The Cleveland Browns have been searching for an answer at quarterback since the team rejoined the NFL in 1999. This year, that search has the makings of a battle between a veteran free-agent acquisition and a second-year "youngster" who isn't very young at all.
That's the latest from Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, who reports that Jason Campbell "will be given a legitimate shot to beat out [2011 starter] Brandon Weeden for the starting job."
Head coach Rob Chudzinski has also left the door open for a change under center, given his rather cryptic statements on the subject.
I feel good about the group. How all that plays out, we'll see and know in time. I'm excited about Brandon and the progress he's made thus far, learning the system to the point we are right now, which is still very early. I've also been pleased with Jason [Campbell] and the role he's taken on being there.
Well, that clears things up. Thanks, coach.
At the team's recent minicamp, Weeden took the first-team reps, and Chudzinski has indicated that will continue to be the case, for now at least.
The question then becomes whether that should be the case.
Weeden's rookie season was uneven at best. The 29-year-old completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw three more interceptions than touchdowns. His 72.6 passer rating was fifth worst in the NFL among quarterbacks with more than 200 attempts.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brandon Weeden was the worst quarterback last year. His minus-30.0 overall ranking was almost eight points worse than Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets.
Just chew on that for a second. Per PFF, Weeden was worse than the man who did this.
How is that even possible?
Granted, 2012 wasn't any kinder to Jason Campbell.
The 31-year-old, who spent last year backing up Jay Cutler in Chicago, made one start on the season. That start was a disaster against the San Francisco 49ers, when Campbell threw for all of 107 yards with a pair of interceptions.
Too bad "none of the above" isn't an option for the Browns.
However, somebody has to start under center in Cleveland. Perhaps something can be gleaned from examining the stats for Weeden in 2012 and Campbell in 2010, the last year when he made more than eight starts.
Weeden threw for slightly more yardage per game, and their completion percentages were similarly unspectacular. However, Campbell threw nearly as many touchdown passes in 13 games as Weeden did in 16, and Campbell's passer rating was more than 10 points higher than Weeden's.
It's a fair comparison. Both teams had talented running backs and wide receivers who won't be confused with Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall anytime soon.
Judging the pair by just those numbers, Campbell would seem to have the slight edge. That's not even taking into account the 2011 season, when Campbell was off to the best start of his career. He guided the Oakland Raiders to a 4-2 record before a broken collarbone ended his season and brought on the disaster that was the Carson Palmer trade.
According to Cabot, Campbell hasn't forgotten 2011. He's itching to get another opportunity to start in the NFL, although he's saying all the right things in Cleveland.
I was off to the best season of my career. To wake up and find out about the trade [for Palmer] and know I wasn't starting anymore, it was a tough pill to swallow. It's not about egos and things like that. I'm going to help Brandon as much as possible, but at the same time, I'm going to push him and compete and help the guys around us continue to get better, because if you win as a team, life is good for everybody.
The Browns should give Campbell that shot.
For starters, the offense that Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be running in Cleveland is similar to the one Campbell ran with the Raiders. As Cabot points out, Campbell went 11-7 over 18 starts in Oakland, throwing 19 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions with a quarterback rating of just over 84.
Yes, Brandon Weeden was a first-round pick only a year ago. It's a relative rarity for an NFL team to throw in the towel on a first-round quarterback after only one season.
However, Weeden isn't like most first-round quarterbacks. At 29, he's less than two years younger than Campbell is after eight years in the NFL. If last year's play was any indication, by the time Weeden "gets it" (assuming he ever does), he'll be well over 30.
Yes, it's unfortunate that the Browns chose to burn a first-rounder on a 28-year-old rookie signal-caller. To call it a puzzling pick is being kind.
However, that mistake is on the old regime, and thankfully the new collective bargaining agreement means the mistake won't cost the franchise tens of millions of dollars.
The only mistake that the new regime would be making is leaving Weeden on the field and perpetuating that misstep.
If Chudzinski is serious about an open competition, then that shouldn't be a problem. Jason Campbell may not be a world-beater, but at this point, he's a better quarterback than Brandon Weeden.
Now all he has to do is prove it.
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