The quarterback who temporarily saved the Cleveland Browns is done for the year, making the quarterback who was all but dismissed the quarterback again.
Here’s the real kicker: For the next few weeks, anyway, and maybe for the rest of the season, the Browns are playing for something.
So, can they trust Brandon Weeden? To keep the team winning and to stay healthy standing in the pocket the way he does?
More than anything else, Brian Hoyer made quick, mostly sound decisions before tearing his ACL early in Thursday night’s game. He got rid of the ball and got out of the pocket. The Browns don’t have much of a running game, putting more onus on the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly to keep defenses from zeroing in on five and seven-step drops.
Those aren’t Weeden’s strengths, but he did throw for 197 yards and a touchdown — most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over — in replacing Hoyer against the Bills and is the logical choice to start the Browns next game. Jason Campbell remains on the roster but was the backup who was passed over for Hoyer, who went through preseason as the third stringer. There’s little reason to think the Browns trust Campbell if they need him.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers having released Josh Freeman on Thursday, do the Browns explore signing him?
It’s something the Browns probably have to explore, even if the chances aren’t great that they actually do it. Three administrations and four years ago, the Browns traded with Tampa Bay to allow the Bucs to move up in the 2009 NFL Draft and select Freeman, but after a breakout 2010 campaign Freeman began falling out of favor in Tampa Bay.
The details were ugly before he was ultimately released. That conclusion was best for both parties; there’s no guarantee, though, it will be enough to save coach Greg Schiano.
If the Browns think Freeman might help them, they’ll want to get to the bottom of what really happened with in Tampa Bay, as well as consider the rest of the picture. An idea of what they’ll have to consider is below…
From a committment standpoint, it’s low risk: Freeman is a vested veteran who’s not subject to waivers and will be able to exercise his one-time option to collect the rest of the 2013 salary he’s owed by Tampa Bay. The Browns not only have plenty of cap room but probably wouldn’t need to offer Freeman any guarantees. Freeman has to prove himself as a good soldier before he makes any more big checks.
He’s only 25. He’s had some NFL success and seen how fleeting NFL success can be. Lots of guys don’t make it until they’re forced to see the light — and/or their football mortality.
The Browns have a long weekend if they choose to make a move. They could bring Freeman in, pick his brain, get a feel for his mindset. If they like what they see and hear, they could get him in their playbook instantly.
Freeman has 59 games starting experience, has some talent, has quarterbacked a winning team and has been through ups and downs. He was above 61 percent completions and threw 41 total touchdowns in 2010-11. Guys who can do that generally aren’t available in early October.
Switching quarterbacks is not something any team wants to do. Most of the Browns locker room, though, is used to change from recent years — and has already seen Weeden benched once. Going all the way back to last winter, no Browns decision maker has said much of anything to indicate there’s much faith in Weeden. This Browns defense is ready to win now, and adding a quarterback who might — and it’s just might — be an insurance policy and might be able to win shouldn’t be a locker-room issue.
This front office clearly isn’t afraid to be bold. That’s a welcome change. Whether adding Freeman would be both bold and smart, though, depends on how those members of the front office see the rest of the picture.
There are reasons Freeman is available.
It’s been ugly, lately, and not just off the field, with 45.7 percent completions this season. Last year, he completed just 54.8 percent. He’s thrown 42 interceptions in his last 34 games.
Quarterbacks are leaders, and even if the situation inside Bucs Headquarters is/was as messy as it’s been made to seem, the quarterback should not be late for things, absent for things, etc.
That Tampa Bay had no trade market for Freeman says something, too. 2013 was the final year on his contract. The Browns are far from the only team with no long-term answer at quarterback.
Freeman is a big (6’5 or so, around 230 pounds), big-armed quarterback like Weeden. He’s more mobile than Weeden — most quarterbacks are — but might not be much different in terms of what he’d bring from a release and read standpoint. That’s for the Browns scouting department to evaluate and ultimately for the team’s top decision makers to decide if he’s the kind of person and player they want to add to the quarterback room and the locker room.
Even if the Browns aren’t thrilled with Weeden and Campbell, both have been in the locker room and the meeting rooms since last April. They know the playbook and the receivers. Weeden might scare the Browns fan base half to death each time he drops back, but he’s not afraid to chuck it up and let Josh Gordon go get it. When Weeden struggled in the Browns first two games this season, Gordon was suspended.
The Browns have at least a couple roster decisions to make. Freeman being available should at very least make for some conversation.