Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.
First and 10: June 12
First: Brock Osweiler, Browns starter?
1. Decker to Titans | 2. Shanahans everywhere
3. Goodell on Kaepernick | 4. Redskins’ front office | 5. Cousins negotiations
6. No OT | 7. Blandino on celebrations
8. On the NFC East | 9. Prescott and Romo | 10. Johnny Who?
How totally crazy would it be if Brock Osweiler ends up as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns?
Actually, how completely Browns-like would it be? Very Browns-like.
When the Browns traded for Osweiler in March, the move was viewed as the Houston Texans dumping Osweiler’s salary and the Browns cleverly facilitating that. There was little to no thought at the time that Osweiler actually might figure into Cleveland’s quarterback mix.
The Browns possessed the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks in the NFL draft and the conventional wisdom at the time was that they’d turn No. 12 into their next quarterback, either selecting Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson, or trading for Jimmy Garoppolo.
But the draft ended with Garoppolo still in New England, Trubisky in Chicago and Watson in Houston. The Browns traded down from No. 12, passing up the chance to select Watson. They did choose a quarterback, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, in the second round. So Hue Jackson, the team’s second-year head coach coming off a 1-15 debut season, is left to pick from among Kizer, second-year pro Cody Kessler and Osweiler as his starter.
[For QB-needy Cleveland Browns, all options are on the table — including Brock Osweiler]
Osweiler no longer is an afterthought, in part because the Browns, puzzlingly, again failed to do whatever it took to land a prospective franchise quarterback, making these curious moves one year after they traded the No. 2 overall selection to Philadelphia rather than using it themselves on Carson Wentz. In addition, Osweiler has looked good enough in offseason drills to play his way into the starting mix, which doesn’t take all that much in Cleveland, after all.
Regarding Osweiler as a potential NFL starter didn’t used to be a preposterous notion. He played reasonably well for the Denver Broncos in 2015, throwing for 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns with six interceptions in eight games, including seven starts. He had a passer rating of 86.4. But after the Broncos went back to Peyton Manning for their run to a Super Bowl title, Osweiler opted to exit via free agency for the $18 million-per-year contract offer from the Texans.
He wasn’t the answer in Houston. Far from it. He regressed to 15 touchdown passes, 16 interceptions and a 72.2 passer rating last season, becoming an NFL reclamation project.
Kessler remains the favorite to open the season as the starter for the Browns. He was competent at times last season as a rookie, making eight starts and posting a passer rating of 92.3 in his nine games. Kizer could take over at some point.
But Osweiler at least is in the conversation, and that is a development that few could have foreseen when the trade was made. The Browns have spent years being the NFL destination where quarterback reputations went to perish. Wouldn’t it be odd if, in Osweiler’s case, Cleveland becomes the place where a quarterbacking career went to be revived?
… AND TEN
1. Decker to Titans … You have to like the way the Tennessee Titans are going about building their team around quarterback Marcus Mariota. They devoted resources to giving Mariota a reliable offensive line and a running game. And now, they are giving him receivers. Tennessee used the fifth overall selection in April’s draft on wide receiver Corey Davis. On Sunday, the Titans agreed to a one-year contract with veteran wideout Eric Decker, who was released by the New York Jets as part of that team’s roster purge. The Titans have made themselves respectable again and are inching ever closer to contender status.
[The Titans are among the teams to have benefited from devoting resources to building an offensive line]
2. Shanahans everywhere … Mike Shanahan spent time at the offseason practices of the San Francisco 49ers, now coached by his son Kyle. But there remains no official role in the organization for the elder Shanahan. The Shanahans seem to be sticking to what Kyle, then the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, said at the Super Bowl: Mike will be only an unofficial adviser.
“I always anticipate asking my dad for advice and stuff like that, just like I think anybody would in their profession if their dad had done the same thing and been successful at it,” Kyle Shanahan said at Super Bowl media night. “As far as him working in the building and doing stuff like that, that’s definitely not been in discussions. My dad’s, to me, basically retired. And I know he enjoys football. So I don’t want to use that word because he’s definitely working at it a lot. You can ask my mom. But no, I’ve never envisioned him [in that role]. We did our deal in Washington and I wouldn’t take that back for the world. But that was pretty much the end of it.”
[The offense that Kyle Shanahan is taking to San Francisco borrows from his mentors but is uniquely his own]
3. Goodell on Kaepernick … NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to take the public stance that Colin Kaepernick is not being blackballed for his political statement last season. Goodell’s consistent response has been that teams make individual decisions about what makes them better. That’s fine. The league can say that teams are not colluding to keep Kaepernick out of work, and there’s no evidence to contradict that.
But if the contention is that teams are individually making wise, football-centric decisions by keeping Kaepernick unemployed, that simply is not the case. Kaepernick had 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions last season for the 49ers. If it’s about football, he belongs on a roster.
