Andrew Catalon, Matt Ryan, and Tiki Barber on the NFL on CBS. Andrew Catalon, Matt Ryan, and Tiki Barber on the NFL on CBS. (CBS.)

Three days after a monumental 33-31 comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns’ season took a turn for the worse. On Wednesday, the team announced that quarterback Deshaun Watson will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a shoulder fracture that will require surgery.

And while Watson’s second season in Cleveland had largely been plagued by injuries and inconsistences, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback had been playing better in recent weeks. That put the 6-3 Browns in position for a potential playoff push. So the news of Watson being out for the year was a major blow to the Browns.

Cleveland’s current quarterback room consists of journeyman/former XFL standout P.J. Walker and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, neither of whom have provided Browns’ fans with much reason for optimism with their play this season. With the trade deadline having passed, Cleveland’s options on the quarterback market are slim. Even Carson Wentz has just signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent.

A look at the list of current free agent quarterbacks provides few proven players, and those who are proven are well past their primes (sorry, Joe Flacco and Nick Foles). One intriguing option, however, will be in Los Angeles when the Rams host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday — although he isn’t currently on either team’s roster.

After going un-signed following an uninspiring 2022 season with the Indianapolis Colts, Matt Ryan announced that he’d be joining CBS as an analyst for the 2023 campaign. Even at the time, the 2016 MVP clarified that he wasn’t technically retiring from the NFL and would be open to returning to the playing field in the right situation.

“All the stars would have to [align],” Ryan told SiriusXM NFL Radio in May. “I’ve just learned… in the 15 years I’ve played, to not shut any doors.”

While many noted that there were likely financial incentives for Ryan to remain un-retired, he admitted as recently as September that his agent had reached out to the New York Jets after Aaron Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles in their season opener. That deal, obviously, didn’t come together, and Ryan said then “I love what I’m doing” and said shortly after he had “no interest” in playing again. But the talk of agent outreach around the Jets would seem to indicate that Ryan hasn’t fully written off playing again.

Like Flacco and Foles, the 38-year-old Ryan’s best days are behind him. But he’s also only two years removed from being a quality NFL starter. As for why Cleveland’s quarterback vacancy might be attractive to the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback, the Browns boast arguably the best defense in the NFL, as well as one the league’s best offensive lines and a variety of playmakers including Amari Cooper, David Njoku and Elijah Moore.

Furthermore, Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski runs an offense similar to Kyle Shanahan’s system, which Ryan thrived in during his MVP season in Atlanta. Granted, that was seven years ago. But desperate times call for desperate measures and the Browns certainly qualify for that cliché at this time.

As for how willing Ryan might be to leave his CBS broadcast booth, if it’s a matter of money, Cleveland has more than $33 million in cap space. While the idea of signing a quarterback out of the broadcast booth in mid-November might seemed far fetched, it’s worth noting that the San Francisco 49ers were ready to sign Philip Rivers out of retirement had they made the Super Bowl earlier this year.

Still, all things considered, it’s much more likely that Ryan finishes his season in the broadcast booth (where he seems to be having a good time with play-by-play voice Andrew Catalon, analyst Tiki Barber, and reporter AJ Ross) and not with the Browns. But hey, maybe Robert Griffin III — who played for Cleveland in 2016 — is ready to make his case.

[Cleveland Browns]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.