The Cleveland Browns don’t have much more than the faintest idea at the moment who their starting quarterback is going to be entering the 2018 season. It could be Kirk Cousins. It could be Sam Darnold. It could be AJ McCarron. It could be Baker Mayfield. It could be DeShone Kizer. A lot will happen between now and September to determine that—or at least between now and March 14.
It’s also a question as to who is going to be their blindside protector, assuming that they are a right-handed quarterback, because the greatest player to ever play for the franchise in the current era, Joe Thomas, is still weighing whether or not he wants to return for a 12th season after suffering a season-ending injury in 2017.
It might not be much longer, though. The left tackle recently appeared on satellite radio, which Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk was helpful enough to transcribe in part. Alper writes that Thomas said in the interview that he would like to reach a decision by March 14, which is the first day of the new league year, and thus the first day of free agency.
“I’d like to make a decision before free agency to give the Browns the best opportunity to prepare for everything that happens in the offseason”, he said. “Whether I’m going to come back or retire, I think, from their perspective, having a certain need going into free agency is important”.
Indeed, whether or not they have Thomas in place is critical knowledge for the franchise as it looks to rebuild its offense once again. Their vital work this offseason is fixing the quarterback position, and part of the equation of good quarterback play is good protection, the blindside protector frequently being regarded as the most important component of that goal.
Following his injury, which occurred in Week Seven against the Titans, the work of replacing him was left up to Spencer Drango, a 2016 fifth-round draft pick, who started in Thomas’ place for the remainder of the season, and has started 19 of the 32 games of his career so far, though only nine at left tackle.
According to Pro Football Focus, Drango was among the worst tackles in the league. Using grading only from Week Seven onward, he graded out as 69th of 83 tackles who played 25 percent of their team’s snaps. He gave up 33 pressures in the 10 games in which he saw time at left tackle, including 11 sacks, which was the most in that span by four. And his run-blocking grade was even worse than his grade for pass protection.
If Thomas does not return, it’s quite likely that the Browns invest heavily in the left tackle position this offseason, either in free agency or the draft, if not both. It instantly jumps to number two on their priority list behind finding a franchise quarterback, which, if you don’t have, is always the top priority.