If Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can muse about Cooper Rush possibly playing well enough to keep Dak Prescott on the sidelines, why can’t the Browns ponder a similar possibility?
Jacoby Brissett is playing well, through three games. The Browns have compiled a 2-1 record. (They’d be 3-0 if they’d better managed the clock at the end of Sunday’s game against the Jets.) How many wins over the next eight games does Brissett need to create the same kind of dilemma that Jones seems to be trying to speak into existence in Dallas?
With two wins in the bank, a 4-4 mark over the remaining games Deshaun Watson will miss would put them at 6-5. Win five of eight, and they’d be 7-4. Go 6-2, and the Browns would be 8-3 after eleven games.
Next, the Browns travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons. Then it’s consecutive home games against the Chargers and Patriots. Week Seven, at the Ravens. Week Eight, the Bengals on Monday Night Football. After a bye, it’s at Miami, at the Bills, and a visit from the Bucs.
That trio of games preceding Watson’s return will make it easier to pivot to Watson, since it’s entirely possible the Browns will be riding a three-game losing streak when Week 13 rolls around. But what if Brissett wins one or two of those games? What if the Browns are 7-4 or 8-3?
What’s in the best interests of the team, sticking with the hot hand or inserting a quarterback who will have gone 700 days exactly between regular-season games?
Peter King said on Friday’s PFT Live that, in August, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson absolutely will start when his suspension ends. Hopefully, the Browns will be a little more flexible and strategic than that. Hopefully, they won’t turn to Watson simply because they gave up so much to get him, and because they endured so much scrutiny to have him on the team.
It may not be an issue. The Browns could be 5-6 or worse after eleven games, making the return of Watson a no-brainer. At some point, however, it shouldn’t be automatic that Watson will become the starter, not after missing so much time.