Knowing full well that his Cleveland Browns team wasn’t going to contend for a playoff spot in 2017, head coach Hue Jackson decided to start rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer out of the gate.
It was a decision that was met with excitement and anticipation from those in Cleveland. Why not give a wide-eyed Kizer the opportunity to prove his worth under center? The other alternatives at the time, Brock Osweiler included, just didn’t seem too appealing.
For a Browns team that remains in large-scale rebuild mode, starting a young quarterback made all the sense in the world. Here’s a squad that won a grand total of one game last season. It saw 26 quarterbacks start games from 1999-2016, spanning the team’s rebirth in the NFL to last season.
This has been dubbed the Factory of Sadness. And for good reason.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 11, 2017
From Kelly Holcomb and Trent Dilfer in an earlier era to the likes of Thad Lewis and Connor Shaw more recently, these have been among the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL during that span.
Starting Kizer, a rookie with all of 695 college pass attempts, was bound to bring growing pains. But it’s something Cleveland could withstand if it had that young quarterback to lead the team forward.
But Jackson’s handling of Kizer and the quarterback situation was disastrous through the first five weeks of the season. Making sure to publicly back his young signal caller, Jackson watched on the sidelines as the Notre Dame product turned the ball over 11 times in a grand total of 15 quarters of action.
That in and of itself is horrendous. In fact, if Kizer kept at this pace, he would have broke the league record for turnovers in a season. The larger issue here is that Jackson felt it was responsible to bench Kizer in each of his past two starts. With a talent-stricken offense and confidence playing a huge role for a young quarterback, that has the recipe for long-term disaster.
After Jackson named Kevin Hogan the team’s starting quarterback for Week 6, Kizer took to the media. In the process, he sounded like a quarterback without the confidence needed to succeed in the NFL.
“He’s (Jackson) completely riding with me still,” Kizer said, via the Browns official Periscope. “He’s just gonna ride with me from a different angle. He felt that this offense needed a spark and that they’re going to be able to get that with Kevin.”
Unfortunately, Jackson is not riding with Kizer. He’s riding with a second-year quarterback who 32 NFL teams passed up on through four rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Continuing to start a quarterback that was turning the ball over at the rate Kizer was isn’t sustainable for a Browns team that’s 1-20 under Jackson. Then again, winning one of his first 21 games as the Browns’ head coach also doesn’t speak well to Jackson himself.
And that’s the issue right here. Whether he was given long-term security by GM Sashi Brown and Cleveland’s front office remains to be seen. But benching Kizer in two consecutive games seemed to be a desperation move from a head coach that could surprisingly already be on the hot seat.
For his part, Jackson used some circular logic to justify Kizer’s most-recent benching.
“If that is the decision that we make, then I think it will benefit him tremendously because he would get a chance to get a breather and take a look at it from a different lens and not from that pressure,” Jackson said of Kizer, via Ohio.com. “The pressure of playing quarterback in the National Football League for 70 plays a game and making all of the right decisions and understanding defenses and where the ball goes sometimes can be tough.”
After rallying behind Kizer throughout the entire summer, Jackson somehow lost confidence in the quarterback handling the “pressure” in just 15 quarters of regular season action?
In a vacuum, benching Kizer this week might be the best for him. That doesn’t explain why Jackson himself decided to throw the rookie to the pine during each of the past two games. There’s definitely going to be some confidence issues come of this.
It also seems to suggest that Jackson was more focused on winning a single game than developing a young quarterback. How would Kizer have responded after a mistake-prone first half in each of the past two weeks? What would this have told us about where he is from a mental standpoint? That’s something we’ll never find out.
And that’s on Jackson, who is now seemingly using a short-term strategy to help “cultivate” a long-term rebuild. This rarely works in the NFL. And it could very well be an indication Jackson knows he’s not long for the job.
Factory of Sadness, indeed.