By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Anatomy of a QB pickup: The third Browns OTA practice – and only one this week open to media – was over. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski was fielding questions.
After three questions about Brandon Weeden, I asked Chud, “Brian Hoyer’s an unrestricted free agent. He’s nobody’s property. Can you put an end to this … are these (Weeden, Jason Campbell and Thad Lewis) the only three quarterbacks who you’ll bring to camp?”
“I think all of that will remain to be seen,” the coach answered. “We are coaching these guys up right now. I feel good with this group with what they are doing and how they have progressed. We will just move along and keep going in the same direction.”
About an hour and a half later, I sat in a golf cart with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and talked to him about Weeden and the constant speculation about Weeden being replaced.
“Brandon’s got the physical skills to do what we want to do,” Turner said. “What’s throwing this thing out of whack a little bit is there’s been some players at the position the last couple years that have gone in and had immediate impact, some young guys. Sometimes that has more to do with the situation they go into as the player himself. I don’t know that there’s a lot of guys, in the same circumstance last year, who would have great success at the quarterback position, for a lot of reasons.
“I think Brandon can have success in this offense, in this system. He knows how to play quarterback and he knows how to play in a spread-out passing game. I think playing in the NFL is a little different because things happen a lot faster than they do in college, and he’s making that transition.”
Two hours later, the Browns agreed to terms with Brian Hoyer and added the Cleveland native and former St. Ignatius High School star to the quarterback mix.
Lombardi gets his man: In his former life as NFL Network analyst, Browns GM Mike Lombardi beat the drum for both of Bill Belichick’s backup quarterbacks with New England – Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
In December of 2011, Lombardi said, “I think Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starters. I’ve said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I’d rather have Brian Hoyer behind center than Colt McCoy. I think he’s got all the traits you need, in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team.”
Belichick already was thinking of the coming transaction season. He knew he was going to elevate Mallett ahead of Hoyer. Was Belichick using Lombardi’s media pulpit to drum up interest in Hoyer? Of course he was.
The following summer – last summer -- with nobody willing to trade for Hoyer, Belichick released him. At the time, Lombardi pretty much was in the fold as the next Browns GM. Philadelphia sources were telling national media that Lombardi’s arrival as Joe Banner’s chief personnel exec was in the bag.
So Hoyer’s acquisition by Lombardi seemed just a matter of time. There were a couple of glitches early on that forced the Browns to acquire another quarterback as insurance. That turned out to be Campbell.
Hoyer, who ended the 2012 season with Arizona, was thought to be an unrestricted free agent, but a technicality changed him to restricted. That allowed the Cardinals to protect their rights to Hoyer by tendering him a contract. New coach Bruce Arians chose the more expensive second-round tender ostensibly to block the Pittsburgh Steelers from signing Hoyer.
After a flurry of veteran quarterback transactions – the Cardinals traded for Carson Palmer and signed Drew Stanton -- and then the draft, the Cardinals waived Hoyer.
By then, the Steelers had signed Bruce Gradkowski in free agency and used a draft pick on Oklahoma’s Landry Jones.
Ultimately, the Browns didn’t have to spend anything to acquire Hoyer other than a miniscule portion of their league-high salary cap space.
What does it mean?: There is no question that Hoyer’s addition strengthens the Browns’ quarterback depth chart. Although he doesn’t have the arm strength of Weeden or Campbell, Hoyer is a much surer NFL QB at this stage than Lewis.
The Browns won’t waive Lewis, of course, because they know the Philadelphia Eagles would snap him up in a second. In the convoluted juxtaposition of Browns and Eagles, Lewis’ skill-set fits the Eagles of Chip Kelly and Pat Shurmur now better than the Browns. I see all four coming to training camp.
If Campbell was brought in to compete with Weeden, then surely Hoyer was brought in to compete with Campbell. How will it all shake out?
Weeden should still prevail. If he doesn’t, that’s on him.
|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 email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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