The Cleveland Browns have still not decided on a starting quarterback, but regardless of who wins the job, they are in for another rebuilding year.
2013 Season Recap
The Browns missed the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, and they finished with a 4-12 record. They had a solid start 3-2 start though, and Brian Hoyer showed promise as a potential long-term starter. The Browns were forced to play with three different starting quarterbacks in Hoyer, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. After Hoyer’s season-ending injury, the Browns slid and eventually all of their final seven games.
2014 Offseason Recap
After only one season, the Browns fired Rob Chudzinski as their head coach. They hired former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to take his place.
Pettine is not entering an ideal situation since wide receiver Josh Gordon has had a troubled offseason, failing a second drug test and being arrested for a DWI. The Browns will lose him for at least eight games and possibly the whole season.
To soften the blow, the Browns signed three wide receivers in Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins. Other key additions are running back Ben Tate and safety Donte Whitner.
The only significant losses are safety T.J. Ward and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
Their most notable addition came in the draft though. Quarterback Johnny Manziel was selected in the first round, and he will compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting job. Cornerback Justin Gilbert was also taken in the first round, and he will form a fearsome cornerback duo with Joe Haden.
Position of strength
Although there is no major standout position on the Browns’ roster, their strongest position would have to be cornerback. Joe Haden is one of the elite players at his position, and he now has a potential Pro Bowler in Justin Gilbert lining up across from him. The depth behind those two is questionable, but Haden is a reliable cover corner who can come up with interceptions. Gilbert was also a ball hawk at Oklahoma State, and he falls into an ideal situation across from Haden.
Position of weakness
This is pretty obvious in wake of Josh Gordon’s impending suspension, but wide receiver is now the Browns’ weakest position. Their three free-agent signings will be the best weapons their starting quarterback will have to throw to. It is never a good sign when your best weapon is your tight end. Jordan Cameron is the only reliable weapon the Browns have, and they failed to upgrade at wide receiver in the draft despite knowing that Gordon being suspended was inevitable.
Best case scenario
This will heavily depend on who becomes the Browns’ starting quarterback. If Hoyer can build on his small sample size of starting experience, the offense will take a step forward. If Manziel can live up to his potential, the Browns offense may give defensive coordinators nightmares, especially if Gordon is suspended for just eight games and picks up right where he left off when he returns.
Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West have the potential to be a solid running back duo, and they will benefit from having a dual-threat quarterback if Manziel is the starter. The defense has the potential to perform well with new pieces such as inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, and it will have more time to rest if the offense can improve. The Browns will not make the playoffs in a tough AFC North, but if they can stay competitive all season they have the potential to win eight games.
Worst case scenario
If the Browns continue to struggle at quarterback, the team will continue to suffer. Not being able to maintain continuity at the position like last season will hurt them more than help. Whoever wins the starting job will inherit a terrible receiving corps, and this may very well stifle their development as a quarterback.
The Browns have a difficult schedule since they have to play their own divisional opponents twice and the NFC South. They also have not improved enough to compete with the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers right away, so they are headed for another last-place finish.
Prediction: 4th place in AFC North, no playoffs