Diagramming a Disaster: The Browns Selection of Brandon Weeden


With few exceptions, much of the talent currently on the Cleveland Browns is due to the tenure of general manager Tom Heckert.  When he left, there were plenty of people who wanted him to stay (myself included) as he had been the best talent evaluator the Browns have had since they returned in 1999, which is a sad statement on the situation with the Browns and the NFL Draft.  It is also the biggest reason why they have been in the basement since coming back into the league.  For all the good Heckert did while he was here and with the talent he was able to bring in while with the Browns, his legacy will largely be associated with the abject failure that was selecting Brandon Weeden and all that was lost in going down that rabbit hole.  Everything about this move from the talent to the value to the strategy of the pick was an absolute disaster and the entire through process was flawed from the start, which is why the Browns will again be looking for a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Sep 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) walks off the field after being sacked during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Holmgren was hired as the President of the team and he basically took $50 million to hire Heckert and do little else of any worth.  After acquiring some talent in previous drafts predominately on the defensive side of the ball, Holmgren and the front office along with the disaster that was head coach Pat Shurmur decided to step on the gas and try to compete in the 2012 season.  In 2011, the Browns offense was a complete disaster and it was clear they needed to add a quarterback as well as offensive talent overall.

The focus of the 2012 NFL Draft were the two prize quarterbacks at the top; Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.  It is unclear if anyone will ever truly know the truth about the deal that the Rams made with the Redskins, how it came to be and if the Rams simply took the Redskins offer or if it was legitimately better than the Browns.  After failing to move up to secure Griffin as was the plan, the Browns sat with the fourth pick.  When the draft arrived, the Browns had identified Trent Richardson as the player they wanted and the Vikings under the guidance of Rick Spielman were able to convince the Browns to give up a small handful of picks to secure the third pick and get Richardson.

Taking a running back third overall is not a good strategy on principle and to this point, that has proven to be true.  Ryan Tannehill was not a popular choice but he might have been the best choice (admittedly, I wanted no part of him at all).  He was not ready to start right away and needed to sit a year but he did have impressive tools to develop and work with; the problem was the Browns were not willing to sit a quarterback for a year (I would have taken Morris Claiborne, the corner out of LSU to pair with Joe Haden).

The Browns were clearly looking for splash players who could contribute immediately, so Richardson was the logical choice in that vein.  Considering where the Browns actually were in regards to their talent, that was not a terribly logical choice and was actual quite risky considering the nature of the position, but the Browns hope they have a franchise back in Richardson now, though that has yet to prove itself.

With Richardson in the fold, the Browns had another first round pick, which they had acquired in a trade down the previous year in a deal with the Atlanta Falcons.  The Browns gave Atlanta the ability to take Julio Jones, the wide receiver out of Alabama with the sixth pick in the draft.  The Browns moved down to the end of the round.  They would later move up a few spots to secure defensive tackle Phil Taylor (Admittedly, I wanted Gabe Carimi.  Ugh.).  Taylor has become a terrific player and has become the nose tackle of a talented Browns front seven.  The Browns also took defensive end Jabaal Sheard out of Pittsburgh early in the second round, which has been an outstanding selection and is now an outside linebacker for the Browns.  They selected Greg Little, the wide receiver out of North Carolina largely as a project on physical ability at the end of the second round as part of the Atlanta deal.  That has not worked out so far, but he still has some time.

With Luck Griffin, and Tannehill off the board, the thought process in the front office was they wanted Kendall Wright, the wide receiver out of Baylor.  He was selected by the Tennessee Titans, so the Browns went to their next player on their board.  This is where a disaster of epic proportions took place.  When the Browns were on the clock with the 22nd pick in the first round, they failed to do an important calculation.  What was the realistic market for a 28 year old quarterback?  At the earliest, the Browns could have sat tight and opted to take Weeden at 37th pick.  Realistically, it was not a stretch to think Weeden could have been sitting there in the third round.

There was talk that had Weeden been the typical age of a rookie quarterback, he would have pushed for a top 10 pick and arguably pushed Tannehill for the right to be the third quarterback in the draft.  Based on what Weeden showed in college, that did not add up but it was nevertheless out there.  It looked like the best case scenario would have had Weeden as the third best quarterback in the AFC North behind Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco which is part of why it never made any sense.  Even if he was as talented as some would have had people believe, he was a quarterback coming out of a straight spread system as a 28 year old entering the league, so just adjusting to a pro style offense was going to take time; time the Browns and Weeden did not have.  Weeden had to be good immediately.  Because of his age, he could not afford to be anything but solid right from the start.  Judging by the fact they took Richardson with the third pick, they believed Weeden was going to be that player right from the start.

A combination of bad draft math, bad evaluation and a tremendous amount of hubris emitting from Holmgren, Heckert, and Shurmur, they handed the card in and made the selection.  (For those keeping score, I would have taken Claiborne first and then taken Doug Martin, the running back out of Boise State here).

The selection was met with a combination of frustration, disbelief and mockery from fans and the rest of the league.  Weeden had tools to throw the ball a long way, but he appeared to be miscast in the West Coast Offense they wanted to run; something he would confirm when he took the field.  At Oklahoma State, Weeden was afforded the ability to sit back in shotgun and throw to spread, four receiver sets and when trouble presented itself, just throw it up to Justin Blackmon, the team’s stud wide receiver and the 6th overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Browns took a quarterback who was old and they needed to be good right from the start based entirely on tools that were not a fit for their offense.

