The Cleveland Browns are a franchise quarterback away from Super Bowl contention.
Yes, you read that correctly. The team that has made just a single playoff appearance in the past 11 years is nearly ready for an extended postseason push.
The last key remaining piece is the ever elusive man under center. Twenty different quarterbacks have started games for Cleveland since 1999, including two new ones through nine contests in 2013. The instability at the position has been absurd.
This squad is potentially one player away from developing an ongoing winning culture primarily because of its aggressive defense.
Under defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the Browns "D" has turned from being reactive into an attacking group.
The addition of free agents and draft picks in a rotating front seven has more often than not been the club's strength this season and provides hope to an inconsistent offense.
Currently ranked in the top 10 of NFL defenses, this unit is still young and shows the potential to stall or stop anyone in the league.
On the other side of the ball, Cleveland has a core of receivers in place with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
The duo has combined for nine touchdowns and over 1,200 yards through the air this year. Those numbers were divvied out from three separate signal-callers, so just imagine what they could do when fully comfortable with one.
The front office brought in Davone Bess to be a reliable veteran on underneath routes and to move the chains on third down. He broke out of his slump in last Sunday's win over Baltimore by securing three clutch catches, two of which went for scores.
Having Bess and his 64.2 average receptions per season back clicking as a go-to option in the slot for 2014 solidifies the receiving corps for whomever may be leading the huddle.
The question now becomes whether the franchise quarterback is currently on the roster, can be had via free agency or is awaiting in next May's entry draft.
As long as your name isn't Brandon Weeden, the playbook of Norv Turner has been effective and creatively executed heading into the bye week.
That comes from above-average, but not stellar, efforts by Brian Hoyer and currently Jason Campbell. A competent QB performance highlights offensive weapons that can deliver points and eat up clock.
This leads one to believe that a top-tier performer could lead the Dawg Pound to the promised land.
It's doubtful that CEO Joe Banner sees a Super Bowl MVP in the future of either Hoyer or Campbell.
While Hoyer's hometown hero story was a definite spark, the sample size of three starts is far too small to be sure that the undrafted Ohio native is your long-term answer. His recovery from a torn ACL, which occurred in the eventual victory over Buffalo, is also a legitimate concern.
A former first-round selection by Washington, Campbell is a journeyman who is shocking the world with his efficiency over the past two weeks. At 31, age takes him out of the conversation to being a future building block.
That doesn't mean one or both won't be wearing orange helmets come next September. The best-case scenario is that they are in Cleveland but in bridge and mentoring capacities to a rookie.
All signs point to Banner and co. choosing an upper-echelon prospect at the most important position in football. Cleveland has loaded up on additional draft picks in case they need to make a bold move to land their perceived franchise quarterback.
Banner acquired an additional first-round pick from Indianapolis in the Trent Richardson trade as well as extra third- and fourth-round selections via Pittsburgh and Indianapolis earlier in the year. The team now holds 10 picks to work with in the upcoming draft.
It's still too early in the NCAA schedule to narrow down which signal-caller would fit best in the Browns offense. What complicates the potential choice is that head coach Rob Chudzinski and Turner have had success developing different styles of quarterback.
|Top 2014 NCAA Quarterback Draft Prospects Ranking|
|1. Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville||6'3"/205||1|
|2. Marcus Mariota||Oregon||6'4"/212||1|
|3. Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||5'11"/210||1|
|4. Zach Mettenberger||LSU||6"5"/235||1-2|
|5. Brett Hundley||UCLA||6'3"/222||1-2|
|6. Derek Carr||Fresno State||6'3"/215||1-2|
|7. Tajh Boyd||Clemson||6'1"/225||2|
So far this fall the above athletes resemble more of the inconsistent play that plagued last year's class of quarterbacks than the star-studded crew from 2012 led by Andrew Luck.
It's rare in today's NFL to allow a high selection to learn from the sidelines instead of being thrust under center. What if a Hoyer/Campbell combination could carry the load through 2014 and have the rookie percolate a la Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers?
In that scenario, at least fans who bought the new QB's jersey wouldn't need to have the name removed after a single season as has been the trend in Cleveland.
As far as available free agents go, it is best for fans to focus on the draft. The most notable names presently without a deal are Jay Cutler, Josh Freeman and Michael Vick. Whether it's age, attitude or price, no thank you to all. See a complete list at Spotrac.com
The puzzle is quickly coming together in all areas for this club, and solidifying quarterback will be the final piece to bring it all together. This administration's reputation and legacy rides on getting it right.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81
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