Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cleveland Browns: Four Questions

1. What will the Browns do with Sheldon Brown and Joshua Cribbs?
Two of the Browns' biggest free agent decisions this offseason will be wide receiver/kick returner Joshua Cribbs and cornerback Sheldon Brown. Cribbs has been with Cleveland since being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005, and has been one of the premiere return men in the league over that span, having returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns. Brown has been with the club since the 2010 season, and has recorded 171 tackles and eight interceptions over the past three seasons playing opposite Pro Bowler Joe Haden.
Cribbs has been prone to concussions, having had at least three in his pro career, has also only returned one kick or punt for a touchdown the past three seasons. When the team signed Cribbs to a lucrative three-year extension in 2010, he was expected to continue to make big plays in the return game, and while he's been very good, his performance never quite lived up to the extension. There's little doubt that Cribbs is still one of the team's more popular players, but the Browns should be a little weary of over-paying to retain him.
Brown will be turning 33 prior to the start of the 2013 season, which may have some impact on whether Cleveland makes a concerted effort to re-sign him. Brown is a physical corner, using his 5'10", 200 pound frame in press coverage. His speed and agility aren't where they once were, but Brown is a solid veteran that provides the team help in run support as well.
I think that both have a better than 50-50 chance of returning, but I doubt that the team will significantly over-pay to retain either of their services.

2. Is Brandon Weeden the long-term answer at quarterback?
Weeden was far from your normal rookie quarterback, in that the 29-year old played several years of minor league baseball prior to being the starting quarterback for Oklahoma State. Former head coach Pat Shurmur targeted Weeden as a potential long-term starter for the team, and believed that his advanced age should make him more of an immediate-impact player in the league.
Weeden ended the season with a very mediocre 72.6 quarterback rating, and threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (14). Yet in spite of those pedestrian numbers, Weeden had several strong showings in 2012, including big games against playoff teams Indianapolis (25-41, 264, 2 TD) and two games against Cincinnati (43-68, 553, 4 TD, 1 INT).
The Browns look vastly different as an organization than when they selected Weeden 22nd overall this past April, as the team has a new owner, new general manager and new head coach in place. While it would be far too early to write him off, Weeden will need to show the organizations' new leadership that he can still be the team's long-term option at quarterback.

3. Was hiring Rob Chudzinski the right fit for the Browns?
New Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski has been in the NFL as either a tight ends coach or offensive coordinator since 2004. In his first stint as Cleveland's offensive coordinator under former head coach Romeo Crennel, and guided the Browns to the league's eighth-ranked offense, turning current Carolina backup quarterback Derek Anderson into a 4,000-yard passer.
Chudzinski has also spent time working under former Chargers' head coach (and newly-minted Browns offensive coordinator) Norv Turner, twice serving as the team's tight ends coach.
Whether or not Chudzinski was the right hire is up for debate, as after his two most successful seasons, both offenses saw a significant dip in production. Thus far, he's done a great job of surrounding himself with solid talent, as he's already brought in Turner, and could be bringing in current Redskins defensive backs coach and former Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris to run his defense, and having solid coordinators is a great way to get ready for your first head coaching job.

4. How good can Norv Turner make Cleveland's offense?
While the Chargers' struggles over the course of the past three seasons can't go unmentioned, new offensive coordinator Norv Turner had a big hand in guiding San Diego to one of the league's better offenses year-in and year-out. The Chargers had more proven talent than the Browns currently do, but have some great young building blocks in running back Trent Richardson, as well as receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little. There are also some players who could still have bright futures, including quarterback Brandon Weeden and tight end Jordan Cameron.
The offensive line play was spotty this past season, but is already an upgrade over the situation Turner had in San Diego this past season, as Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas is a perennial Pro Bowler, and they have some other good players including guard Joe Greco, center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Ultimately, the biggest question mark for Turner and the offense will be the future of Brandon Weeden, as quarterback play is perhaps the biggest indicator of a team's offensive efficiency.

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