BEREA: As Browns owner Jimmy Haslam gathered advice from other NFL bosses during the past few months, he realized their words of wisdom were consistent.
Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, John Mara of the New York Giants and Bob McNair of the Houston Texans all stressed the importance of finding the right quarterback. It obviously should be the top priority of any professional football team trying to reverse its fortunes and compete for championships.
So Haslam and new CEO Joe Banner must decide whether they should embark on a search for their quarterback of the future. It’s one of several situations they’ve said they’ll evaluate at the end of this season.
Top college quarterbacks Matt Barkley of Southern California and Geno Smith of West Virginia will stir up attention as next year’s draft approaches. But I believe the Browns’ bigwigs should turn their focus elsewhere, because they have inherited Brandon Weeden, and he’s the right man for the job.
Don’t get me wrong. With a sample size of only eight games, Weeden still has a ton to prove. But so far, there’s no reason to doubt he can develop into the type of quarterback who can consistently lead a contender.
In case Haslam and Banner aren’t as convinced, Weeden must continue to progress and strengthen his case in the second half of the season. It will start Sunday, when the Browns (2-6) host the Baltimore Ravens (5-2) in an AFC North rematch.
“It’s important that you have a quarterback that you can say is your guy that you can move forward with,” coach Pat Shurmur said Friday. “We’ve seen the improvement in Brandon that he needs to make. Now it’s a matter of us playing out the last half of this season, and fighting to get victories and fighting to get ourselves in a position to do what we all want to do.”
Mike Holmgren, the team’s outgoing president, said he believes the Browns have found their quarterback of the future in Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Shurmur, however, has stopped short of taking such a strong stance.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked this week to give an outsider’s perspective.
“I don’t want to inject myself into that conversation,” Harbaugh said. “It’s really none of my business. I know he looks like a good player. We liked him coming out, and I thought Colt McCoy was doing a good job, too. So without going down that road, we’ve been very impressed with what Brandon’s done.”
The Ravens should be impressed because Weeden, 29, gave them quite a scare in Week 4. Although he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter, he rallied and threatened to tie the score in the waning moments. His shots at the end zone didn’t hit the mark; the Browns lost 23-16 and are now seeking atonement this weekend.
Weeden, though, has shown significant improvement in the second quarter of the season. In the past four games, he has completed 75-of-132 passes (57 percent) for 915 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions for a passer rating of 83.9. In the first four games, he completed 90-of-167 passes (54 percent) for 997 yards and three touchdowns with seven interceptions for a passer rating of 60.4.
He also has reduced most of the mistakes that plagued him in the preseason and early in the regular season. His pocket presence and ball security have improved along with his ability to go through progressions, connect on deep passes and stand tall while making throws under pressure. He has cut down on the interceptions — a trend that must continue — and hasn’t thrown one in the past two games.
His down-to-earth personality allows him to connect with coaches and everyone in the locker room while demanding respect as a leader at the same time. He has shown toughness by taking shots, getting up and playing through some minor injuries. He grasps the offense, learns from his miscues and holds himself accountable.
Some argue Weeden’s age hurts his chances of becoming a viable long-term solution at quarterback, and it certainly can’t be ignored. But if he stays healthy, it’s not far-fetched to believe he could have a minimum of six highly productive seasons ahead of him.
He has the big-time arm. He has the right intangibles. Now he just needs to continue to do everything in his power to make sure the new management regime realizes it.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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