It is the week before the Super Bowl as the calendar marks early February, which means that the Cleveland Browns have now been out of playoff contention for at least three months. While other franchises made the leap from cellar-dweller to playoff participant (i.e. the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, even the Denver Broncos) this season, the Browns continue to languish in the basement of the AFC North with no ascendant route to relevancy in site.
The Browns do have a couple things going for them. The best way to turn around a franchise is by stockpiling good young talent — look at what rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green did for the Bengals this season. The Browns own three of the first 37 picks in April’s draft, but the problem is the organization doesn’t know what positions need to be filled. Namely, the NFL has become a quarterbacks’ league and Cleveland doesn’t quite know what it has in Colt McCoy, who, like the rest of the team, has underperformed over the past two seasons.
At this point, it seems the Browns have three options, two of which involve giving up on the former Longhorn. The most talked-about option has been taking Baylor QB Robert Griffin at No. 4. The Heisman winner seems to have the athleticism, accuracy and moxie to succeed at the next level. The second course of action is pursuing a QB through free agency in Matt Flynn. The final option is to not address the quarterback position and instead fill all the holes around McCoy with the intention that McCoy is absolutely the future going forward.
The Browns’ best option, is none of these three. Instead, the Browns’ best option may be to take a long, hard look at Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.
At this point, McCoy is an enigma. He won two of his first three NFL starts, but since then has a record as a starter of 4-14. While it was well-known when McCoy was coming out of college that he didn’t possess greatest arm strength, his accuracy and decision-making were considered his biggest assets. So far, McCoy has a pedestrian career completion percentage of 58.4 and has thrown as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns. Moreover, the saga involving the organization’s handling of his concussion in Week 14 against Pittsburgh literally added insult to injury. Many fans in Northeast Ohio are wondering whether it would be better to just start over.
This, however, is the Browns’ problem. While stability has been the key to the sustained success of division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the Browns have been inclined to tear down the existing model every election cycle. While the Browns’ management has often been caricatured as a circus, the more accurate analogy is a carousel.
The bottom line is that the Browns’ troubles can’t squarely be placed at McCoy’s feet. McCoy’s supporting cast is more underwhelming than a collection of characters in a B movie. Not even Joe Namath would have won many games with Greg Little as his most dynamic receiving target. Whatever new quarterback the organization would bring in would be doomed to fail if the Browns don’t dramatically upgrade the talent around him.
The organization is in a precarious position because hasn’t really done enough to earn the job as the unquestioned starter, nor has he done poorly enough to demonstrate that the Browns need to look elsewhere immediately. Ideally, the best fit would be to bring in another player who can compete for the job along with McCoy. This is the basis of the quandary for club president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. It may well be that McCoy isn’t the long-term answer, but if they are forced to use a high draft pick on a new quarterback, that’s another premium pick that can’t be used to bolster the rest of the team and the Browns’ vicious cycle of futility continues.
This is why selecting Griffin at No. 4, or even trading up to get him and forfeiting even more draft picks, doesn’t make sense. The Browns are in dire need of explosive playmakers, and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson would seem to be ideal fits. However, the Browns won’t get a shot at either of them if they select Griffin at the top of the board.
The second option would be shelling out top dollar for Flynn, the Green Bay quarterback who is poised to go from being Aaron Rodgers’ understudy to the new future of an underperforming team, like Washington, Miami, or, well, Cleveland. The problem with Flynn, though, is that he is an unknown quantity, just like many of the quarterback prospects in the draft. Flynn has two career starts for the Packers, and while he put up gaudy numbers in those trial runs, he had a plethora of weapons to work with. He won’t have that in Cleveland. Moreover, the track record of celebrated backup quarterbacks who get a chance elsewhere is quite spotty. Kevin Kolb didn’t exactly pan out in Arizona after he left Philadelphia and Matt Cassel hasn’t exactly lit it up in Kansas City the way he did for one year in New England. There’s no guarantee Flynn could come in and look any better than the mediocre McCoy has in the past two seasons.
In a best case scenario, Flynn could come in and compete with McCoy for the starting nod, which would also push along McCoy. However, Flynn will likely only sign with a team where he will be the unquestioned starter. Moreover, the contract Flynn will command means that he will have to be the starter. No team would give Flynn $50 million, only to see him be the No. 2 man on the depth chart.
Given these less desirable options, it seems the Browns are best-suited to stick with McCoy and hope that he fares better with some young targets around him (South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery or Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd will likely both be around in the mid-to-late first round). Through two seasons, the Browns still aren’t sold that McCoy is the long-term answer — his alibi is simply that the guys around him aren’t any good either. The Browns need a solid insurance policy behind McCoy if, after six games, the third-year pro still hasn’t demonstrated significant improvement.
This is where Weeden comes in. By all accounts, Weeden’s arm strength, accuracy and moxie would otherwise make him a first rounder. However, because he played minor league baseball for five seasons before playing for Mike Gundy, Weeden is 28 — older than McCoy, Flynn and even Rodgers. Therefore, in a best-case scenario, Weeden is only going to be able to play for eight seasons, rather than the 10-plus years for most guys coming out of college. While Weeden would otherwise be a promising investment for quarterback-needy teams, he is likely going to be around well into the second round and perhaps even the third.
Weeden would be an ideal fit for the Browns, especially if they were able use their first three picks (4, 22, 37) on other positions. Weeden would be more than a capable insurance policy if McCoy doesn’t rise to the occasion in his third year, and the competition in training camp between the two could make both signal-callers better. This is the one scenario where the Browns aren’t completely giving up on McCoy, but at the same time aren’t hitching their wagon to a player whom they thought be further along in his development at this point in his career.
As a result, if McCoy isn’t the answer, the Browns would already have a player with considerable upside who could step in and already be more capable than journeyman Seneca Wallace. Also, if Weeden stepped in and performed, the Browns wouldn’t have to enter next year’s draft still in search of a franchise quarterback and having to give up an arm and a leg to win the services of Matt Barkley.
As bad as the Browns have been recently, the future isn’t totally bleak. The defense, especially on the line and in the secondary, shows promise. The biggest assignment for Holmgren, Heckert and Pat Shurmur is finding the pieces on offense and putting them together so the team can finally be relevant. Bypassing Griffin and Flynn, while taking a flier on Weeden and fortifying the rest of the roster, may put the team in position to do just that.
Category: Cleveland Browns