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Brandon Weeden's arm is worth developing in the Norv Turner offense

Jan 24, 2013 -- 6:00am

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By Tony Grossi       

The Morning Kickoff …

Tick, tick, tick: Is the clock ticking on the Brandon Weeden era? I hope not. But the facts say otherwise.

Consider this: With 15 starts, Weeden already has exceeded the average lifespan of a Browns quarterback since 1999.

That’s right. The Browns have changed quarterbacks every 12.4 games in their expansion era. They’ve had 18 starting quarterbacks in 224 games in 14 years.

Now, some of the quarterback changes have been due to injury. But not as many as you think. Essentially, the Browns have made 10 quarterback changes because of performance, coaching change or change of heart.

Weeden’s 15 starts as a rookie actually rank fifth on the Browns’ all-time list/expansion era. Only Tim Couch (59 starts), Derek Anderson (34), Colt McCoy (21) and Charlie Frye (19) have more.

Here is an even more shocking statistic: Weeden’s .333 winning percentage (5-10 record) also ranks fifth in the expansion era. The top four: 1. Jake Delhomme, 2-2, .500; 2. Anderson, 16-18, .470; 3. Tim Couch, 22-37, .372; 4. Trent Dilfer, 4-7, .363.

And now for one more statistic even more shocking than anything you’ve read so far: Weeden’s .333 winning percentage is better than the overall mark of the Browns since 1999. They are 73-151 for a win percentage of 326.

Lack of support: Former Browns GM Phil Savage once said that when a franchise drafts a quarterback in the first round, every person in the organization must support him for that quarterback to be successful. That’s easier said than done.

In the 2007 draft, Savage traded a future No. 1 pick to Dallas to move from the second round to the first and select quarterback Brady Quinn. It was a bold move and jolted the fan base like no acquisition before or, frankly, since.

Exactly one year later, Savage committed $24 million in a new three-year contract to Anderson – a former sixth-round pick of Baltimore whom the Browns had claimed off waivers. The reason: Anderson caught fire in 2007 and won 10 of 15 starts.

In the blink of an eye, Quinn became a has-been before he ever made a start. His future was in the past – to borrow the memorable phrase from former Cleveland Indians President Gabe Paul. Quinn replaced Couch as the poster boy of Browns post-expansion quarterbacks.

Cleveland is the place where quarterbacks go to die. The veterans who come here with any credentials underperform. The high draft picks never are developed. The coaches, the coordinators, the offensive systems change so quickly, the young QBs never have a chance to grow.

Peyton Manning would have died here after a 3-13 rookie season. Eli Manning would have died here after a 1-6 rookie season, which included a 0.0 passer rating in one half’s work against the Baltimore Ravens.

If a rookie quarterback doesn’t automatically make the coaches in Cleveland look good, the coaches are not going to be around long enough to make the quarterback look good.

Until this cycle is broken, the Browns will not win consistently.

Go with the arm: On Wednesday, new Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said “it’s premature to say” that Weeden will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2013.

That was a disappointing statement because it supports the predominant belief that CEO Joe Banner and VP/player personnel Mike Lombardi don’t view Weeden as their guy.

I would rather have heard Chudzinski say something like, “Weeden has all the physical tools to be a winning quarterback. It’s my job to make that happen.”

I guess it’s understandable for Chudzinski to temper his feelings about Weeden. He didn’t draft Weeden and he hasn’t been here to coach him a single game. It’s also possible that his interview for the Browns’ coaching job included a thorough discussion about Weeden. Neither Banner nor owner Jimmy Haslam warmed to Weeden during their observation period prior to firing everybody, and Lombardi’s negative assessment of Weeden prior to the draft is well-documented.

But they should give Weeden a chance to develop under offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and play-caller Norv Turner.

Troy Aikman looked lost in Dallas his first two seasons with the Cowboys. In Aikman’s third season – and running back Emmitt Smith’s second – Turner arrived as coach Jimmy Johnson’s offensive coordinator and Aikman’s passer rating increased dramatically by 20 points.

The NFL has changed a lot since Turner developed Aikman into a three-time Super Bowl championship quarterback in the 1990s. But maybe the position hasn’t changed all that much. Back then, successful quarterbacks either had a big arm like Aikman, John Elway and Jim Kelly, or exceptional running ability like Steve Young or Randall Cunningham.

You can argue that the new breed of elite quarterbacks appears to have both the strong arm and fast legs – Robert Griffin 3, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick. But Weeden’s arm is the best I’ve seen since the Browns have been back, and that includes Anderson’s.

Chudzinski and Turner have more to work with in Weeden than any Browns quarterback since 1999.

I say to them: Develop Weeden. Don’t let the suits pick your quarterback.

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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