5 draft pick. Call it good timing – at least if Shurmur doesn’t view Griffin’s unique talent as a threat to his rigidly defined offense.
Or very bad timing, if recent reports suggesting that the Browns and Redskins are about to engage in a bidding war for the right to win St. Louis’ second overall draft pick.
Under the guidance of billionaire owner Dan Snyder, the Redskins are notorious for both overspending in free agency and treating their drafts as mere afterthoughts. Despite a temporary halt to these practices last offseason, the Redskins could easily find themselves bidders in an imaginary battle that could morph into an April reality.
At the moment, speculation suggests that the Browns would have to part with their second first-round draft selection and perhaps another high choice in order to land Griffin. If the Redskins – who paraded Rex Grossman and John Beck as starting QB’s last season – decide to get more involved, this price will only increase.
Betting the Farm
This leaves the Browns’ brain trust with a simple question: Is RG3 worth it?
In mortgaging part of the team’s future for Griffin, the expectation would be that the Browns’ new QB would instantly change the complexion of a perennially rebuilding franchise. However, based on the current regime and talent in place, such an idea is far from certainty. From the stumbles associated with learning the West Coast offense to a roster still depleted of talent, a logical argument could be made for the Browns to invest in multiple players – rather than one talent.
Considering the importance of this year’s draft – especially after two fairly solid ones in 2010 and 2011 – the stakes are incredibly high. As such, it’s worth comparing a Griffin selection (minus current and future draft picks) with some combination that includes a new right tackle, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback or wide receiver, plus a “safer” quarterback like Ryan Tannenhill.
But then again, what fun would that be?