I take pride in the fact that for any football story associated with the Cleveland Browns (or any other topic for that matter), I am able to collect my thoughts together in a short amount of time and whip something together. Today? I'm almost at a loss for words, but it's not because I'm upset or angry -- instead, I'm just surprised.
The Cleveland Browns have set a new standard in the NFL. This is unprecedented -- in Week 3 of the regular season, the Browns basically told both of their first-round draft picks from 2012 that their services will no longer be needed. Truth be told, that's not such a terrible thing.
Here is a chronological, bullet-point reaction to all of today's news, from my perspective:
The Starting Quarterback Situation
- For those who missed it, QB Brandon Weeden sprained his thumb near the end of the game against the Ravens this past Sunday. This morning, we were waiting for the news on whether he would be able to play this Sunday. The news was pretty surprising -- third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer would be getting the start, as Weeden was ruled week-to-week as he recovers from his injury.
- The rumors have long been out there that the front office did not care for Weeden, and this morning, I think the fan perception was, "this is Michael Lombardi's and Joe Banner's way of phasing him out of the mix."
- It spoke volumes when head coach Rob Chudzinski, when asked whether Weeden would reclaim his starting role when he returned, said, "I’m going to leave all of the options open. ... The bottom line is we want to play the guy who is going to give us the best chance to win."
- The reactions among Browns fans here was chaotic. Internally, there was even some dissension among our writing staff -- everyone seemed to be on edge, except for me. I actually planned on writing a piece when I got home tonight, explaining how the Browns were positioning themselves at quarterback, and how the pieces could be coming together soon for this offense with Josh Gordon on the way back and Shawn Lauvao getting close to a return.
- The announced demotion of Greg Little also seemed like a good way to make a statement. For as great of a training camp that the guy had, he has lost all of the credibility he built up by dropping passes left and right again. The traffic issues off the field, whether they matter or not, didn't help matters.
- If this is the end for Weeden (after the season), I understand why. I don't fault him for the team's offensive struggles through two games -- the receivers and the offensive line have plenty to do with that. In fact, I gave Weeden a positive review for his performance against Baltimore. However, he's also the type of quarterback who needs too good of a supporting cast around him to succeed. It's becoming clearer by the week that the front office wants someone who can do the opposite -- elevate the level of talent around him, like Robert Griffin III did in 2012 with the Redskins.
The Shocker -- So Long, Trent
- When I got home tonight, the first thing I did was log on to Facebook. The first comment on my wall was, "The Browns 2013 season is officially over," to which I thought, "jeez, are people still going on about the quarterback decision?" Then, the next status update I read set off the "holy shit" alarm -- "............ See ya Trent lol." I thought to myself, "don't tell me he tore something." I immediately loaded Dawgs By Nature, and saw the headline bolded right in my face -- "Browns trade Richardson to Colts for first-rounder."
- I looked at my clock. It was 7:29 PM. I read on Twitter that a press conference for Joe Banner and Rob Chudzinski was scheduled to start at 7:30 PM, so I quickly turned on my television station to listen, as one of our local news stations was broadcasting it live from Berea. I listened to Banner and Chudzinski speak. Chudzinski was rather mellow, but Banner had his, "business as usual" demeanor -- almost a quiet confidence that he couldn't believe what he just accomplished. Here's the thing -- I couldn't believe it either...but in a good way.
- Let me be clear: I am not a fan of saying that the Browns are ever tanking a season. That's what the Colts did two years ago to get Andrew Luck. What the Browns are doing, and I'll use Banner's term that he kept using, is "positioning" themselves to re-build the offense in the 2014 NFL Draft (and presumably in free agency).
- Raise your hand if you think the Browns' front seven is pretty damn awesome right now. Half of those pieces were here in the offseason (Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Jabaal Sheard, D'Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson), but to make it a complete unit, the team invested in Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, Barkevious Mingo, and Quentin Groves.
- Through two games this season, the Browns are the best team in the NFL in yards per carry given up to opponents. Even though the perception is that the secondary hasn't been good, the Browns are 6th in the NFL in yards allowed. That is like an abomination for this franchise -- Cleveland has not had a defense like this since returning to the league in 1999.
