For Brandon Weeden to Succeed, Browns Must Make Long-Term Commitment

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For Brandon Weeden to Succeed, Browns Must Make Long-Term Commitment
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Weeden will be the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback heading into offseason activities, according to team president Joe Banner (via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot).

"Brandon's the starter, and there's competition," Banner said, according to Cabot. "He'll have to come in and play well and work hard and prove that he deserves to maintain the position he starts in."

Despite the vote of confidence, Banner didn’t rule out the possibility of Jason Campbell, a newly acquired veteran backup QB, or a rookie usurping Weeden.

Will Brandon Weeden be the Browns' starting QB on opening day?

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Take that for what you will, but Weeden isn’t getting any younger, and the time for him to grasp this opportunity is slowly fading. As a result, there is an enormous amount of pressure on him coming into the 2013 season.

Oh, by the way, he turns 30 years old halfway through the year. Despite that, the Browns could potentially get nearly a decade of solid play out of Weeden. His body isn’t worn down from the seasons of punishment other quarterbacks have endured.

He might be rounding 30, but he’s still young in NFL years. No one will remember that he was drafted at 28 years of age if he plays successfully until he’s 40 and turns the Browns into winners.

That’s why, when he plays to his potential and keeps the starting job, the team should commit to him for the long term. His skills match the philosophy of the team’s new direction, and he has the ability to execute throws not many of his peers can.

 

He has to be given the chance, though

The backup quarterback has been the fan favorite in Cleveland for the past 13 seasons. Clamoring for and receiving change repeatedly hasn’t helped the team get any closer to fielding its “quarterback of the future.”

Continuity in a single system, under a single coordinator, is paramount in order for a quarterback to thrive. Being supported, trusted and given the confidence of the coaching staff is another piece of the puzzle.

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Jason Campbell never had continuity, either.

A QB looking over his shoulder and playing scared is not a QB who is going to advance his game to the next level. Jason Campbell presents Weeden with a challenge, one he knew was coming. If he beats out Campbell—and I believe he will—he should be fully supported by the regime until the end of the season.

He shouldn’t be afraid of making one mistake that will cost him his job.

Not every successful quarterback exploded quickly out of the gate in his rookie season. Others, especially those who were invested in with first-round picks, are typically given at least two seasons to prove their worth one way or the other.

This season will be huge for Weeden and the future of the Cleveland Browns. If he rises to the occasion and the team commits to him long term, the QB position will be solidified for nearly a decade. Then, the team can finally take steps towards bringing Cleveland its first Lombardi Trophy.

 

Lombardi and Banner can’t un-draft him

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, there isn’t much that the current Browns regime can do to fix the team’s quarterback problem. Michael Lombardi, the team's new GM, called the Browns' drafting of a Weeden a "panicked disaster" after selecting him No. 22 overall in 2012.

That initially didn't bode well for Weeden's chances. But it appears that Banner is exercising a "final say" authority within the team's front office hierarchy. If that's the case, Weeden may just have a real chance at winning this thing.

Even if he doesn't, releasing him and opting to move on so quickly is an awful waste of a potential quality player. His trade value isn’t likely very high at the moment, either, after his up-and-down rookie campaign. More on that later.

So, they did what anyone in his right mind would do: gave him a shot to prove his worth. If he doesn’t beat out Campbell, he doesn’t deserve the job. It’s that simple. At that point, committing to him long term is kind of absurd.

It’s a double-edged sword that this regime must handle better than its predecessor. Executives in the NFL live or die by their decisions at the quarterback position.

Weeden might not have not have been this group’s choice, but they inherited him. How they handle things moving forward will define their careers in Cleveland.

 

His rookie season wasn’t all bad

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People would have you think that Brandon Weeden bombed during his first NFL season after not living up to the excellent play of other rookie QBs. Things just never fully clicked for Weeden on a consistent basis during his rookie season.

It is that inconsistency that makes you forget about the good things he did do. After an 0-5 start, Weeden led the Browns to a 5-3 record.

He demonstrated some flashes of brilliance during that stretch, too. One example, a potential game-winning throw against the Indianapolis Colts, was a ball that he beautifully zipped over the top of the Colts’ secondary and into Josh Gordon’s hands.

Gordon dropped the ball, literally, but to no fault from Weeden. Blame the sun, blame a momentary lack of concentration by an otherwise solid receiver, but don’t blame the quarterback.

That Week 7 matchup was a good example of what he is capable of when given time in the pocket. Even though the team abandoned the run (against a poor Colts rush defense), Weeden completed 25 of his 41 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

He stood toe-to-toe with Andrew Luck and nearly led his team to victory over the playoff-bound Colts.

Despite positive performances like that, he did make his fair share of rookie mistakes. Some of them were the type that make you scratch your head and wonder whether Tom Heckert made the right decision when selecting him in the first round.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Not every rookie QB clicks in his first season.

Overall, he performed on par with other notable rookie quarterbacks. Through 14 games, Jacob Rosen at Waiting For Next Year compiled an excellent comparison between the performance of Weedon and 10 rookie quarterbacks who started 16 games in their first seasons .

The average of those quarterbacks (Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Rick Mirer, Peyton Manning, David Carr, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton) ended up looking like this: 286-492 (58.2 percent), 3,347 yards, 17 TD, 16 INT, 6.8 yards per attempt and 38 sacks.

Weeden's numbers ended up being very much on par. He finished, through 15 games, completing 297 of 517 passes (57.4 percent) for 3,385 yards with 14 TDs and 17 INTs. He also threw for 6.5 yards per attempt and was sacked just 28 times.

 

New system, new results

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Long gone is the antiquated West Coast offense, a system Weeden was never suited to operate from in the first place. His strengths are so disparate from Pat Shurmur’s three-step drop passing scheme that the deck was stacked against him from the start.

It can’t be stated enough that I think Weeden will thrive in the vertical passing attack of Turner and Chudzinski. With that change in scheme, Weeden will likely get more opportunities to throw out of the shotgun formation—where he happens to be most comfortable. He will also have the mentorship of Norv Turner, who helped groom Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers.

Weeden should show remarkable improvement this year and be rewarded with a long-term commitment as a result.

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