Is trading Brandon Weeden a possibility for the Browns? Some around the league think so. The belief is that the new management team of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi don’t think much of Weeden, and they could try to deal him when they can get something for him.
Weeden, lest one forgets, was a first-round pick for the Browns last year and won the starting quarterback job without much competition. His 3,385 yards in 2012 were the second-highest passing total among the rookie quarterbacks and though he still had some rough edges to smooth out at season's end, it seemed like he wouldn't have much trouble retaining his job in his second year with the team.
But then, there were more changes. With new owner Jimmy Haslam came an entire reworking of the coaching staff and front office. Joe Banner came in as CEO, Michael Lombardi was added as director of player personnel, Rob Chudzinski was brought in to be the new head coach and Norv Turner was hired as his offensive coordinator.
Suddenly, Weeden's job became less secure. The brass decided that a quarterback competition would be the best move at the position, but Weeden is apparently looking forward to proving that he's earned the right to start for the second straight season. However, if the NFP's sources are correct, he may ultimately not even get that chance.
If the Browns turn away from Weeden entirely, it will be a mistake. There's no better quarterback to lead this offense than him, his 2012 missteps aside.
Even ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., doesn't think that there is any quarterback in the 2013 draft class that would outperform Weeden, saying in a conference call earlier this week, "Nobody right now is in this draft saying, 'if I’m Cleveland, I’ve got to take this quarterback even though I have Brandon Weeden.' There’s no quarterback that screams out, saying, ‘take me, even though you have Weeden because I’m that much better.’"
That's right—Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and all the other soon-to-be NFL quarterbacks don't project to do a better job this year than Weeden. At least, that's according to Kiper, who may not be the end-all, be-all of draft knowledge, but who certainly knows what he's talking about (it should be noted that his colleague, Todd McShay, saw Weeden as a third-round 2012 talent).
With the Browns having so many other positional needs that would be best met via the draft, using their sixth overall pick on a quarterback who won't outplay Weeden is an expensive waste. Even if Weeden was perhaps over-drafted last year, that doesn't mean he's any less talented than this year's not-as-impressive quarterback class.
Though free agency is also an option for the Browns, they'd be better off bringing in someone to compete with Weeden—as was their initial plan—than someone to outright replace him. While the Browns have just under $50 million in cap space to work with this year, there are no top quarterbacks available who are worth commanding a large salary, let alone deserving to take Weeden's job without a fight.
One other option, of course, is Alex Smith, whom the San Francisco 49ers will be looking to trade. However, the Browns' Chudzinski-Turner offense will be heavy on downfield passing, which isn't Smith's strength. Though he's certainly improved as a passer in the last two seasons with Jim Harbaugh as his head coach, there's no guarantee that improvement will stick in a new system, especially one that doesn't seem like a good fit for him.
In fact, the downfield passing scheme of the new offense seems to be tailor-made for Weeden, who has a strong arm, though he will need to iron out his issues with accuracy and decision-making this offseason in order to be successful. There's reason to believe that Weeden could throw for 4,000 yards this year in this system, as long as he makes the basic amount of improvement that is expected in a quarterback's second season.
With just one year of experience, it's hard to believe that Banner and Lombardi truly "don't think much of Weeden." He's shown nothing to indicate that he's a bust, that he cannot lead the Browns offense or that he's already reached his ceiling. Though there may be some nerves regarding his age—he'll be 30 in October—it really has no bearing on how well he can do his job.
Weeden may not be the new regime's "guy," but that also doesn't mean that he's simply just a holdover from the Pat Shurmur-Tom Heckert-Mike Holmgren era, either. And though the Browns are no stranger to change, especially at the quarterback position, it doesn't mean that making another switch is right for the team.
At the very least, Weeden should be given the opportunity to compete for the right to retain his job. He shouldn't be traded away without having that chance—especially not in favor of any of the soon-to-be rookies in the 2013 draft class nor for one of the second- and third-tier quarterbacks available in free agency.
Simply put, there's no better quarterback out there for the Browns this year than Weeden. If he stays, he'll take a step forward and bring the entire Browns offense with him. If they trade him away, it will be a major step backward.