8 Side Effects of Brandon Weeden's Addition to Cleveland Browns Roster
Like most NFL teams, the Cleveland Browns are engaged in a delicate roster balancing act and the sudden acquisition of new starting quarterback Brandon Weeden has tipped the dominoes into motion and set off a ripple effect that will be felt across the league.
While the most obvious domino is Colt McCoy, he is by no means the only person to feel the wave. There are both substantial effects to Browns personnel and potentially more meaningful consequences to franchise records and power rankings.
Oh, come on—Weeden is only one player. Really? Sports professionals and fans alike have experienced the "for want of a nail" phenomenon, when one seemingly innocuous play, player or moment turns the tide of a season.
The recent Peyton Manning-neck-injury/Andrew Luck-staying-in-school perfect storm is the quintessential example of how one or two dropping shoes can cause tectonic shifts in the NFL juggling act.
Examining possible end games and unanswered hypotheticals resulting from the Cleveland Browns' decision to change partners at quarterback should, at the least, be entertaining. At the most, dare one say—prophetic?
Okay, okay—maybe not. The Oracle at Delphi is probably safe, but let's have some fun.
Colt, We Hardly Knew Ya—Scenario No. 1
Along about the Ides of June, front office denials regarding the imminent trade of Mr. McCoy began to wear thin. Fueled by Tony Grossi’s article, the perception emerged that Mike Holmgren would rather trade McCoy than flat-out cut him. “[The Browns] were sensitive to the fact he had gotten such a raw deal already.”
Well that’s big of them. Was that before or after they (allegedly) lied to him about not drafting a first-round quarterback? Talk about the “writing on the wall.” If ever the writing finger had "moved on," it was Thursday night, April 26. Pick No. 22 to be precise.
So the quarterback with the coolest name in football is losing his job. (Rock Cartwright comes in second on that name thing, by the way.)
The only mystery is whether there is any market at all for No. 12 or whether he will have to work out in his garage until another signal caller gets hurt. If it comes to it, maybe Vinny Testaverde could lend a pointer or two.
Considering the offensive systems and current rosters of all 31 potential contenders, here are the few likely takers.
1) Denver Broncos. At present, Caleb Hanie is the No. 2 quarterback in the Mile High City. At first glance, this looks like exactly the same philosophy that got Bill Polian fired in Indy: Pay Peyton Manning all of the money and pick up a cheap, nice-guy, useless clipboard holder.
Hanie’s stint as the starter in Chicago was positively embarrassing and it’s somewhat shocking that he has a gig at all in 2012. However, upon further examination, his situation was not significantly different from McCoy’s: no wide receivers, no O-line, no running game (remember, Matt Forte was injured).
One must assume that the former Bear gave a heckuva good workout since the Broncos are paying Hanie a cool million to take another stab at an NFL career.
It seems not unreasonable for John Elway to at least consider McCoy. Colt is smart and he could possibly bloom behind Manning. He’d at least have a couple of WRs and, one assumes, an improved Denver O-line designed entirely to protect the quarterback.
Besides, at under $600,000, it’s not as if landing McCoy is going to break any NFL owner’s bank.
Ah, but what about Adam Weber? Who? The 24-year-old former Minnesota Gopher who set college records in stats, though not wins. Weber was brought up from the Broncos practice squad last Thanksgiving and survived the QB storms to finish the recent OTAs at the No. 2 slot. Wow.
Though hardly a household name, Weber was the one filling in that third slot when many people said a year ago that Tim Tebow was the fourth-best QB in camp. Doesn’t sound quite so silly now, does it?
Former Bronco Brandon Lloyd said, “[Weber has] thrown four or five passes like that in camp where it’s been like … whoa. Weber’s got personality, and he’s got some swag about him, too.”
Mr. Weber is on a $390,000, one-year deal. Theoretically, Denver could have Weber and McCoy for less than Hanie. So result No. 1 for the Brandon Weeden ripple effect could be another backup QB battle in Colorado, with Hanie looking for a job.
In reality, the team will probably not keep both Weber and McCoy because they drafted Brock Osweiler to be the heir apparent when Manning moves on. Osweiler has been holding out for more money and is unsigned. A word of advice: Better get in there, dude.
If McCoy were indeed to move to Colorado, another huge side effect of the Weeden signing would likely remain completely subterranean and unspoken: If Denver did sign Colt McCoy, it would signal to the entire football universe that Peyton Manning’s arm strength has not returned and that Mike McCoy will be tailoring the offense primarily to the short passing attack.
And that information would rock the entire league.
McCoy on the Move—Scenario No. 2
2) Green Bay needs a backup QB in the post-Matt Flynn era. Aside from the weather, it might be a decent situation where Colt could sit behind a durable QB while learning their complicated offense.
