|Image source: thesportsquotient.com|
For the second time in his career as a professional athlete, Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is at a crossroads.
The first time was in 2006, when after having a third straight rough season in Class-A ball, Weeden made the decision to end his professional baseball career at the age of 23. Weeden made the right decision then, as his record-setting career at Oklahoma State impressed the Browns enough to draft him with the 22nd pick in the 2012 NFL draft. The Browns were so high on Weeden last summer that he was given the starting quarterback job over incumbent Colt McCoy without having ever played a single down in the NFL.
After a 2012 campaign that saw Weeden and the Browns struggle most of the year, new owner Jimmy Haslam cleaned house in the Cleveland front office. Gone are former team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert, two of Weeden's biggest supporters. The two men taking over these vacated positions, Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, aren't quite as enthused about having a quarterback that will turn 30 in the midst of just his second NFL season. Lombardi, in fact, called Cleveland's selection of Weeden a "panicked disaster" while covering the 2012 draft for the NFL Network, though he has since backed off of that remark.
The double whammy of the front-office shakeup and his age has led Weeden to a different set of crossroads entering 2013. Weeden can defy the odds like Hall of Famer Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys, who didn't throw his first NFL pass until the age of 27, or he can fade into the ether like fellow ex-baseball player Chris Weinke, who struggled in his time as the starter for the Carolina Panthers.
Even though they may not hold Weeden in as high of a regard as the previous regime, the current front office is giving him every opportunity to succeed this fall. Weeden is still the starter heading into 2013, despite the Browns' signing of Jason Campbell on March 26. Campbell has started 71 games in his eight-year NFL career, and as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, the Browns could face a quarterback controversy in 2013 should Weeden struggle in September.
New head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner bring with them a vertical-based passing game that, on paper, should be tailor-made for Weeden. Even though the Browns' offense struggled a whole in 2012, Weeden did have some success throwing the deep ball, especially to speedy wideout Josh Gordon. Gordon will be out for the first two games while serving a suspension, but the cupboard won't be bare for Weeden minus Gordon. Greg Little looks to continue his strong finish to the 2012 season, and new addition Davone Bess has caught at least 51 passes in every one of his five NFL seasons.
Should Weeden fail to succeed in 2013, his days as a starter in the NFL will probably be over. The last Browns' starting quarterback to have any success in the NFL after leaving Cleveland was Jeff Garcia, who was Cleveland's signal caller way back in 2004.
That being said, Weeden will hold his future in his hands this fall. Whether he becomes the next Staubach or the next Weinke is up to him.
Follow me, Jonathan Bunge, on Twitter for more links to news about the Cleveland Browns.