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Assessing the Field

Feb 20, 2013 -- 7:13am

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By Tony Grossi

The Morning Kickoff …

On the clock: The 2013 NFL season begins today with the arrival in Indianapolis of all NFL coaches, GMs, scouts, 334 draft-eligible players, about 2,000 player agents and about 800 credentialed media for the convention known as the NFL scouting combine.

Transactions don’t begin until the start of the free agent signing period at 4 p.m. on March 12. But the process officially kicks off today. Every team arrives with its own list of “things to do” before training camps open in late July.

For the Browns, the top of that list involves the quarterback position, as usual.

Owner Jimmy Haslam has said the team wants to create competition at quarterback. Most have assumed that sentiment to be a negative reflection of incumbent Brandon Weeden because none of the new decision-makers – CEO Joe Banner, VP/player personnel Mike Lombardi, coach Rob Chudzinski – has said a positive thing about Weeden since they’ve been together for a month.

New offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s faint praise for Weeden amounted to a comment about his “big arm” and the observation that “he can throw the ball all over the field.”

When handicapping how the Browns create competition at quarterback, two questions have to be answered.

First, are they talking about competition for the starting job or competition for the backup role? In other words, is it Weeden they wish to replace or is it Colt McCoy? McCoy’s name hasn’t even been mentioned since the 2012 season ended and Chudzinski and Lombardi were hired.

Secondly, do Banner and Lombardi want Chudzinski and Turner to incorporate the read option plays that Chudzinski tailored for Cam Newton in Carolina the past two seasons? The Browns’ flirtation with Oregon’s Chip Kelly certainly indicated a fascination with the new offensive trend that requires a quarterback who can throw and run. If that’s what the Browns want, then Weeden certainly is out and his successor would come from a different pool of candidates.

Assessing the field: Potential quarterback acquisitions for the Browns fall into three categories – free agency, trade and the draft. Listed below are the most frequently named players in each category.

Free agency

1. Joe Flacco, 28, Ravens: Agent Joe Linta and the Ravens begin talks for a new contract this week in Indianapolis. The Super Bowl MVP wants to be the highest-paid quarterback, which would mean a $20 million-a-year average. Failing to reach a new contract by March 4, the Ravens have two options: give Flacco the exclusive franchise tag ($20.46 million guaranteed salary, no offers from any team) or the non-exclusive tag ($14.6 million, and reserve the right to match any offer or let him leave for two No. 1 draft picks in compensation). At least two national reports have made a case that Banner would bid on Flacco.

2. Matt Moore, 28, Dolphins: A six-year journeyman with a 13-12 career record as a starter, he joined this list when a Miami Herald reporter opined that Turner “is believed to be a big fan of Moore,” although Turner has never coached Moore. Moore was 6-6 as Miami Dolphins starter in 2011 and then was benched in favor of rookie Ryan Tannehill in 2012.

3. Brian Hoyer, 27, Cardinals: This connection traces back to Lombardi’s friendship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. When Belichick tried to find a new team for Hoyer last summer, Lombardi used his NFL Network platform to talk up Hoyer. Belichick eventually cut Hoyer, a St. Ignatius High School product. Hoyer signed with Pittsburgh and then Arizona, for which he lost in his only career start in 15 career games.

4. Derek Anderson, 29, Panthers: The pilot of the best Browns’ offense of the expansion era, his Pro Bowl-alternate year in 2007 earned Chudzinski (and others) a lucrative contract extension as offensive coordinator of the Browns. He has never approached the level of that 10-5 season as Browns starter. And though Anderson lambasted Browns fans in a vituperative email upon his release in 2009, he would love to rejoin Chudzinski.

5. Chase Daniel, 26, Saints: The Maytag repair man of NFL quarterbacks, he has rarely played as the backup to Drew Brees, attempting nine passes in four NFL seasons and completing seven. Daniel’s name was linked to the Browns by Philadelphia-based NFL reporter Adam Kaplan of thesidelineview.com. Daniels is an even six feet tall, making him shorter than McCoy.

Trade

6. Alex Smith, 28, 49ers: The Wally Pipp of the NFL, he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick after suffering a concussion and never regained it despite a two-year record of 19-5-1 as coach Jim Harbaugh’s original starter. Smith is owed $7.5 million in salary in 2013 and has expressed the desire to leave. The 49ers may grant Smith his release if they can’t attract a mid-round draft pick for him. At the Super Bowl, Smith talked glowingly of Turner, who was his coordinator in San Francisco in his second NFL season in 2006.

7. Ryan Mallett, 24, Patriots: A tall QB with a big arm and cement shoes, he was a third-round draft pick of Belichick in 2011. The link again is to Lombardi. If Belichick views Mallett as not a reasonable heir to Tom Brady, he will try to unload him for a mid-round draft pick.

8. Matt Flynn, 27, Seahawks: He signed a three-year contract for $26 million in 2012 ($7.25 million in 2013), and then was rendered obsolete and expendable when rookie Russell Wilson burst on the scene as Seahawks franchise savior. The former Green Bay backup, eschewed by the Mike Holmgren regime in 2012, is a few centimeters taller than McCoy.

Draft

9. Geno Smith, 22, West Virginia: Though he fell out of the Heisman Trophy race, he heads into the draft season as the No. 1-rated quarterback. Despite an inexplicable dropoff in mid-season, he finished his senior season with 42 touchdowns v. six interceptions. Draft experts are divided on whether he will be taken in the top 10 or slide into the 20s.

10. Matt Barkley, 22, USC: His draft stock also steadily declined in his senior college season. Some believe he appealed more to the Holmgren regime. He is another shorter passer with questionable arm strength to battle the Lake Erie winds.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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