During free agency, there was one trade that made the NFL sit up and take notice. On March 9th, the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans struck a deal for quarterback Brock Osweiler. The initial reaction to the trade was the expected Browns skepticism for chasing after another ‘broken’ quarterback. However, the Browns, using their vast cap-space, had effectively subsumed Osweiler’s $16 million contract for an all important 2018 second round pick. Evidently this Browns front office is willing to take any route to increase their chances of drafting the best talent to Cleveland.
‘Moneyball’ references aside, it does beg the question…
Can Brock Osweiler Become Cleveland Browns Starting Quarterback?
If Cleveland opt not to trade or cut Osweiler before pre-season, Hue Jackson and his coaching staff will have to determine if he is functional at quarterback and if he fits the mould of a Cleveland Browns player. Back when Jackson was interviewed prior to last year’s draft, he restated his requirements about the type of player he is looking for to join the Browns.
“…I’m looking for high-character guys, and I want guys that have high football character in this football team,” Jackson emphasized. “With that being said, we’re looking for some people that are talented, guys that have passion for the game of football because we all know it’s a very tough game.”
What type of player is Brock Osweiler, beyond the mixed bag of statistics and attributes? What can be learned from his character and the way Osweiler handled himself through college, and into the NFL? Playing as a starting NFL quarterback is a privilege that only a small percentage of prospective players get to achieve. It takes more than just raw talent to make it in the pros It takes a work ethic and mental capacity to always improve yourself, no matter the highs and lows you experience as a player. Does his journey so far show any signs of being the type of player that can contribute to the Cleveland re-build and satisfy Jackson as the right fit for his team? Or is Osweiler just a commodity that Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown can use to broker a better deal for the Browns?
Brock Osweiler comes from sporting stock. His father John had opportunities to pursue football at the college level but ultimately choose a military career. His older brother Tanner played college football for Montana Tech in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). His sheer size paired with natural athleticism, meant that Brock would also play basketball in high school. But football was what Osweiler would dedicate his college life to, opting to attend Arizona State University. There he became the first true freshman to start a game for Arizona since Jake Plummer in 1993
It wasn’t until he took over the quarterbacking duties for the Sun Devils in 2011 that Osweiler started to show signs of being able to play at the highest level. As a junior in 2011, Osweiler played out the season throwing over 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. His footballing pedigree was clear to see, with a patience and dedication to work hard until he earned his opportunity to play.
Drafted to Denver
Osweiler entered the league through the 2012 NFL Draft. He was the fifth quarterback taken off the board, with the 57th overall pick by the Denver Broncos. That year’s class contained the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill. The Cleveland Browns passed on Osweiler to take Brandon Weeden in the first round. Ironically enough, Weeden currently plays for the Texans as a backup. Osweiler would spend the next three seasons playing backing up Peyton Manning. This spell at the knee of Manning would only help Osweiler. Often rookies entering the NFL struggle to fully commit themselves to the all-consuming lifestyle you must adopt to succeed. Here was Osweiler’s opportunity to learn first-hand from one of the games greatest quarterbacks.
The Denver Broncos, fresh off the humiliating Super Bowl XLVIII loss to the Seahawks in 2013, and a dismal early playoff defeat to the Colts in 2014, installed Gary Kubiak as their new head coach. The following season would be a rollercoaster for the Broncos and Osweiler. A change to Kubiak’s offensive system, combined with Manning struggling to stay healthy and productive, led to Osweiler taking over at quarterback mid-way into the 2015 season.
The Turning Tide
Osweiler proved to be a stable pair of hands, with good outings against the Chiefs and the Bears the following week. Wins against the Patriots and the Chargers would soon follow, with Osweiler showing signs of growing into the signal-caller role. Even with defeats to the Raiders and the Steelers, Osweiler had seemingly shown enough to hold onto the role as Broncos quarterback.
But often in the NFL, you are only as good as your last game, particularly when you are only at the start of your career, with little to no experience to call on. Osweiler started to show signs of fragility at quarterback; defenses were catching onto to his style and beginning to read his plays. After a shaky performance in the first three quarters of the season finale against the Chargers, Osweiler was promptly replaced by a fully recovered Manning.
It should be noted that Osweiler had suffered a low-grade strain to the medial collateral ligament of his right knee. This limited his pocket movement, and left him as a very tall sitting duck behind one of the worse offensive lines that season for pass protection. Even receiving a Super Bowl ring that year after the Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Osweiler would make the decision to pursue his career elsewhere.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Osweiler had a belief that he was a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL, and that he deserved to be paid as one. During the 2016 off-season, Osweiler opted for the Houston Texans, who gave him a four-year, $72 million contract. This was his opportunity to take control of a team that was one decent quarterback away from a good playoff run.
Osweiler’s first season in Houston was plagued by inconsistent play and a rash of interceptions, 16 in the regular season to be exact (a single season Texans franchise record). He then suffered another benching, and only when backup Tom Savage suffered a concussion against the Titans in week 17, that Osweiler was put back in control of the offense. Unfortunately, Osweiler failed to improve, culminating in an abysmal outing in a 34-16 loss to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. It was a game where the Texans defense, led by a resurgent Jadeveon Clowney, were let down by Osweiler and his ineffectual play behind center.
The writing was on the wall for Osweiler in Houston. A reported locker-room bust up between himself and Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, was quickly followed by the revelation that he was effectively thrust upon O’Brien by general manager Rick Smith. There seemed to be no discussion as to whether Osweiler would be the type of quarterback that O’Brien could work with.
The Texans were a bad move for Osweiler. Houston gave him starting money. It was the main reason he had his head turned and left Denver. But they never took the time to meet him, or even discuss it as a team or with their head coach. Since leaving the Broncos, Osweiler is now even further away from developing into a reliable starter than ever.
Where to Now?
At the time of this writing, Osweiler is still part of the Cleveland Browns. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair does believe that Osweiler has a good opportunity in Cleveland if all parties are willing.
“I think it gives him an opportunity,” McNair stated at the recent NFL meetings. “I’ve talked to the people at Cleveland, and I’ve told them a new environment for him and maybe a new perspective and he could be productive for them.”
To remain in Cleveland, Osweiler will have to prove to the Browns coaching staff that he is willing to compete to start the 2017 season. He has never been part of a proper pre-season quarterback competition, and shown at both Denver and the Texans that he is replaceable when he struggles. That points to a distinct lack of faith from his previous coaches, in his ability to react to adversity immediately and learn to adjust yourself mentally on the field.
Out of college and with the Denver Broncos, Osweiler was on a strong trajectory to becoming a decent NFL quarterback. Unfortunately, the decision to take more money with the Texans became a poor one in regards to his development as a quarterback. This is where his trajectory flatlines and even regresses. Osweiler turned his back on all that he had built in Denver to be thrust into the spotlight with a team whose head coach he wasn’t on the same page with. It was no surprise that Osweiler and his offense looked like strangers to each other.
The decision on whether Osweiler will continue with the Browns may seem out of his hands at this moment, but statistics and attributes aside, Osweiler must make up his mind if he is ready and willing to start again and get back to becoming a decent quarterback. Osweiler has a great opportunity in Cleveland to prove to Hue Jackson and the Browns that he is willing to be part of the roster and work hard getting back to where he was one year ago.