CLEVELAND — The Browns found a “franchise quarterback,” just maybe not their own.
And whoever winds up behind center in Cleveland will be well protected.
With an eye on making another move at quarterback, Cleveland acquired veteran Brock Osweiler and a 2018 second-round pick on Thursday in a stunning trade with the Houston Texans, who were looking for a partner to help them get rid of the QB’s $16 million guaranteed contract.
At first, the unusual trade was met with the usual, Browns-being-Browns skepticism.
However, the deal was made simply to give Cleveland more assets to perhaps trade for another QB such as New England backup Jimmy Garoppolo, and it allows the Texans to clear some salary-cap space to make a run at a starter.
Cleveland, which also signed veteran wide receiver Kenny Britt to a deal, and Houston are also swapping 2017 fourth- and sixth-round picks.
The Browns spent liberally on the first day of the free agency signing period by landing former Cincinnati Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60 million), Green Bay center J.C. Tretter (three years, $16.75 million) and giving left guard Joel Bitonio a five-year, $51 million extension. Those moves were followed by the swap with Houston, an out-of-the-box maneuver that could position the Browns to finally solve their decades-long quarterback issues.
They have not yet decided what they’ll do with Osweiler, and his arrival does not necessarily affect any decisions on Robert Griffin III, who is due a roster bonus this weekend.
But having Osweiler — and another high draft pick — provides the Browns with more ammunition to finally get their messy quarterback situation cleaned up. It’s possible they’ll try to entice the Patriots to move the 25-year-old Garoppolo, who won two starts last season while filling in when Tom Brady was suspended.
Cleveland has two first-round picks, Nos. 1 and 12, and two second-rounders this year, and three second-round picks in 2018.
With nearly $102 million in salary-cap space to start the day, the Browns were in a position to take on Osweiler’s contract and essentially paid $16 million for another high draft pick.
“We’re really excited to acquire a second-round draft choice in this trade,” said Sashi Brown, Cleveland’s executive vice president of football operations. “Draft picks are extremely important to our approach in building a championship-caliber football team. We are intent on adding competition to every position on our roster and look forward to having Brock come in and compete.”
However, it’s possible the Browns, who now have 11 picks in this year’s draft, will move Osweiler long before he sees a field in Cleveland.
Osweiler went 8-6 in 14 starts for Houston last season. The Texans are in the market to upgrade the position, and there’s a strong chance they’ll take a run at Tony Romo, expected to be traded or released by the Dallas Cowboys.
“We are committed to bringing a championship to the city of Houston,” said Texans vice president of football operations Rick Smith. “We are exhaustive in our efforts and the resources provided by the McNair family allow us to operate that way. We continuously evaluate our decisions and processes to ensure the results match our goals and objectives. The decision to trade Brock was made because it was in the best interest of the team.
“It frees up both cash and salary cap room to continue to improve our football team. We appreciate Brock’s effort and leadership while he was with us and we wish him and his family well.”
The 6-foot-7 Osweiler is in his sixth NFL season. He signed with Houston as a free agent last year after four seasons in Denver.
Not long before striking the deal with Houston, the Browns got Zeitler, considered by some as the top lineman available in free agency. He’ll be reunited with coach Hue Jackson, who served as Bengals offensive coordinator for two seasons.
“I think Kevin is one of the premier right guards in football,” Jackson said. “I believe he’s going to be a really good football player for us at a position of need, and I think he’ll do a great job.”
Cleveland’s line was ravaged by injuries last season and gave up a league-high 66 sacks (17 more than any other team), something Jackson had made a priority when he was hired by the Browns. But with Zeitler and Tretter joining Bitonio and perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, one of Cleveland’s biggest weaknesses is now a strength.
Tretter has been slowed by injuries, but he’s an upgrade over 2015 first round-pick Cameron Erving, whose next move could be to right tackle.
Britt gives the Browns another playmaker, and insurance in case Terrelle Pryor signs elsewhere. Britt caught a career-best 66 passes for 1,002 yards last season for the Rams.
“Kenny’s been a proven playmaker in the National Football League,” Jackson said. “He’s a big guy. He’s fast, tough. He’s made plays in his career, and we’re looking forward to him doing the same thing here.”
Pryor has said he wanted to re-sign with Cleveland, but the sides have not been able to work out a deal.