BEREA: If the Denver Broncos had not won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes in March, Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden might have become their top target a month later in the draft.
So when the Browns (5-9) visit the Broncos (11-3) on Sunday, Weeden will be reunited with one of his most serious suitors.
“Yeah, there was interest there,” Weeden, the 22nd overall pick, said Wednesday after practice. “You never know how it’s going to shake out. Moral of the story is I’m here, and I’m very excited to be here.”
The Broncos’ brass visited with Weeden and then watched him work out during Oklahoma State University’s pro day March 9 in Stillwater, Okla. From there, the Broncos sent their charter flight to pick up Manning in Miami. The plane returned to Stillwater, where Manning waited for Broncos coach John Fox and other team leaders to wrap up at Oklahoma State, so they all could head to Denver.
“I heard all the stories,” Weeden said with a smile. “I never thought Peyton Manning would be in Stillwater, Oklahoma.”
Manning, one of Weeden’s favorite players, signed a five-year, $96 million deal with the Broncos on March 21. Coach John Fox said the Broncos went to dinner with Weeden, a 29-year-old former minor-league baseball player, and considered picking him before they landed Manning in free agency.
“We wouldn’t have spent the time and money and effort evaluating [Weeden] if it wasn’t a consideration,” Fox said during a conference call. “It’s a little bit hard to deal with could’ve beens, but he was definitely on our radar and a guy we definitely liked.
“His maturity level is further along than some rookies. I see that on film. The first go-round is always tough, in particular at quarterback. [It’s] arguably the hardest position in professional sports. I think he’s done a fine job.”
Whether the Browns’ new regime agrees with Fox remains to be seen. Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have said deciding whether Weeden should be considered the franchise’s quarterback of the future is one of the most important decisions the organization will face in the offseason. Weeden is coming off one of his worst performances this season after throwing two crucial interceptions in the third quarter of the Browns’ 38-21 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Earlier this month, Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe cited two unnamed NFL sources while reporting that NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi is a serious candidate to be the next general manager of the Browns should Haslam and Banner part ways with General Manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur, and that Alabama coach Nick Saban, Oregon coach Chip Kelly and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be on the Browns’ radar.
On Wednesday, Bedard added that those two sources said if Lombardi and McDaniels join the Browns, they would likely attempt to trade for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, who would replace Weeden as the starter.
Weeden has said many times he wants to prove he is worthy of being considered the Browns’ long-term answer at quarterback. But he also doesn’t want to press in the final two games.
“I can’t think about that,” said Weeden, who has 14 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and a passer rating of 72.4. “I need to play well because I haven’t played well enough. That’s all I’m worried about. For myself, for this team, that’s all I’m worried about — us finishing strong. We have eight quarters of football left. Whatever happens, I have to put eight good quarters on tape.”
He plans to lay it all on the line as the season wraps up.
“There’s times when you have to be smart, you’re in the red zone or whether it’s after a big play or whatever it may be,” Weeden said. “You have to pick your [spots]. At this point, I just got to let it fly. From here on out, just let it rip and be aggressive, continue to take shots and see where it ends up.”
Can’t see it
Rookie running back Trent Richardson said he would be “very shocked” if Saban, who coached him for the past three seasons at Alabama, returns to the NFL. Saban coached the Miami Dolphins from 2005-06 and compiled a record of 15-17.
“I can’t see him coming to the NFL,” Richardson said. “I can see him staying at Alabama and retiring at Alabama. That’s what I can see.”
Richardson, who still talks to Saban once in a while, dismissed the speculation that Saban might coach the Browns.
“I don’t believe it,” Richardson said. “Rumors are rumors. I don’t buy into it.”
Richardson doesn’t think Saban will want the challenge of returning to the NFL if he wins his fourth national title when Alabama plays Notre Dame on Jan. 7 in the BCS National Championship Game.
“How can you get tired of winning?” he asked. “How can you get tired of winning the national championship?”
On Sunday, Richardson criticized the strategy of Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress by saying the offense strayed from the game plan in the second half. Richardson, who had only two carries for zero yards after halftime, said he told Shurmur he didn’t mean any harm.
“Stuff happened in the heat of the moment,” Richardson said. “Me and Pat, we’re still on good ground. Me and Pat have no problems.”
Broncos strongside linebacker Von Miller, a defensive player of the year candidate, said former Browns President Mike Holmgren made him a promise when he visited Berea before the 2011 draft.
“He told me they were going to take me if I was available,” Miller said during a conference call. “But he told me — and I didn’t believe it at the time — I wouldn’t make it down to the Cleveland Browns. But he told me if I did, that he was going to take me.”
The Broncos selected Miller second overall, four slots before the Browns were set to pick at No. 6. The Browns traded that selection to the Atlanta Falcons, moved down to No. 21 and drafted defensive tackle Phil Taylor.
Why the cut?
Shurmur refused to explain why the Browns cut cornerback Dimitri Patterson on Monday. Patterson re-signed with the Browns for three years and $16 million, including $6 million guaranteed, in March. He was awarded to the Miami Dolphins off waivers Tuesday.
“I’m not going to talk about the whys or what-fors there,” Shurmur said. “I will say this, though: I’m happy for him that he’s going to be able to finish out the year in Miami. That’ll be great for him.”
No rest yet
Richardson revealed he had this concern when he first started to play through the rib injury he suffered Oct. 14: “Can I hurt my lungs?”
Shurmur said he hasn’t considered resting Richardson for the final two games.
“He’ll play,” Shurmur said. “None of us are 100 percent right now.”
Starting right defensive end Frostee Rucker (shoulder/hip) and tight end Jordan Cameron (head) did not practice Wednesday. Rucker expects to play Sunday. … Weakside linebacker Kaluka Maiava will serve as the Browns’ fourth captain Sunday. … With T.J. Ward (knee) on injured reserve, Shurmur said Usama Young will start at strong safety and Tashaun Gipson at free safety. … With rookie James-Michael Johnson (knee) on IR, L.J. Fort, Craig Robertson and Tank Carder are candidates to play strongside linebacker in the base defense, Shurmur said. Robertson will continue to play linebacker alongside D’Qwell Jackson in the nickel package. … The Browns signed tight end George Bryan to their practice squad.
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.