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Cleveland QB competition? Browns need to sell hope and Weeden

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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The Browns will need Trent Richardson and Weeden to energize an offense with little life. (US Presswire)  
The Browns will need Trent Richardson and Weeden to energize an offense with little life. (US Presswire)  

Let's see if I have this right. The Cleveland Browns expect rookie Brandon Weeden to win the starting quarterback job but say he still must beat out incumbents Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Well, of course he must, but from what I gather, he just did ... when the Browns spent a first-round pick on him.

Look, I know we go through minicamps and OTAs and training camps before the Browns name their starting quarterback, and I get that. But who's kidding whom? They didn't draft a guy who turns 29 this season to develop. They drafted him to start.

Period.

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If they thought they could get by with McCoy or Wallace, they would've exercised the 22nd pick of the draft on another offensive position. But they didn't, which means they didn't believe they had a starting quarterback.

Well, they do now ... only they're just not going to name him until they can.

"The fact that we drafted him so high means we like [Weeden]," team president Mike Holmgren told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "But we also like Colt McCoy and Seneca, as well."

Yeah, sure, only they don't like them as much Weeden.

I remember hearing something similar after the Denver Broncos traded up in the 2006 draft to choose Jay Cutler, and I remember how then-starting quarterback Jake Plummer responded, which is how McCoy responded to Cleveland's choice of Weeden. He said he would fight for the job and win the position ... which he did, only to be replaced by Cutler after the Broncos were 7-4.

Well, yeah, you say, that was Jake Plummer. True, except that Jake Plummer led the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game the season before. You don't draft quarterbacks in the first round to compete with the quarterbacks you have. You draft them because you believe in them, and what you believe is that they're better than what you have.

Dating back to 2001, there have been 29 quarterbacks chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft. All but five started their rookie seasons -- including the past 11. One of those five was Cleveland's Brady Quinn, taken at the 22nd spot in the 2007 draft, but look what happened that year: The Browns finished 10-6, or the last time they had a winning season.

So Quinn barely saw the field. He was the exception. Weeden won't be.

Unlike Quinn, he's not going to a team that will be 10-6 and second in its division. He's going to a team that's 18-46 the past four years, hasn't won more than five games in any of those seasons and plays in a division with Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati -- all 2011 playoff teams.

I know Holmgren said the Browns are improved, and I've known Holmgren long enough to respect what he says. But what's improvement? 5-11? 6-10? Weeden isn't going to a team with an established quarterback, as Aaron Rodgers did in 2005 or Philip Rivers in 2004. Nor is he going to an organization that tells everyone beforehand that it won't play its rookie unless it absolutely, positively must ... which is what happened with Cincinnati and Carson Palmer in 2003.

In case you're wondering, all those guys sat down their rookie seasons -- something that won't happen with Brandon Weeden.

Nope, he plays, and he plays because you have to sell your fans something more than Trent Richardson, an improved defense and promises. You have to sell them hope, and once upon a time there was hope with Colt McCoy. But that was two seasons ago when the Browns knocked off then-defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans and perennial powerhouse New England in successive weeks, then took the New York Jets -- a club that went to the AFC title game -- to overtime.

I thought McCoy had a future. The Browns apparently don't. That's why they drafted Weeden. When you're 29th in offense and 30th in scoring and have fewer offensive playmakers than Cleveland has surf shops, you don't spend one of two first-round draft picks on a 28-year-old quarterback if you like the guy you already have.

So let's just make this clear. I don't care if someone says there's competition at quarterback in Cleveland. There should be. But Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert didn't take Brandon Weeden because they think he might beat out McCoy and Wallace.

They chose him because he will beat them out.

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