Browns On the Verge of Blowing a Good Situation
By Chris Malumphy
The Cleveland Browns may be on the verge of making a very foolish decision. That is par for the course since the team returned to the NFL in 1999.
The Browns' 2012 draft shows a great deal of promise. First round picks running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden along with tackle Mitchell Schwartz, taken in the second round, and wide receiver Travis Benjamin, picked in the 4th, will each get considerable playing time and should stoke what had been an anemic offense. Quarterback Weeden is the key. He has a big arm and has beaten top flight competition, including fellow 2012 draftees Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill and Nick Foles as well as Landry Jones, a likely first round pick in 2013. But the window of opportunity for Weeden is small. He will be 29 when the season begins, older than Alex Smith and Aaron Rogers who have already been in the league for seven years. He is not overly mobile and the Browns porous offensive line has not been able to get any of their quarterbacks through a season without significant injury in quite some time. For the Browns to have lasting impact, they need a solid backup. And preferably, that backup should have some upside in case Weeden is injured or doesn't pan out.
The Browns have three other quarterbacks on their roster: Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace and Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis is a project who in all likelihood, as is true for most third string projects, will never have significant playing time in the NFL. He could surprise, but the odds are against him.
Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace both have experience and remarkably similar career statistics. One would be a great backup for Weeden and the other only marginally so. The Browns are talking about getting rid of the one who would be best. They seem willing to part with Colt McCoy for next to nothing. Any decent backup quarterback is worth more than that. Their reasoning is bad. A foolish decision now could come back to haunt them for many years. Backup quarterbacks, especially those with experience as starters, strong characters and leadership ability, and upside potential, should be worth a lot to any team. A few years back, the Patriots were lucky to have a Matt Cassel around to replace the injured Tom Brady; even with his minimal experience he had upside enough to keep his team in double-digit wins. The perennial playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts found out what it was like to be without a decent backup last season when Peyton Manning had to sit out after multiply surgeries. Double-digit victories and playoff appearances had been the team norm. A melt down at quarterback helped lead to one of the most disastrous seasons in recent memory.
When you look at the career statistics of McCoy and Wallace, there doesn't appear to be much difference. In fact, some of those stats would suggest that Wallace is the slightly better player. Wallace has been the more accurate, completing 59.2% of his passes compared to 58.4% for McCoy. His passes result in touchdowns 4.1% of the time versus 2.9% for McCoy. He has been intercepted less frequently 2.4% to 2.9%. His quarterback rating is 81.3 versus 74.5 and he is sacked less frequently, 6.7% versus 7.4%. In fact, McCoy in two years has already been sacked just as many times as Wallace has in a seven-year career.
The trouble with all those statistics seemingly in Wallace's favor however is that they are not that much different at all AND McCoy is about seven years younger, has stronger leadership skills, and significantly more upside potential. All of McCoy's statistics were compiled even before he reaches the age of 25. Wallace was about 25 when he started. Both McCoy and Wallace are credited with career records of 6-15, which as you recognize is not good. McCoy won four games last year with a team that was bad, really bad, with virtually no talent on offense. Those four games are more than Wallace won in any of his seven seasons. During the past two seasons with the Browns, McCoy is 6-15, .285, but Wallace is 1-6, .142 with the exact same team. In his rookie season, after being virtually ignored by head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Draboll, McCoy was thrown into action after Jake Delhomme and Wallace were both injured. He beat the Saints and the Patriots, lost to the Jets in overtime, and took the beating that the Steelers typically apply. It was not great, but it certainly showed promise. Last season, had the defensive not been asleep at the switch in the tail end of a seeming victory in which they failed to get out of the defensive huddle in time to stop what resulted in an easy touchdown pass, McCoy would have started the season at 3-0. In both of those seasons, the Browns haven't had a receiver worth salt. Even Greg Little, who showed some promise as a rookie, just plain out dropped too many passes that should have been caught. Brian Draboll's and Pat Shurmur's offensives have never helped any quarterback either.
The Browns have talked about releasing Colt McCoy or trading him for a sixth or seventh round draft choice. They fear having him on the team might be disruptive since it could create a quarterback controversy if Weeden doesn't get off to a quick start. Pshaw! For that price you keep a player at a prime position who was good enough to start for the past season and is not yet 25. Heck, assume Weeden is as good as what you want him to be for the next five years. When he is then 34 and starts to wind down, McCoy will be about the age Weeden is now, with much more professional experience. Keeping McCoy would allow the Browns to be solid at quarterback not only for the next five years, but perhaps for the next decade. Since their return to the NFL in 1999, the Browns haven't had a decent starter, let alone a decent backup, in all that time. Now they have a chance to have both, and Weeden and McCoy both have upside.
We have seen enough of Seneca Wallace, who is 31, to know that at this stage of his career he has no more upside, he is a caretaker at best. His 1-6 record over the last three seasons shows it. In seven seasons, he has only topped 1,000 yards passing once, never reached 1,600 yards, only thrown as many as 11 touchdowns one time. He has never wanted to help mentor a less experienced player and can't get the ball downfield with any regularity. Yet he too would make a decent backup for some team. He protects the ball well, doesn't take too many sacks, and is fairly accurate on short passes. He would be a perfect complement to a strong team that had a solid starter and another quarterback with upside in the developmental mode. If the starter went down, Wallace could be a stop gap who wouldn't embarrass or lose games on his own. He'd do a good job of keeping his team in the game.
I have no problem with the Browns handing the starting quarterback job to Brandon Weeden. He has the bigger arm, which is a significant plus in the modern NFL. But Colt McCoy should not be tossed away lightly. He is a player with character. He fights to overcome adversity. He is an accurate passer. Although small, he is tough and relatively mobile. He has potential. If he was on the Arizona Cardinals, he would in all likelihood eventually win the starting job and finally have some decent receivers to work with. He would indeed be a tremendous backup to Tony Romo in Dallas. He'd be a nice backup in Denver or Philadelphia. He is better than anything Jacksonville or Miami currently has. He'd certainly challenge for the starting job in Kansas City. To give him up for almost nothing would be folly.