Kyle Lauletta is all of the talk right now after a solid showing against the Jacksonville Jaguars. While his back is still up against the wall, there is a path for him to take over as the backup quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.
He saw most of the action on the night as Baker Mayfield did not play and Case Keenum saw just over a quarter of play. For a quarterback who has bounced around the league throughout his career, Lauletta knows he has to take advantage of these opportunities.
On his fourth team since 2018, Lauletta is hoping Cleveland can become a long-term home for him. While it was just one preseason game in the brown and orange, Lauletta has at least started a conversation with his play against the Jaguars.
On the night, Lauletta finished the preseason opener with a line of 19-for-27 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. The highlight of the night came at the end of the first half as Lauletta connected on a 27-yard bomb to Davion Davis down the right sideline.
Sure, the Browns kept the offense extremely vanilla, keeping their secrets and wrinkles for the regular season. However, Lauletta executes his reps well and has now generated some buzz as a result. In fact, on attempts of over 20 yards in depth, Lauletta was three-of-four on the evening.
It is only one game, and there are still two games left to make his mark, but the question remains: can Lauletta win the backup job over Case Keenum?
This question is twofold, to be honest. This question not only is dependent on Lauletta’s play for the rest of the preseason, but is even more dependent on the circumstances surrounding Keenum.
For starters, Keenum is still owed a good chunk of guaranteed money from the Browns. If the Browns were to decide to stick with Lauletta as their backup quarterback should he string together a couple more solid outings this preseason, the Browns are not easily off the hook.
To outright release Keenum, the Browns would be forced to eat nearly $6 million in dead money as a post-June 1 designation. For a team set to carry over $18 million into next season, knocking five of that off does not sound too hampering.
However, the Browns just signed Nick Chubb to a three-year deal. They are also in discussions with Denzel Ward about a new contract, and Baker Mayfield, Wyatt Teller, and potentially Ronnie Harrison are still all in the pipeline as well.
This is the long-winded way of saying the Browns are going to carry over as much cash as they possibly can. Eating nearly $6 million is not going to be in the plans of Andrew Berry and his team.
A trade, however, may be a more likely situation for both sides. If traded at this point (after June 1), the Browns would only then eat $1.3 million in dead cap. There also could be a suitor or two who could be in need of a journeyman veteran quarterback who has won games as a starter in this league.
Looking directly at the Indianapolis Colts, Keenum could fill a void should Carson Wentz hit another setback with his foot injury. The early preseason returns on second-year player Jacob Eason were good, but behind him then is just day-three rookie Sam Ehlinger.
If Wentz is indeed out, Keenum could provide relief in case Eason struggles early on, or even to come in as their day-one starter. At this point, however, the Browns are not in a position to stress about their backup quarterback situation.
The New York Jets would also make sense as a trade partner for Keenum considering every quarterback on their roster that would be considered a veteran other than Josh Johnson. There is an argument that Keenum may be a better fit.
Keenum has experience playing in an outside zone both under Pat Shurmur with the Vikings, and with Stefanski in both Minnesota and Cleveland. He could be a good veteran mentor for Zach Wilson as the Jets transition to an outside zone offense under Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
The addition of Keenum made a ton of sense for the Browns a year ago (maybe not the price point). In a shortened offseason where the Browns and Mayfield were learning a new offense, it made sense to bring a veteran and a master of Stefanski’s offense like Keenum to mentor Mayfield’s transition.
In year-two in the system for Mayfield, and a year with a full offseason, the hope would be that Mayfield would no longer need this level of mentorship outside of his coaching. With that being said, the value of Keenum within this organization is understood, and this is not something Lauletta could bring to Mayfield and the offense.
Going back to the rollover situation, however, the Browns could look to eat $1.3 million next year in order to roll over an additional $6.5 million. This could be the added benefit of moving on from Keenum.
Let’s face it as well, if the Browns are hit with a season-ending injury to Mayfield, Keenum is not going to provide much relief in his absence anyway. What would be the difference in success from needing to start Keenum versus starting Lauletta? The margin cannot be wide.
While the conversations are premature at this point, Lauletta may have at least started a conversation within the Browns’ organization. If the Browns are looking forward to next year’s salary cap and the mouths they have to feed, then Keenum’s $5.2 million in freed up rollover cap could shade them towards trading him and keeping Lauletta.
Can the 26 year old quarterback force the hand of Berry and company? As the Browns take on the New York Giants, Lauletta’s former team, he will certainly be a storyline to follow.