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Tyrod Taylor sees himself as more than a passing fancy in Cleveland

‘Coach Hue is going to do his best to make me a better player, and I’m going to do my best to help us win’

BEREA, Ohio – Up next at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Tyrod Taylor.

The Browns last week traded for the former Buffalo Bills signal-caller, hoping he’ll at least slow down their long-spinning quarterback carousel. Currently atop the Browns’ depth chart, Taylor is slated to become their 29th starting passer since the 1999 season. That’s a whole lot of quarterbacks. Taylor, though, may not even have the gig a whole season.

Cleveland holds both the Nos. 1 and 4 overall draft picks. With one of them, the Browns are expected to select a quarterback. It appears that Taylor is merely a placeholder. On the other hand, if Taylor connects with head coach Hue Jackson and helps the woebegone franchise achieve a modicum of success (around these parts, even a four-of five-victory season would be reason for a downtown parade), perhaps he’ll remain at the front of the line for a good stretch as well as get a new contract from Cleveland or another team.

For his part, Taylor plans to lead the Browns all season.

“I don’t necessarily view myself as a bridge quarterback,” said Taylor, under contract for $16 million in 2018. “I’m a quarterback. As far as a bridge, hopefully I’m helping bridge this team to a Super Bowl. And that’s the plan.”

In Jackson, Taylor has a boss who, despite his nightmarish two-year stint at the Browns’ helm, has displayed his offensive chops at multiple coaching stops. Potentially the only NFL team with a black head coach and black starting quarterback next season (Teddy Bridgewater will compete for the starting job with the New York Jets under Todd Bowles), the Browns envision Jackson and Taylor being a winning combination. Or at least something like that.

“We both understand that in this league, everything boils down to winning. But, yes, that’s something [the NFL’s lack of African-American head coaches and starting quarterbacks] that’s always there,” Taylor said Thursday at the Browns’ facility.

“Coach Hue is going to do his best to make me a better player, and I’m going to do my best to help us win. That relationship … that’s what will be most important thing about that relationship. But, yeah, anything that you have in common can help” build a relationship.

Relying heavily on rookie quarterbacks during his first two seasons guiding the Browns, Jackson is 1-31. Last season, rookie DeShone Kizer started 15 games. Cleveland joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as they only NFL teams to finish 0-16. Kizer was traded to the Green Bay Packers.

Obviously, a coach entering his third season with a .031 winning percentage is sitting on a white-hot seat. In Jackson’s situation, rolling with an adult at the position just makes sense.

“It’s going to be Tyrod Taylor,” Jackson said. “We’re going to get behind him, and he’s going to lead this organization.”

Taylor isn’t the only addition to the league’s 24th-ranked offense. The Browns traded for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, the former Miami Dolphin, to play alongside Josh Gordon, and also signed former San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde. Landry had a league-leading 112 receptions last season for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. Hyde rushed for 938 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I know everybody is talking about the past and what’s gone on here,” Jackson said. “I don’t think that’s what fazes [Taylor]. He’s been in tough situations before. We do have a lot of work to do, but those are two guys [Taylor and Landry] you start to change the narrative and culture with.”

Although Taylor’s three-year union with the Bills produced only one postseason appearance, that, by Bills standards, marked progress. After all, the franchise has had only three winning seasons since 1999.

On the final day of the 2017 regular season, Buffalo needed to win and received help to get in. The Bills closed with a 22-16 road victory over the Miami Dolphins. Taylor completed 70.4 percent of his passes and had a touchdown pass, no turnovers and a 74.1 Total QBR. Back in 2016, Taylor finished ninth in Total QBR at 62.4. Clearly, Taylor has skills.

“The way he carries himself,” Jackson said of Taylor, “you can tell he’s very proud of his accomplishments.”

NFL observers have criticized Taylor, however, for being too cautious with the football. And he struggled during Buffalo’s 10-3 AFC wild-card loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, completing only 17 of 37 passes for 134 yards with one interception. The Jaguars are young and supertalented on defense. Still, Taylor didn’t play well.

Maybe Jackson is the right coach to help Taylor climb higher. Perhaps Taylor will be the competent passer Jackson has needed in Cleveland. This much is certain: We’re about to find out what they are capable of doing together.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.