The Browns did make up for some of the damage by taking Mitchell Schwartz, the offensive tackle out of Cal with the 37th pick in the second round (I wanted Cordy Glenn, the offensive tackle out of Georgia here and was hoping to take Kirk Cousins out of Michigan State as a bridge quarterback in round three, whom I had ranked ahead of Weeden).  Schwartz had a tremendous rookie year and really acclimated to the right tackle spot well giving the Browns the impression they had bookend tackles and really solidified the offensive line in front of Richardson and Weeden.  Schwartz’s sophomore campaign has gotten off to a rough start but he should be able to bounce back and play better.

The Browns made one more move to try to help their offense for 2012.  When the supplemental draft came about, there was a troubled but incredible athletic talent that almost no one had really seen play in Josh Gordon out of Baylor.  He was actually practicing with Utah at the time he declared for the supplemental draft after being booted from Waco for drug issues and went to Utah.  Gordon was raw, had character issues, and was expected to be a total project along with Greg Little in his second year.  The Browns bid their 2013 second round pick to get him.  This was a perplexing strategy considering that the Browns wanted to hit the ground running, had taken a running back to run now, a quarterback to play now, and an offensive lineman to help them now but had some real inexperience at wide receiver.

The Browns front office got three players they thought could make an immediate impact and really work to fix the offensive woes they suffered in 2011 and one they hoped could help in Gordon.  They had the offensive line with Joe Thomas and Alex Mack along with Schwartz to open holes for Richardson and Weeden could ease his way in and find his way as the season rolled along.  That did not go according to plan and it was evident immediately.

After no training camp or preseason, Richardson looked unbelievably rusty in the first game of the season and was a complete non-factor against the Eagles, as one might expect and had about 10 yards for the entire game.  The result was that Weeden was expected to carry the offense in the first game of the season and completely melted down, which was not surprising considering the circumstances.  The depth of how bad he was took the team and entire region by shock as he looked like he had absolutely no business being in the NFL in the first game.  This was after a relatively weak preseason by Weeden.

While Schwartz settled into his role at right tackle well, Richardson showed flashes but right when his knee was getting better, he broke his ribs and was playing at a fraction of what he could be the rest of the season.  Amazingly, he still almost had 1,317 total yards and 11 touchdowns but was clearly not the player he could be.  The surprise was how much Gordon brought to the table immediately.  He outperformed every expectation out there and was able to make an impact almost instantly.  Despite the immaturity and character issues which are still present, Gordon was able to catch 50 passes for 805 yards and 5 touchdowns.  If they can get him to grow up, this might turn out to be the best pick of the bunch.

The curveball in this situation was the ownership change.  It caught most by surprise when Randy Lerner decided to sell the team to Jimmy Haslam.  This is where a lot of light could be shed on the situation in the front office.  Essentially, when did Lerner know he was going to sell the team, when did the front office know and did it impact their timeline.  After initially suggesting the Browns were on a 5 year plan, Holmgren tried to skip a few steps in year three and tried to compete immediately, pushing all of the proverbial chips to the middle.

Was this Holmgren’s plan from the get go or was there a hint of an ownership change that caused Holmgren to speed up the process and overplay his hand?  The answer could have a significant change in the perception of this draft, but the result was the same.  Taking a quarterback who had no business going in the first round and trying to take a shortcut to get more competitive and potentially impress new ownership.

None of it worked.  The result was a profound disaster in draft strategy, how to build a team, and why teams have to always focus on value rather than reaching for needs.  Holmgren reached a deal to be bought out by the new ownership, Shurmur was fired, and new President Joe Banner and Heckert could not come to terms on an agreement to keep Heckert there, so he was let go.  Banner would have allowed Heckert to stay in a smaller capacity and Heckert wanted to run the show.  Heckert was let go.

The people who made the pick were all weeded out for the sake of the new ownership to get in their guys and the Browns were stuck spending on a first round quarterback who was average at best and a disaster at worst.  Ultimately, the new front office made the calculation to hold off on what looked to be a questionable quarterback class in the NFL Draft last year and give Weeden a year in an offense more suited to his skills as an audition for the job.  The season is only two years old and it is painfully clear that this front office and coaching staff will move on from Weeden next season and select their own quarterback this coming year.  Fans and the team have to suffer through the rest of the 2013 season while they wait to find out who that quarterback is.

Everything about the drafting of quarterback Brandon Weeden will go down in history as a disaster and one of the worst uses of a first round pick ever in which most critics saw what was coming before it even happened.  The pick was a disaster the second the card went in and Holmgren is currently out of football in some sort of Scrooge McDuck style money bin in Seattle, Heckert is working in a smaller front office role with the Denver Broncos where his biggest contribution there has been public embarrassment in the form of a DUI while Shurmur is the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly, who hands all of the play calling duties.  There are still some unknowns and truths yet to be revealed about the circumstances involved in how this went down, but the bottom line remains the same.  For all of the hard work, planning and hoarding of draft resources, the Browns were not only unable to land Griffin, but at this point, all they seem to have gotten for that work was Phil Taylor and some question marks in the form of Richardson and Little,  but by no means the franchise quarterback they needed or were hoping to land; an abject failure and complete disaster in every sense of building a team and operating within the NFL Draft.  As a result, the Browns are still looking for a quarterback to lead them and make a once proud franchise relevant again.