But probably not. The Pack’s offseason backup is Graham Harrell, who has been with the team for two years and has gotten increasingly comfortable in OTAs running the second string. Mike McCarthy doesn’t seem moved to rock this succession boat:
I’ll say this about Graham: I’ve always been impressed with the progress he’s made with every opportunity he’s been given. This is clearly the best opportunity of his professional career…It’s right there for him as far as being the No. 2.
On the other hand, this kind of lukewarm endorsement from McCarthy isn't worth the wind it's spoken on.
3) How about the Eagles? Vince Young was, on paper, the ideal Mike Vick backup: mobile and erratic. It didn’t turn out quite as scripted. So, there’s a job opening right?
On the surface, no. Mike Kafka has effectively hard-worked his way into the No. 2 slot.
On the other hand, we'll be seeing how strong that Mike Holmgren/Andy Reid/Pat Shurmur/Brad Childress connection is. If Mike really wanted to help McCoy, he'd put in a good word. If anyone can muster faith in No. 12 and remember the respectable number of good drives he led, he might edge out Kafka on readiness-to-play criteria.
Advice to Kafka: don't stop working yet.
Colt McCoy Employment Tour—Scenario No. 3
4) Yeah, yeah, Big Blue has David Carr firmly entrenched. But does anyone truly get the sense that Tom Coughlin wouldn’t suffer a face-reddening blood pressure surge the instant that Carr stepped on the field?
Carr in many ways has had the same rotten luck as McCoy. An undeniable talent, he was completely ruined after serving as a human piñata for his entire Houston Texans’ tenure. It’s a tribute to his mental and physical toughness that he isn’t on disability with a chronic nervous tic.
But he was never the same again as a quarterback and every time he has been forced to play in relief, things have not precisely gone well. Carr is evidently a realist who knows a good thing when he has it, since he signed a one-year deal for just under $1 million.
McCoy will never have Eli Manning’s arm strength, but he might be worth a test drive as a discounted backup.
5) Meanwhile, the Big Easy’s Chase Daniel broke his finger. And he was doing well, too.
Backing up Drew Brees is almost as bad as backing up Peyton Manning when it comes to practice reps. The general uses them all. That’s why they are two of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL.
So, Daniel grabbed the opportunity to shine during No. 9’s holdout: Probably emerging as the only person remotely connected to the Saints who has enjoyed the last few months. Right up until he broke his thumb.
This leaves Luke McCown and seventh-round pick Sean Canfield to struggle with the complex Saints offense—and apparently it’s not pretty. What a surprise.
Colt McCoy would be an upgrade over either, though many will argue that McCown is serviceable. Terrific. Because "serviceable" is just what one wants driving the mostly highly tuned Ferrari offense in the NFL. When the designer of said Ferrari has been suspended and Mario Andretti is in a contract quagmire.
New Orleans will probably stick with McCown until Daniel heals, knowing that signing Drew Brees is inevitable.
The Best (for Him) Colt Landing Spot
Enter new head coach Jeff Fisher and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Luckily for quarterback Kellen Clemens, Schottenheimer is one of his biggest fans.
At $710,000 for the year, there isn’t much not to like about Clemens as a backup. Except that he can’t win. In 12 starts, the former Oregon QB is 4-8 with seven touchdowns to 12 interceptions. See, that’s not good.
Tom Brandstater remains the third option. Not even McCoy’s worst critics could think that he isn’t a better quarterback than both Clemens and Brandstater, so the Rams are the one team that really should be calling.
Except for the fact that Clemens and Schottenheimer are friends and Brian S. is still probably trying to defend his years of supporting Kellen as a Jet.
I’m sure this all sounds very familiar to Colt McCoy.
Wide Receivers: Odd Men Out
The Browns may well have planned to draft Kendall Wright at No. 22 and still pick up Brandon Weeden in the second round.
Would having Kendall Wright have kept the starting job in Colt McCoy’s hands? Possibly, if the team had only spent second-round money on Weeden. But when Wright went to the Tennessee Titans, McCoy's fate was sealed.
Wright, before his recent shoulder injury, was turning in a rather dazzling summer of work. He learned the X receiving position so quickly that the Titans were starting to move him around, translating into a potentially devastating offensive threat.
Had the Browns ended up with Wright, would they have picked speedy-but-slight Travis Benjamin anyway? It’s doubtful since, although Wright isn’t slow, there is no reason to take Benjamin as a deep threat when the Browns might have still had weaker-armed McCoy as a starter.
When a team still drastically needs help on both lines, they don’t draft a track star with the next Chad Pennington under center.
