Now that it’s official the Browns own the No. 1 selection in next year’s college football draft, the two top-rated quarterbacks have to make a decision.
Quarterbacks Josh Rosen of UCLA and USC’s Sam Darnold are eligible to declare for the lottery, but the idea of being drafted by the Browns, who almost assuredly will grab a quarterback with the top pick if one is there, does not sit well with either young man.
Who can blame them? Who wants to get stuck with a franchise that defines losing in the National Football League? Who wants to get stuck with a coach who has done precious little to win football games and seems to be coaching in the 20th century?
Why would anyone with a bright future want to enter the dysfunctional atmosphere that has plagued the Browns for way too many seasons and shows no signs of changing? Cleveland is the NFL’s version of football hell.
If nothing else, the reticence of Rosen and Darnold with regard to the Browns points out just how off-putting the very idea of being drafted by the team has become.
That’s what Jimmy Haslam III and his myriad of coaches and general managers over the last six years have wrought. His team has become the team for which high-profile players do not want to play.
Rosen has been quoted recently about being drafted by a team that might not be his first choice. “I’d rather be a lower pick at the right team than a higher one at the wrong team,” he told ESPN in Phoenix, the site of the Cactus Bowl Tuesday night.
You don’t have to read between the lines on that one. It was a not-so-veiled direct shot at the Browns, basically intimating he has absolutely no desire to play for them.
Rosen, according to earlier ESPN report, would much rather play for the much more stable New York Giants, who have the second overall pick, and might not declare for the draft and return to UCLA if the Browns signal their intent to take him.
Darnold, meanwhile, has not tipped his hand on where his future lies, but has not ruled out returning to USC for one more season and might be leaning in the same direction as Rosen, remaining in school if the Browns lead off the draft.
They won’t know if either quarterback will be there for them at No. 1 until Jan. 15. That’s the deadline when players eligible for the draft must file declaration papers with the NFL in order to be officially listed.
The Cleveland draft strategy of new General Manager John Dorsey most likely will be determined at that time. Should Rosen and Darnold choose to remain in school, Dorsey probably will concentrate on strengthening other areas of concern first.
Since he has five picks in the first two rounds, including four of the first 36, he might initially try to sign or trade for a veteran free-agent quarterback and then take a second-tier quarterback in this deep class with one of the selections at the top of round two.
But if either or both of the two southern California kids declare, Dorsey and Haslam, especially Haslam, will have a tough sell to convince whomever they choose that Cleveland is the right place for them.
Considering what has transpired the last half dozen years in Berea, it is going to take some dynamic verbal gymnastics to pull it off. The club’s reputation as annual losers is a gigantic hurdle to overcome.
Dorsey has not tipped his hand as to his strategy and probably won’t until it becomes apparent on draft weekend how he thinks, but Rosen is the more-ready NFL quarterback compared to Darnold.
When Jim Mora Jr. was his coach at UCLA, Rosen operated mostly out of the pro set and should have little or no trouble making the transition to the NFL. Darnold is more of a shotgun/pistol quarterback who rarely took a snap under center.
There are too many variables right now to make any kind of a definite prediction on how day one of the draft will unfold, although that won’t stop the mock draft gurus. The only certainty is the Browns’ losing culture will play a large part in determining who will be the club’s franchise quarterback.
Sometime between now and Jan. 15 lies the direction this franchise heads in the immediate future. One fact remains. Without a stud quarterback, that direction points gloomily toward even more gloom.