QB remains top priority, question for Browns
INDIANAPOLIS – The Cleveland Browns have decisions to make — and soon.
The team’s decision makers are at the NFL Scouting Combine this week for an up-close look at more than 300 prospects for this year’s draft. Free agency is a little more than two weeks away, meaning the vacation part of the offseason is long over.
And it’s time for the Browns to decide how they’re going to handle their quarterback situation.
"I’d obviously be scared if we had a game this weekend," Browns coach Mike Pettine said Wednesday. "It’s a position we’re well aware of where our depth chart is. We’ll look to address it here in the coming months."
Pettine didn’t sound like a guy who’d be banging the table for the return of impending free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer, who started the first 13 games for the Browns last season. Pettine said he "wouldn’t close the door" on Hoyer returning but said the Browns will "weigh all options."
With last year’s first-round pick Johnny Manziel in rehab and the only other currently under contract option being 2014 undrafted free agent Connor Shaw, the Browns face difficult decisions and a short list of options. Pettine said the Browns haven’t scheduled a meeting with recently released veteran Josh McCown but haven’t ruled him out, either.
Pettine said Wednesday he expects Manziel to rejoin the team by the spring, but Manziel showed little last season to suggest he can be the team’s long-awaited answer at quarterback.
"Just given the small sample size we still don’t know," Pettine said. "There’s too much unknown."
Pettine went on a "retreat" with general manager Ray Farmer, team owner Jimmy Haslam and other key staffers in early February to lay out a plan. They had other things to talk about, too — like Farmer’s text messaging coaches during games and reported sanctions for those — but it all starts with the quarterback.
"We feel we are very close defensively," Pettine said. "There are many more unanswered questions on the other side."
Top wide receiver Josh Gordon is suspended for at least 2015, and 2013 Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron is headed for free agency. Pettine said the Browns will explore the possibility of re-signing Cameron but wasn’t convincing. On cornerback Buster Skrine, Pettine said the sides have talked about keeping Skrine off the free agent market.
"You go corners and then you go pass rushers on defense when you prioritize the positions," Pettine said.
On the Browns struggles last season to stop the run — they ranked last in the NFL — Pettine said fixing the run defense "is a priority" and doing that includes schematic tweaks and "maybe more importantly a couple new players."
Haslam spoke to select reporters last week. Pettine made the media rounds Wednesday, and Farmer addresses the crowd at the combine Thursday. The Browns have two first-round picks and plenty of salary-cap room, but they also have lots of holes to fill and questions to address.