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Sound draft doesn't erase Browns need at quarterback

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Head coach Mike Pettine seemed to get a tad angry when pushed after the NFL draft about the Cleveland Browns leaving their quarterback situation unchanged.

The Browns made many good, sound, logical picks, selecting players with a lot of talent. The team either buttressed the existing talent on the roster, or brought in a player with skills different than the ones their current players have.

There is no arguing that this was a sound draft.

But there is also no arguing that the team’s quarterback group remains a huge question mark, and among the weakest in the league.

This isn’t to say that Josh McCown can’t hold the fort, that Johnny Manziel can’t emerge and provide one of the greatest get-it-right/turnaround stories in recent memory, or that Thad Lewis or Connor Shaw can't surprise.

It can happen.

But to believe it with absolute certainty ... well that’s a bit much.

Pettine though, said the Brown will not "overprioritize the quarterback position."

"We go 11 against 11," he said. "We’re not just trotting quarterbacks out there at the 50-yard line and they’re thumb wrestling. To me, there are a lot of different ways to win football games and you just don’t force a situation. Do we look at it and say, 'OK, if we perceive our quarterback room is not the best in the division, what does that mean? Do we call the league and cancel games?'"

His point has merit, of course. He has earned the benefit of the doubt with his candor. He could simply be saying: Look fellas, the guys in this draft just were not worth the investment. That’s fair.

But until the guy is on the roster, the search doesn't stop.

Finding 'the guy' is difficult, and they are not, as Pettine said in March, readily available at the local market. Reaching for one can be a mistake.

But teams are judged on what they do, and their results. In two years under Ray Farmer and Pettine, the Browns drafted Manziel after working out 14 quarterbacks, then jettisoned Brian Hoyer in lieu of McCown, who was 1-10 last season and has never been a full-time starter in his 12-year career.

The Browns said they never made an offer to trade up for Marcus Mariota, and they rolled their eyes at the report they tried to trade up in the fourth round for Bryce Petty.

They would have taken Mariota at 12, but they didn’t think it was worth moving up. They obviously didn’t think much of the second-tier quarterbacks.

So they decided not to take one.

It’s their right, not only as Americans but as people guiding a team. The science of finding a guy is inexact. Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick, Petty could flame out in New York.

But to say they will not "overprioritize" the position ... well ... how can you not?

It’s been proven over and over, in Cleveland and elsewhere, that teams that have that approach usually lose. Teams that say the quarterback is a piece of the puzzle, they lose.

Teams that have the standout don’t always win, but they increase the odds a heck of a lot faster than the teams that don’t. Especially in this age of offense.

There are any number of ways to prove the point.

Last season, eight of the top 12 in Total Quarterback Rating went to the playoffs. Of the four who didn’t, Drew Brees and Eli Manning have won Super Bowls, and Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers have eight playoff appearances between them.

When it comes to total defense, six of the top 12 defenses did not make the playoffs. Fifty percent of the top defenses watched the playoffs. And the top-ranked defense in the league, Seattle, lost the Super Bowl to the top quarterback.

Yes, it took a late interception to win for New England, but it took a fluke catch by Seattle to be in position to win. The top quarterback chopped up the top defense in the fourth quarter, going 13-for-15 with two touchdowns.

The point: A team with a top defense can win. Absolutely it can win. But to win a team needs a top quarterback.

As Ernie Accorsi, the man who drafted Bernie Kosar and John Elway (his owner traded him from Baltimore) and traded for Eli Manning, told Tony Grossi of ESPN-Cleveland: "You can win with an average quarterback, yeah. But you better have the '85 Bears defense or the 2000 Ravens defense. You have to have some other exceptions and usually it lasts one year."

Accorsi was asked to be involved with the interviewing of new coaches in Chicago. When a candidate told him the quarterback wasn’t important, that a team could build around him and win, Accorsi pointedly said: "That’s why we’re interviewing you, why the job’s open. That’s the job. You have to find him."

It is the job of the Browns to find one. It’s the reason Mike Holmgren said he believed in always drafting a quarterback no matter what, the reason Tim Couch was taken first overall in 1999, the reason the Browns drafted guys like Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden. And it’s the reason many analysts said if the Browns felt Mariota was their guy, they absolutely had to trade up and get him.

The position can’t be prioritized enough.

Like it or not, it remains a top Browns priority.