4. Redskins’ front office … The Washington Redskins, as expected by many people around the league, opted against overhauling their front office in the aftermath of the firing of Scot McCloughan as general manager. They didn’t hire a GM, and instead gave fancier titles to Doug Williams and Eric Schaffer while essentially keeping intact the power structure that has Bruce Allen, the team president, firmly in charge. That surprised almost no one and, in some ways, represented business as usual for the Redskins.
Still, the Redskins are to be praised for the confidence shown in Williams and Schaffer. Both are respected within the league and deserving of their promotions. Now, if the Redskins actually give them increased influence along with their bolstered titles, that would really be something.
5. Cousins negotiations … As the July 15 deadline for the Redskins to strike a long-term deal with Kirk Cousins nears, the question is, what reason is there to believe that an agreement will be reached?
Cousins, to this point, has conducted all of his negotiations with the Redskins in a strictly businesslike manner. There has been no indication that he is willing to accept significantly less than his market value to remain in Washington. And, frankly, good for him. Teams make business decisions regarding players. Players should take the same approach in negotiations. They don’t owe teams anything and loyalty needn’t be part of the equation.
The Redskins, by failing to get a long-term deal done with Cousins long before this and resorting to franchise-tagging him twice, have given all the leverage to Cousins. The numbers now become too big and unwieldy for the Redskins to strike a long-term deal with Cousins that doesn’t include a hometown discount.
Negotiations are deadline-driven and anything can happen. But, in reality, there’s a very good chance that the Redskins’ best chance to complete a long-term contract with Cousins has come and gone.
[A local sports-talk station had a better Kirk Cousins strategy than the Redskins]
6. No OT … Dean Blandino, the NFL’s former senior vice president of officiating who left to become a rules analyst for Fox, told Colin Cowherd in a radio interview that he argued in favor of eliminating overtime altogether.
In May, the owners ratified a proposal by the league’s competition committee to reduce overtime from 15 to 10 minutes in preseason and regular season games. Blandino told Cowherd that he’d been in favor of taking that player-safety measure to the next logical step.
“We started talking about overtime and reducing it from 15 to 10 because we were worried about additional snaps, players playing a full quarter more of football and then potentially having to go play on Thursday,” Blandino said. “Well, if we’re worried about player safety, then eliminate overtime and play to win in regulation. It would make the last two minutes that much more exciting.
“If a team’s sitting there with 30 [seconds] to go and the ball on their 20[-yard line], and they know the game could end in a tie because there’s no overtime, they’re going to go for it, take chances, take risks. We did talk about that. I think there would be some serious backlash from the fans if we got rid of overtime … but when you really break it down and you say, ‘Okay, you’ve got to play to win in regulation,’ I think ultimately that would be a good thing.”
Goodell said at the conclusion of that owners’ meeting that there had been no serious discussion or consideration of eliminating overtime. So while the league is willing to live with the possibility of a few more tie games to shorten overtime, the prospect of getting rid of it entirely apparently had little support.
[Would more tie games freak everyone out?]
7. Blandino on celebrations … Blandino also told Cowherd that the NFL’s relaxation of its illegal celebration rules is related to an attempt to appeal to younger fans.
“I think that part of it is trying to reach the millennial and this new age of fans and having more fun,” Blandino said. “And there was a committee, I was part of that committee with different people at the league office in looking at our game, looking at in-game down time, looking at how our fans watch the game, looking at eye-tracking technology and where their eyes are going.
“It definitely has been something that’s ramped up. I would say it started even earlier than six to 12 months. This has probably been two to three years in the making.”
It was only this offseason, however, that there was movement on the issue, as Goodell led the push to reverse decades of tightening of celebration rules.
8. On the NFC East … Yes, the Dallas Cowboys will enter the season as the favorite in the NFC East, and perhaps the entire NFC. There are issues on defense, particularly in the secondary. But the presence of quarterback Dak Prescott and tailback Ezekiel Elliott, along with their powerful offensive line, ensures that the Cowboys have a chance to build upon last season’s success.
[Will the Cowboys enter training camp as the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC?]
But the Cowboys should be challenged within the division. You can make an argument for both the New York Giants and the Redskins winning it. Arguing that the Eagles will win the division might be a stretch, but you could certainly argue they’ve significantly improved from last season.
It has been a while since the NFC East looked this good and this competitive.
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9. Prescott and Romo … Tony Romo’s decision to retire and head to the CBS broadcast booth rather than sign with the Texans gives the Cowboys, theoretically, an advantage. What if Prescott were to get hurt? The Cowboys could turn to backup Kellen Moore. But they also could attempt to lure Romo back from retirement. Romo has not ruled out playing again, and the temptation to step right back into the lineup in Dallas surely would be strong if the circumstances were right.
[Who’s more likely to make a comeback, Tony Romo or Jay Cutler?]
It’s a scenario that probably never will come up. But if it does, it would make for plenty of intrigue.
10. Johnny Who? … When was the last time that you heard the name Johnny Manziel in relation to a possible return to the NFL? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
But at the same time, it also has been a little while since his name has been linked to any further off-field misbehavior. So that, at least, is an encouraging development.