CLEVELAND: The sparks provided this season by Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer wouldn’t preclude the Browns from using one of their two first-round draft picks on a quarterback next May.
After all, having a few solid quarterbacks would be a good problem for any NFL team, right?
“I don’t think I’d use the word ‘problem’ in that sentence,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said with a chuckle Wednesday after the team announced its proposal for renovations to FirstEnergy Stadium. “Listen, you want to have as many good players as you can, and the more good players you have at the most important positions, the better you are. Whether they’re assets or whether they become part of the long-term plan, that can only be a good thing.”
Banner addressed several topics during a 15-minute interview with reporters. But the team’s quarterback situation was at the center of the conversation with the Browns (4-5) preparing to visit the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) on Sunday.
“I think we’re going to have to get to the end of the season and see exactly where we are [at quarterback],” Banner said. “Our commitment to the draft is to try and pick the best players we can as opposed to trying to force anything at any positions. So I think we’ve got a lot left to learn as the season goes on in terms of finding what we want to do and where the strengths of the draft are.”
So far, Campbell has been playing lights out for the Browns. He’s 1-1 as a starter, falling 23-17 on the road against the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs and triumphing 24-18 at home over the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens. In the Super Bowl era (since 1966), Campbell is the first quarterback to tally a passer rating of more than 100 in his first two starts with the Browns, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He has thrown five touchdown passes without an interception.
“I think he’s played well,” Banner said. “He’s played hard. He’s played smart. He’s played very determined. It’s clear the players around him are responding well to him. I think he’s living up to or exceeding expectations. It’s great to see.”
After the Browns began this season 0-2, Hoyer led them to back-to-back wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Bengals while quarterback Brandon Weeden recovered from a sprained right thumb. With Campbell or Hoyer starting, the Browns are 4-1 this season. Hoyer, 28, suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during one of those wins Oct. 3, when Weeden replaced him during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills and helped the team rally to victory.
“I think it’s all very encouraging both short term and long term,” Banner said of Campbell and Hoyer achieving success as starters. Both of them are under contract through next season.
With Hoyer out for the rest of this season, Campbell, 31, and Weeden, 30, are the only healthy quarterbacks on the season. Barring injury, the Browns might stick with two quarterbacks the rest of the way.
“We’re evaluating that week by week,” Banner said. “And so far we’ve been deciding that we’re OK doing that.”
Banner, though, isn’t ready to publicly discuss Weeden’s future. Drafted 22nd overall in last year’s draft by the previous regime, Weeden is 0-4 as a starter this season and 5-14 in his career. Coach Rob Chudzinski benched him last month following poor performances against the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
“We’ve got a lot of areas of the team that are in an evaluative stage,” Banner said. “When we get to January, we’ll sit down and discuss where we’re at.”
Banner said the Browns have scouts throughout the country evaluating all of the quarterback prospects.
“We’re going to be very, very prepared when we get to April and May,” Banner said.
Banner insisted it’s too early to know whether next year’s quarterback class will be worthy of the hype it has received from the media. But he’s still confident next year’s draft will be stronger than the one in 2013, when the Browns traded their fourth- and fifth-round selections for third- and fourth-round picks in 2014.
“It’s too early to say that conclusively,” Banner said. “But the optimism we had about that [this past] April, I’d say we’re even more optimistic now.”
Below are some other highlights from Banner’s interview.
On how trading running back Trent Richardson, who’s averaging just 2.8 yards per carry since the deal, to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a first-round pick in 2014 has panned out: “This may prove to be a foolish statement because I know what’s happened so far. I did that trade thinking that our team and their team were in totally different places and this would be a trade that legitimately would work well for both teams. I still think that’s true, even though I understand at the moment it doesn’t look that way. I didn’t worry about the criticism that came at the time. I’m sure [Colts General Manager] Ryan Grigson isn’t worried about the criticism now. I’m confident we were in a different place than they were. It made sense for them to do what they did. It made sense for us to do what we did. I still think over time that’s what the history will show.”
On how close did the Browns come to trading wide receiver Josh Gordon before the deadline last month: “Not isolating on Josh, at the trade deadline we had offers on players. We listened. We decided we were better off having the players than the offers we got and moved forward with them.”
On if he’s confident Gordon won’t violate the NFL’s substance-abuse policy again: “I’m confident Josh is doing a great job and working hard and doing everything that’s asked of him and expected of him. I know the coaches really feel good about everything and that gives us confidence and willingness to stay supportive of him and counting on him.”
On whether he’s worried about owner Jimmy Haslam’s legal woes stemming from the Pilot Flying J fraud scandal: “I’m not concerned about it, other than my personal relationship with him and my feelings about that. But from the beginning, I’ve said we’ve been able to do anything and everything we’ve intended to do with the Browns. It’s had no impact. It will have no impact, and I think we’re proving that, as we do different things, including what we announced today [about stadium enhancements], to be the truth.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.