The Realities of the Cleveland Browns’ Quarterback “Competition”


May 16, 2013; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell (17) watches as quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) throws a pass at organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

When the signing of Jason Campbell was announced, there was talk of a quarterback competition in Cleveland.  There will be a quarterback competition but it is going to be graded on a sliding scale and while Campbell could end up as the starter, he is more likely to end up as the third string quarterback behind the object of Mike Lombardi’s affection, Brian Hoyer.  The fact of the matter is that while Brandon Weeden is fighting for a sixteen game audition to be the future of the Browns, there is little or no upside in having anyone else play the position this year, so unless he falls on his face completely in training camp, he is going to the starter.  The winner of the Campbell/Hoyer competition will have to outplay Weeden by a decent margin for there to be any reason in having either of those two start.   Browns fans should be hoping that Weeden is the starter, unless they want to draft another quarterback early in the draft. because short of divine intervention, that is the direction the Browns will be going in the upcoming draft if Weeden cannot win the job and then distinguish himself as a good starting quarterback this season.

Weeden is the only chance the Browns have any long term starter on the roster.  If there are fans who want to hold onto the ‘what if’ idea of having Campbell or Hoyer turn into a long term answer, more power to them but that is more fantasy than anything resembling reality.  Campbell has proven to be nothing but a good backup and stopgap player who can start in a spots.  His career average is just a speck under one touchdown per game and he is 31 year old.  While that is only barely older than Weeden in age, Campbell has been in the league nine years and played 76 games.  He is a good backup but not a realistic starter for any real length of time.  There is definitely value in having a good backup quarterback but that is all he can be if the Browns have any hopes of competing.

Meanwhile, Brian Hoyer was so good, so talented, and so sought after that he was picked by the Arizona Cardinals this past year off of the street.  And the Cardinals were so loaded at the quarterback position with a stable of whatever is left of Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley, and Caleb TerBush, they simply could not afford to keep Hoyer.  Hoyer is another in the less than illustrious history of Tom Brady backups for the Patriots who was an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State and inexplicably, Mike Lombardi has had a crush on for years.  Fortunately, head coach Rob Chudzinski will have the final say on who plays the position.  Hoyer might be a fine backup but he is not a great fit in the Browns offense as it is currently constructed.

All a win in training camp means for Weeden is the opportunity to prove over the course of the season that he has a legitimate future as the starter and can lead the Browns to a championship.  The early returns were dubious his rookie year but the hope for the Browns is that being put in an offense that fits him better and having the weapons around him with more experience will allow Weeden to have a much improved sophomore campaign.  Weeden’s arm strength and ability to go down the field could work to open opportunities up underneath and create opportunities for the running game, but he has got to improve his consistency, presence in the pocket and ability to find passing lanes.  He improved in his ability to work in the pocket over the course of the year but his lack of ability to find passing lanes was abysmal and he had numerous passes knocked down, which obviously proved problematic.  Weeden claims to be far more comfortable and confident under Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner but ultimately he will need to show it when the rubber meets the road in training camp, the pre-season and then the regular season beyond some glimpses of a competent quarterback.

The suspension of Josh Gordon hurts but he could have an improved second season and Greg Little played well the last half of last year, so he could be ready to make a big impact as a third year player.  A healthy Trent Richardson would do wonders for this team if he can be the bell cow running back he was drafted to be along with a decent stable behind him.  Jordan Cameron is going to be counted for a much bigger year as Chudzinski and Turner have an affinity for that position as does the NFL and the fact that rules have made the game far easier for tight ends to make an impact.  The offense has as much stability and continuity as it has seen since Derek Anderson was here in 2007 and 2008; not coincidentally the last time this team had a winning record and looked like it had hopes to be competitive for any stretch of time.  Although there are some questions at guard, the Browns are incredibly stable at the tackle and center spots, provided everyone stays healthy.

The new Browns regime has no skin in the game with Weeden, but he was a first round pick whether he deserved it or not and that is a sunk cost for the organization, but an opportunity for this new group.  If Weeden falters, then the new front office is forced to pick a new quarterback next year, which is expected of a new regime when it comes into a situation like the Browns.  If somehow Weeden can prove to be an effective quarterback, the entire complexion of the offense changes as does their trajectory this year.  If the Browns get average play from the quarterback position, the rest of the offense could use potentially another guard, tight end, and wide receiver, but the offense is basically done.  And whatever holes are on the offense will be covered up by effective play behind center.  It is a low risk proposition for the organization and prevented them from making a stupid mistake in a pitifully under-powered quarterback class this past year.  If Weeden can prove to be a worthwhile quarterback, the Browns have a chance to be a playoff team and at least should be playing meaningful football into December.

Should Weeden show he can do the job and be a longer term answer to the position, this year’s NFL Draft becomes a matter of picking from a number of talented areas that could definitely help the Browns.  Adding a talented tight end like Austin Seferian-Jenkins or one of what could be a talented wide receiver class or what appears to  be a better cornerback class at the top including Bradley Roby or Ifo Ekpre-Olomuboth of which appear to be better than Dee Milliner based on last year’s tape, the Browns could make a huge leap forward this year and attack an area of need or really put a stamp on a position to give them a competitive advantage.  If Weeden cannot distinguish himself as the starter, it is hard to believe the Browns will be bad enough for Teddy Bridgewater out of Louisville but there are some other signal callers that could become the center of conversation.

While much of the conversation for those keeping track of the quarterbacks for this coming year immediately goes to Tajh Boyd from Clemson, he is only one of a few good options.  Boyd has some accuracy concerns on timing routes he needs to clean up but his deep ball accuracy and athleticism would be a terrific fit in the Browns offense.  While Boyd could be a contender for the job of the Browns quarterback position if Weeden should falter, there are a few other players that could push him or even be selected ahead of him depending on how this season goes including Jeff Mathews from Cornell, Derek Carr from Fresno State, and perhaps Stephen Morris from Miami.  Others will come to the forefront and some of these could falter but there are talents that fit what the Browns want do on offense should Weeden be unsuccessful in securing the position for the long term.

If Weeden should falter, the Browns will be the best team for a young quarterback outside of maybe the Tennessee Titans if Jake Locker is unable to lock down that position.  The acquisition of additional picks could provide the added flexibility to move up and get a quarterback in this year’s draft should they need one.  No, the picks themselves may not be involved in the deal but having those picks makes it far easier to use a second round pick or future pick in a trade up scenario and either be used to move up for other picks or just used to add more talent.  If Weeden does not win the job coming out of camp, as slanted as the grading scale will be, it means the Browns are drafting a quarterback next year.  If Weeden does win the job, it is an opportunity to prove he can do the job, but may ultimately just delay the inevitability of drafting a quarterback next year.  It is important to realize that the Browns’ offense is far closer than people realize but just how much a good quarterback can do for a team.  The Browns go from a middle of the road team to a playoff contender potentially looking for the final pieces of the championship puzzle in the next couple seasons.  There is a great deal of talent and potential there but the right coaching staff and quarterback are needed to flesh it out; the Browns hope they have at least half of the equation figured out with Chudzinski’s staff.  Weeden will have the opportunity to prove he is the other half, but the Browns are well positioned to deal with the issue in either scenario.  While there will be a competition for the starting job of the Browns, the more realistic competition is actually between Hoyer and Campbell for the backup spot, though that will not stop the local media from pushing the story.