Brock Osweiler was standing in a sand trap on a golf course in March when he got a phone call. The quarterback had been dealt to the lowly Cleveland Browns.
From one bunker to another.
Benched during a dismal 2016 season with Houston, Osweiler has risen in two months from being an afterthought in a trade to part of Cleveland’s starting quarterback competition. The Browns never considered Osweiler as a long-term option when they acquired him from the Texans for a 2018 second-round draft pick. He was supposed to be long gone by now.
But not only is Osweiler feeling welcomed in Cleveland, he’s convinced he can win the starting job — a role held by 26 other Browns QBs since 1999.
“Absolutely,” he said Wednesday following practice as a light rain began to fall. “My expectation is always to start. But once again, that’s not my decision to make. If I came out here and told you guys I wanted to be the backup, I’m in the wrong business.”
His critics would say that’s true.
After four seasons in Denver, the lanky, 6-foot-7 Osweiler signed a four-year, $72 million contract before last season with Houston, a playoff-ready team set to take the next step with the right quarterback. Osweiler was supposed to take the Texans to the top, but ineffectiveness and interceptions led to his benching by coach Bill O’Brien.
Soon after, he was on the market and the Texans were thrilled to dump him and his $16 million salary next season on the Browns.
For Cleveland, the move was made simply to add another asset, and Browns vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said as much in a team release.
“We’re really excited to acquire a second-round draft choice in this trade,” Brown said on March 9. “Draft picks are extremely important to our approach in building a championship caliber football team.”
The Browns have seemingly changed their minds as Osweiler is set to battle with Cody Kessler, rookie DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan for the No. 1 spot.
Osweiler is embracing another fresh start.
“I couldn’t be any more excited to be here,” he said. “From the day I arrived, you couldn’t have been welcomed in a better way. This has been an incredible experience so far. Right now, I’m just trying to work hard, learn the system and be a great teammate.”
Osweiler stuck to the high road during a 10-minute interview session. He refused to discuss his relationship with O’Brien or any reported friction with former teammates.
Browns coach Hue Jackson recently put Kessler, who completed 65 percent of his passes in eight starts as a rookie last season, atop the depth chart, the man to beat.
The Browns have been encouraged by Kessler’s growth in the past year and his willingness to strengthen his body this offseason through a strict diet and workout program.
That doesn’t mean the Browns are locked in with Kessler or that Osweiler isn’t going to fight.
“I think that’s great,” Osweiler said of Jackson’s decision. “Cody has certainly earned that right. He played in a lot of football games last year. I think he did a tremendous job. I’m the new guy on the block. I need to earn my stripes here, if you will, so Cody has certainly earned that right.
“But I can promise you I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can every day, because nobody plays this game to be a backup or to lose football games. You play to start and help your football team ultimately win.”
Osweiler, who passed for 2,957 yards with 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season, showed a pro’s touch with some tough questions. Asked if he believes he has what it takes to be a starting NFL QB, Osweiler quickly responded, “Absolutely.”
“I think the proof is in the film for the past two years,” he said.
When it was suggested that some would say that wasn’t the case, Osweiler said, “That’s OK.”
Jackson has been pleased with Osweiler so far, and said the 26-year-old’s experience gives him an advantage in camp over Cleveland’s younger QBs.
Osweiler has already stayed longer than expected, so maybe he was meant to be in Cleveland all along.
“The facts are: I’m here, I’m playing football, I love being a Cleveland Brown,” he said.