And not having Benjamin in camp would have been very good news for borderline WRs Jordan Norwood and Carlton Mitchell. With Mike Holmgren somewhat inexplicably still backing Mohamed Massaquoi for the No. 2 WR position, Norwood and Mitchell would have been competing for the third spot in instances where Cribbs wouldn't line up. Or at worst, the fourth/fifth spots against some long-shot ball catchers.
To further jeopardize the two young Browns-on-the-bubble, Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert then brought in two more really fast receivers in a committed attempt to stretch the offense once they had Weeden to throw it deep. Newcomers Bert Reed and Jermaine Saffold are definitely still in the fight for those last two roster spots.
Then there’s the Josh Cooper problem. Well, it’s only a problem if you are Norwood or Mitchell. Odds on Cooper landing in Berea if his college teammate hadn’t become the new quarterback: 100-1.
Salt to the wound, Cooper is playing so well in the slot that he’s being compared to Wes Welker in blogs across the Rust Belt. Yes, this is a little bit of crazy talk from overly excited Cleveland fans, but it isn’t totally unfounded.
Cooper’s chemistry with his Oklahoma State buddy has been mentioned in virtually every OTA review. Young Joshua is at least going to make it to preseason action. By the way, he is also working out as the emergency holder. Way to fight for a job, kid.
In January, Norwood and Mitchell only had to worry about each other. Now they have four more rivals and could be looking at unemployment.
Fullback: To Smelley or Not to Smelley
Trent Richardson’s college mate, Brad Smelley, was the last Browns draft pick. Cleveland may have ended up with Smelley regardless, considering the Richardson connection—but it may not have been with an official four-year rookie contract.
However, inserting Weeden into the lineup upped the ante for the passing game (star running back or no). The minute you think passing game, it’s very nice to have a fullback/tight end with great hands.
Despite his unexpected charisma, Smelley is currently performing at a UFA level and will have to make the team based on versatility. When asked if Smelley will have a significant offensive role, Pat Shurmur told assembled media:
I don’t know about significant. He is a guy that’s fighting to make the roster and what he would have to do is be a guy that would have to be somewhat multiple. He plays in the backfield, he can play on a line of scrimmage and then really he’s got to make his mark on special teams.
John Hughes Lucks Out
If the Browns hadn’t addressed the quarterback position by taking Weeden, the team may very well have had to take a QB with their third-round pick, instead of gambling on talented but “iffy” defensive tackle Hughes.
While the Browns’ need to improve their run defense was as desperate as their need to upgrade the O-line, taking a DT this high whose only real strength is playing versus the run raised eyebrows.
Had the team not been able to address the O-line with Mitchell Schwartz, this pick would have been an obligatory offensive lineman selection and Mr. Hughes would be somewhere else. Probably with less money.
In the mysterious ways of the football universe, Phil Taylor’s injury has thrust Hughes into direct competition with Scott Paxson for a starting role. By all accounts, he is rising to the occasion and there are no plans to sign a veteran with Hughes and Billy Winn both competing for a first-string shot. Or at least a firm hold on a rotational role.
Not bad for Hughes, who was scouted as “a depth addition for now. He will fill in for Phil Taylor or Ahtyba Rubin when either player needs a break.”
Well, Taylor is officially on a break.
'What If' Brandon Weeden Side Effects
What if Cleveland hadn’t picked Brandon Weeden in the first round?
Who would have picked the 28-year-old former pitcher?
Would the Packers have drafted him at No. 28 to be their backup? Would Harrell now be redundant or would Weeden be a third-stringer?
How about the 49ers with the 30th pick? Jim Harbaugh might not be in couples therapy with Alex Smith.
If the Browns had taken Kendall Wright at No. 22, their expensive wide receiver would now be hurt and they still might not have a quarterback.
Would Cleveland have picked Weeden in the second round instead of offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz? And would the Browns then have been able to land another RT who could immediately “fix” their not insignificant O-line problems? Without a RT of Mitchell’s ability, it wouldn't matter if Cleveland had landed Joe Montana.
Signing Weeden has so far cost three people their jobs (well, any minute now), drastically altered the careers of three rookies (four if you count running back Richardson) and set adrift at least one legitimate NFL backup quarterback.
In a league where the backup quarterback isn’t important—until he is—that alone could be the biggest ripple of all.
There are so many side effects to the Brandon Weeden signing that his arrival in Cleveland might someday qualify for a remake of It's a Wonderful Life. Browns fans hope so, anyway.
In the meantime, it's back to reality. The month is June. August will bring more unforeseen NFL developments. April, however, is gone:
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
For some (marginally) less hypothetical Browns analysis see:
Football in General: