December 19, 2014

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Craving RG3? Think about what Browns wouldn’t have

With Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins coming to town Sunday, a lot of people will play the what-might’ve-been game.

If then-president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert had been a bit bolder, the Browns would’ve acquired the No. 2 pick from the Rams and taken Griffin, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback out of Baylor.

How would the Browns look with Griffin? Would Griffin be as effective in Cleveland as he is in Washington? Would the Browns have more wins? When would they win a Super Bowl?

That’s a fun exercise. But I’d rather focus on the what-is game.

The Browns offered the Rams both first-round picks in 2012 — Nos. 4 and 22 — and a first-round pick in 2013. St. Louis preferred Washington’s offer of three first-rounders over three years and a second-rounder. The Browns reportedly tried to include the second-round pick in 2012 — No. 37 — but it was too late.

If the Rams had accepted the second Cleveland offer, the Browns would not have running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and next year’s first-round pick.

They would also be without receiver Josh Gordon. There’s no way Heckert would’ve forfeited the 2013 second-round pick to take Gordon in the supplemental draft when he had already dealt the first-round pick. He values draft picks too much.

That’s four starters and next year’s first-round pick the Browns would be without.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Browns are better off not making the deal. It just means we should think twice about ripping Holmgren and Heckert the next time our jaws drop watching a Griffin highlight package.

Griffin, who suffered a mild knee sprain vs. the Ravens and might not play against the Browns — his dad told USA Today he would start — has been everything the Redskins hoped. He leads the NFL with a 104.2 passer rating, has rushed for 748 yards, has the Redskins (7-6) in playoff contention and instantly turned them into must-see TV.

Finding a franchise quarterback is the No. 1 goal of every organization. After 13 games, I’d say Griffin fits that category.

But I’m concerned about his long-term health. The number of plays he makes out of the pocket — designed runs and impromptu scrambles — leaves him more susceptible to injury than a pure pocket passer like Weeden.

I also know he’ll have to make more plays from the pocket to sustain this level of success long term. He appears to read the field and throw the ball well enough, but only time will tell if he can be elite when spending nearly all of his time behind the line of scrimmage.

Weeden hasn’t played at nearly the same level as Griffin — 72.8 passer rating — but I’m not ready to say he can’t get there, or at least close. If Weeden proves he can take the Browns to the playoffs and win when he gets there, not outbidding the Redskins was the right move.

If Griffin’s career is cut short by injuries or he can’t keep up his pace, no trade is a good thing. If Griffin becomes a consistent playoff participant, a Super Bowl winner and a top-20 quarterback of all time, we need to dig deeper.

Some players are worth four others. It depends on all five players.

Here’s what I think I know about the Browns who wouldn’t have been Browns if Holmgren and Heckert had mortgaged the farm to acquire Griffin.

Weeden has the arm to wing it with any of his peers. He throws too many interceptions, but has shown better decision-making through the year and isn’t overwhelmed by life in the NFL. His age — he turned 29 in October — doesn’t bother me.

Richardson doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of a No. 3 pick, but ranks third among rookies with 869 rushing yards. He also hasn’t had the explosive plays that scare defenses and impress fans. But he’s been steady, reliable, a touchdown machine (10) and should be markedly improved when he’s had an offseason to heal.

Schwartz is perhaps the most overlooked big-time rookie in the league. He’s played every snap, has rarely been beaten and quickly learns from his mistakes. He seems a lock to start for the next decade and could become a Pro Bowler.

Gordon is the surprise of the group. He has five touchdowns, all from at least 20 yards. He’s quickly established himself as the team’s top receiver and has made Heckert’s July gamble look like a brilliant move.

A trade for Griffin would’ve cost the Browns a starting running back with a chance to be special, a quarterback with upside, a dependable right tackle and a No. 1 receiver who’s already exceeded expectations but hasn’t turned 22.

Those were all missing from last year’s roster, and Griffin would’ve filled only one of the holes. Other players would’ve been added at running back, right tackle and receiver, but they wouldn’t have matched the success of the current trio.

Griffin is a unique talent that would’ve energized the Browns franchise and its fan base. I’m just not convinced he’s worth what the Browns would’ve had to give up.

We’ll know for sure in five years.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.