The battle for the Browns' backup quarterback job is now a three-horse race after Thaddeus Lewis' performance in the first preseason game.
We all know that Brandon Weeden is the Cleveland Browns' undisputed starter at quarterback—yes, despite the shaky showing in his first preseason game. Remember, Weeden is a rookie after all, and he played just 15 snaps—but what about the other quarterbacks on the roster?
Behind Weeden are Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace and Thaddeus Lewis. And though the most attention in this battle has been paid the former two, it may be Lewis who ultimately decides the fates of the Browns' current Nos. 2 and 3 passers.
In last week's preseason opener, Weeden had three total series, all of which came in the first quarter. McCoy closed out the first half and had four drives. Wallace played the entirety of the third quarter and played four series, and Lewis had the fourth quarter to himself, resulting in three possessions (two, if you don't count him taking a knee with nine seconds remaining in the game as a possession).
With that in mind, here's how each Browns quarterback fared:
As you can see, the performances of the three backups were fairly comparable, and they all had similar lengths of time on the field. This means that Lewis could very well be contending for a job once thought to be handily under the control of either Wallace or McCoy—or both.
The debate doesn't just come down to on-field performance, either. It could also come down to the respective paydays for each of the three quarterbacks.
According to Sportrac, Lewis is set to make a total of $465,000 this season. McCoy's total salary for the year is just $727,750, while Wallace will command a whopping $3,066,667 in both salary and guaranteed bonuses.
While the Browns certainly aren't hard up for cash, examining the return on investment on these three quarterbacks makes Wallace seem far too expensive compared to McCoy and Lewis.
Further, Lewis simply has more of a future in the NFL. This is Wallace's 10th season in the NFL; he is as developed as he's going to get. Lewis is a third-year player, the same as McCoy, and could be a reliable backup quarterback in the long term.
There's no indication yet that the Browns are seeking to trade McCoy. While that doesn't mean they won't, if they do go that route, it may serve their purposes better to carry just one backup this year—Lewis and not Wallace—especially if Weeden's progress ramps up through the three remaining preseason games.
McCoy hasn't done much to ingratiate himself to the Browns' front office in the past year. But that front office may be entirely different by the end of the 2012 season, what with the new ownership group likely to come in after October's league-wide vote on the sale.
The Browns, therefore, may not try to make a move involving McCoy, especially if the Jimmy Haslam- and Joe Banner-led group have made it known that they'd like him around.
And if there is to be a front-office shakeup, that will likely result in team president Mike Holmgren being out of a job. The main reason why Wallace is even in Cleveland right now is that he has Holmgren's perennial seal of approval; without Holmgren, the Browns have little need to keep Wallace on the roster.
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Because of Wallace's age and the amount of money he's costing the team, he's therefore the backup quarterback with the least upside. Now that Lewis has proved himself a comparable, younger and more affordable option, it may be what he does on the field that determines Wallace and McCoy's futures, not anything they do—or do not do—alone.
This whole time, it appeared as though it was a two-horse race when it comes to Weeden's primary backup. Now that Lewis has rather convincingly insinuated himself into the conversation with his good arm and surprising mobility, neither Wallace nor McCoy should feel very comfortable.
Their fates seemed reliant on Weeden and the front office, but they never seemed threatened by Lewis. Things, however, have changed, and it looks that Wallace and McCoy have far less control over their futures than they did just a week ago.