Tyrod Taylor arrived in Cleveland in 2018 as the Browns' bridge quarterback. He returns as one with a chance for a little sweet revenge, even if he won't quite admit it.
Taylor is returning to Cleveland for the first time since his 2019 departure this weekend, and he'll again take the field at FirstEnergy Stadium as a starting quarterback. This time, it's as a member of the Houston Texans, who scored a surprising blowout Week 1 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game in which Taylor shined. Taylor completed 21 of 33 passes for 291 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 112.1 -- his best rating in a start since the 2017 season.
The conversation this week was, of course, about his time in Cleveland, back when they were the same old Browns. He's also not the only Texan who has spent time with the Browns in recent seasons, making the return trip to Cleveland with teammates Terrance Mitchell, Christian Kirksey and Lyndhurst, Ohio, native Pharaoh Brown.
"I mean, any time you get a chance to play against your former team, it's definitely an opportunity for you to showcase how you've progressed as a player," Taylor said. "Obviously, those guys spent more time in Cleveland than I did. I was there for a year and started for three games, got hurt in the third one. Everybody's story is different.
"Am I excited to go back? Yes, I am. But it's not about me, it's about our team here and us working hard throughout this week and us executing on Sunday. It's never about me or my feelings when it comes going to play against previous teams. Yes, that is part of it, but I'm not going to make a big deal about it. It's about me executing at a high level this weekend as well as everyone else in the locker room."
At the time of Taylor's arrival in Cleveland, the bridge he was supposed to create seemed to be a bridge to nowhere for the Browns, who were coming off an 0-16 season and still appeared to be many miles from legitimate playoff contention. Taylor had become a bit of a journeyman signal-caller, though, and this was a chance to earn a job for a year or two while playing in front of first-overall pick Baker Mayfield. It was also a chance to audition for another starting job elsewhere in the future, as everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Mayfield took over.
The entirety of Taylor's time in Cleveland lasted just three games. A concussion suffered on Thursday Night Football prompted Hue Jackson to insert Mayfield into the game, and the rest is history. Mayfield led the Browns to a comeback win over Sam Darnold and the Jets, Cleveland's first triumph in over a year, and the city fell in love with No. 6.
"I mean, obviously, it didn't end the way that I wanted it to end," Taylor said of his lone season in Cleveland. "But I think I grew as a person during that year, dealing with adversity, also becoming more of a vocal leader than I had before up until that time. Their team that we had in Cleveland in '18 was fairly young, so you had to find different ways to lead. Of course, at the time, I want to say I was 28, I think I was like the third oldest on the team. Guys looked at me as the oldest guy, or one of the older players. More vocal at times. It's tough to remember or it's tough to take away from that year, but more important, I think it was more on the personal side than it was actually football."
Taylor became familiar with Mayfield while sharing a quarterback room -- and a private quarterbacks-only RV -- with the future face of the franchise in 2018. HBO's and NFL Films' Hard Knocks crew was there to document it all, and the Browns' attempted turnaround after nearly two decades of futility. Even now, Taylor won't talk about what went down in the RV, a space with a fridge stocked exclusively by undrafted free-agent Brogan Roback, a fan favorite from Hard Knocks who has long since been out of football.
"That was a sacred space," Taylor said of the RV. "I can't tell those stories."
Mayfield essentially represents the reason for Taylor's departure, though it's unlikely he'd been surprised by the outcome. The time since has seen Mayfield rise to a prominent role with the Browns and in the NFL as a whole, with his efforts helping the Browns return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and win their first postseason game since the 1994 campaign last season. Despite his recent success, Mayfield did not forget what he learned from Taylor in their season spent together.
"I think people took Tyrod for granted," Mayfield said. "He is an extremely good leader. His work ethic alone, his routine and being the same guy every day for every single person in the building, it is a tremendous way of showing his leadership.
"Obviously, he is a great athlete and great quarterback. Everything he taught me leading by example and doing different things, not that we lead the same way but there are always different ways to learn. I am very thankful to have stepped into a QB room with (free agent QB) Drew Stanton and Tyrod that I was able to learn from those guys. It is something I am obviously very grateful for."
Taylor, meanwhile, is on another new team. Though he did compliment Mayfield for doing "a great job for the team since then," Taylor hasn't exactly had a lot of time to check up on his old teammate's progress.
"I have not, I have not," Taylor said when asked if he's followed Mayfield's career since Taylor left Cleveland. "I have respect for Baker, but I have not. I'd be lying if I told you I followed his career."
After his one-year stint in Cleveland, Taylor moved onto Los Angeles in 2019, where he backed up Philip Rivers and bided his time until he'd again become the starter. That opportunity arose in 2020, but again only lasted a little over a week. This time, it was an error on the part of a team trainer administering a pain-killing injection before a game that doomed his future with a team, sending Taylor not to the field as the Chargers' Week 2 starter, but to the hospital with a punctured lung. Justin Herbert was called into action, and once again, the rest was history.
Now, as the veteran replacement for Deshaun Watson, Taylor has a chance to lead a team for an entire season. He's off to a good start, though Week 2 will bring a much greater challenge than Jacksonville did in Week 1 at NRG Stadium.
"I'm pretty sure this is their first home game, so I'm pretty sure the crowd will definitely be excited," Taylor said. "I'm excited to go on the road, group of guys that we have in our locker room, and compete. Great test for us. Cleveland has a very good team in all three phases, so just looking forward to going out there and competing."