- I truly feel that the front office wanted this to be an audition year for the offense, so they could evaluate which pieces to the puzzle they would keep in 2014 (i.e. your Taylor/Rubin/Sheard/Jackson/Robertson combination of the offense), and which pieces they would add (i.e. your Kruger/Bryant/Mingo/Groves combination of the offense). We certainly expected that evaluation to last longer than two games, but if the agenda was there all along and an opportunity presented itself, why not take advantage of it?
- I am blown away that the Browns were able to get a first-round pick back for Trent Richardson. Because he was a member of the Browns, I tried to defend him as much as I could, and it is true that the run blocking was horrible for him. Except for one game against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012, though, Richardson has been a big disappointment. We would always hear about his talent in the open field, but for the past two seasons, every time I saw him catch a pass in the flat, I would stand up, thinking, "OK, here we go -- this is going to be exciting!" only to see him dropped after a couple of yards, or he'd break a tackle before going out of bounds.
- Maybe it was injuries. Maybe he just needs more time to develop. After one season, and a couple of games into the second season, it seemed quite possible that Richardson was not going to be an elite, game-changing back in this league. To basically get a mulligan on that pick, a first-round pick in the 2014 draft, is pretty remarkable to me. I could have seen a second-round pick, but not a first-round pick.
- That gives Cleveland a lot of options next year when it comes to re-building the offense. Remember, the front office also stockpiled on a bunch of later-round picks this past draft, in anticipation for 2014. Depending on where the Browns finish, they might have the quarterback they want fall into their lap, and can use that other first-round pick on some other position that can help the team. Or, they have enough assets in the draft to trade up to get the first overall pick if they really want their top quarterback.
What About the Rest of the 2013 NFL Season?
- What about the current season for the Browns, though? Is this a lost cause? Absolutely not.
- There are some questions that the coaching staff and the front office might have lost the locker room with today's moves, if they hadn't already. Here is one thing you won't have to worry about: Ray Horton is not going to let his defense be torn apart by this. The only player's attitude I could really see changing is Phil Taylor's, but I think the teammates around him can keep him motivated too.
- Offensively, I think some of the veterans -- particularly on the offensive line -- would be a little discouraged by this move. But, we have Josh Gordon coming back this week, a guy who can legitimately be a No. 1 receiver in this league. And, even if Hoyer does pretty well this Sunday, my confidence is still pretty high that Weeden will take over the starting role again to close out the season.
- As for the running back situation, I have to admit that I laughed out loud when Banner told the media, "well, we have Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey right now," in response to what was going to happen at the position now. I am very intrigued by the possibility of the Browns signing veteran running back Willis McGahee, though, who is being brought in to Berea for a physical on Thursday. If he passes the physical, the team will reportedly sign him.
- Some of you might find this ridiculous, but I'm going to say it anyway: based on what Richardson has showed us so far, if McGahee is healthy, I think he can produce more in this offense than Richardson would have. He has enough experience and got better as his career went on running the ball. He also does exceptionally well at pass blocking, which means you don't have to go with a fullback as often. He isn't known as a dynamic receiver, which is the knock you can make on him compared to Richardson. As I stated earlier, getting a mulligan for Richardson seems pretty fair at this point, and McGahee could be the perfect stop-gap solution until Cleveland finds a gem (everyone else seems to, so why not Cleveland)?
That's pretty much where I stand right now. This day will certainly be remembered in Browns history, because I don't think you'll ever see an NFL franchise pull off a move quite like this. I do see some light at the end of the tunnel, and I refuse to give up on a season that is just two games in. I think the Browns have found the right mix between fielding a competitive team and preparing the future, even though I feel many of you disagree with me on that front.
My early hunch is that we're going to see some positive things this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, and moving forward. If not, well, then you can come back and bite my head off. Until then, I'm going out on a limb; we'll see how many of you are willing to join me.
More from Dawgs By Nature:
- Cleveland Browns trade Trent Richardson to Indianapolis Colts for 2014 first-round pick
- Daily Dawg Chow: Browns news (9/19/13) - Richardson Trade Fallout
- Cleveland Browns QB Brian Hoyer to start against the Minnesota Vikings
- A Day That Will Go Down in History for the Cleveland Browns
- Game Review: Browns Fail to Score a Touchdown in 14-6 Loss to Ravens