The start of the new NFL football year is still four days, but there’s already a buzz growing that is likely going to have some major implications for the 2018 draft which is now barely 45 days away. And nobody was buzzing more over the past couple of days than Cleveland. Of course, nothing can be formally announced until Wednesday when the new football year formally begins, but the Browns have acquired veteran QB Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo, Pro Bowl WR Jarvis Landry from Miami and CB Damarius Randall from Green Bay, while shipping second-year QB DeShone Kizer to Green Bay and former first round DT Danny Shelton to New England. And they did it all without being forced to use any of their 5 first or second round picks at the upcoming draft.
In particular, in acquiring Taylor and Landry, the Browns have significantly upgraded their offense. There had been speculation that the Browns might chase Cincinnati QB A.J. McCarron, a reported favorite of head coach Hue Jackson, in free agency, but Taylor is a better player who comes cheaper. All that has unleashed speculation – at least among many Cleveland fans – that the Browns will use the #1 pick in next month’s draft on Penn State RB Saquon Barkley rather than a QB. Truth be told, though, that’s unlikely. Taylor has only one year left on his current contract – and let’s be honest here – if he really had championship potential the Bills would never have let him go. As a result, the odds are still highly likely that the Browns take a QB with the first-pick overall. However, for long-suffering Cleveland fans there is still some hope that they also ultimately end up with Barkley. More on that below.
While Cleveland is still in position to dominate the 2018 draft, one of the team’s to watch becomes Buffalo which also has 5 picks in the first 65 selections, including the 21st and 22nd in the opening round. In trading away Taylor, the Bills, who view themselves as a legitimate challenger to perennial champion New England in the AFC East, have almost nothing at QB than second year pro Nathan Peterman, a 5th round pick in 2017 whose lone start last fall was downright dreadful.
Bottom line is that it is hard to imagine that Buffalo traded away their starting QB without some kind of contingency plan in place. The Bills could be on the verge of signing a free agent like Case Keenum or A.J. McCarron, but it’s hard to see how any available free agent, other than Kirk Cousins who is not likely going to sign with the Bills, advances their cause in any meaningful way. It is also possible that they intend to trade for a veteran like Nick Foles who just led Philadelphia to the Super Bowl. The Eagles asking price is steep – first and fourth round picks to open the bidding – but with those 5 premium picks, the Bills have the ammunition to go after someone like Foles.
The other, more traditional avenue for the Bills to find a QB would be through the draft. However, the Bills aren’t likely to find one with their current first round picks meaning they would almost certainly have to trade up. And given that Cleveland and the Giants are most likely going to take QBs themselves with the 1st and 2nd picks and aren’t likely going to want to even consider moving down into the 20s, the logical spot for the Bills to target would be the #3 pick held by Indianapolis. Indeed, that looks like a deal that would help both teams. The Bills would be assured of getting one of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Josh Allen, this year’s top-rated QBs, while the Colts, who have their QB in Andrew Luck, but holes throughout the rest of the roster, would get a package of picks to facilitate rebuilding the rest of their lineup.
To be clear, we have heard nothing concrete to suggest anything is going on between the Bills and Colts, or anyone else for that matter, but contending teams just don’t dump their incumbent starting QB with nothing else in place. Of course, it won’t be cheap for the Bills to move up that high; they’d also likely have some competition for the 3rd pick as one would have to figure that teams like Denver and the Jets, who pick 5th and 6th respectively, along with Arizona, and maybe even Miami could be interested in one of those top three QBs. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, speaking of Washington’s Kirk Cousins, we’ll find out where he’ll be playing next year within the next few days. All signs point to him signing with Minnesota, but teams like the Broncos and Jets are still very hopeful of signing Cousins. Of course, if one of those teams were able to sign Cousins, arguably the top free agent on the market this year, it would dramatically alter their plans with a top 5-10 pick. Again, stay tuned.
Getting back to Cleveland for a moment, there remains a groundswell among Browns’ fans for the team to take RB Saquon Barkley with the #1 pick in this year’s draft now that they have Taylor in the fold. While we don’t think that’s likely. The Browns have pussyfooted around the QB for too long – and been 1-31 for their troubles the past couple of years – that unless they really don’t particularly like any of this year’s top QB prospects, they’ll take their favorite with the top pick. However, there is a better than even chance that Barkley will still be there when the Browns make the 4th pick. The Giants are also expected to take a QB at #2, while the real value to the Colts at #3 is to trade the pick to another team that wants a QB. That would leave Barkley still on the boards for the Browns, although we have heard whispers out of Cleveland that they might be just as likely to take either of defensive stars Bradley Chubb or Minkah Fitzpatrick and add a RB with one of their early second-day picks.