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Browns Should Focus On The Here And Now

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Quarterback Brandon Weeden is back as the starter for the Cleveland Browns. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden is back as the starter for the Cleveland Browns. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

It’s interesting to look back and wonder, “What if?”

That is, what if Cleveland Browns QB Brian Hoyer were still healthy.

Or to look ahead and wonder, “What might be?”

That is, what will the Browns do with their two first-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft?

And while that’s all well and good, stirring a lot of lively debate and conversation, especially on the local sports talk shows, nothing productive will come of it. The Cleveland Browns can’t go back and change the past. It’s done.

It’s history.

Hoyer, the local kid from Cleveland St. Ignatius High School who had played so well in leading the team to victories over the Minnesota Vikings (31-27) and Cincinnati Bengals (17-6), is out for the rest of the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the first quarter of Thursday night’s nationally televised 37-24 comeback victory over the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Nor can the Browns map out the future. That’s down the road. A lot of things will happen between now and next May to determine who the club targets at the top of the draft.

Rather, the most interesting – and fun and exciting, and most important -- thing for the Browns and their fans right now is to stay in the moment and take a good, long look at what is – what they can control. They haven’t had this opportunity this “late” into the season in six years.

Winning their third straight game for the first time since – get this -- 2007, Cleveland has rebounded from a disastrous 0-2 start and stands all alone in first place at 3-2 in the AFC North heading into this weekend’s games. Yes, that’s right, the Browns are atop the division roughly one-third of the way through the season. They’re in the playoff chase, which is a big deal for a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason for 11 years, and has made it just twice in 19 years.

They’re a half-game ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2), who have the unenviable task of hosting the New England Patriots (4-0), and also the Baltimore Ravens, who visit the Miami Dolphins (3-1). Both contests are Sunday.

It is the first time the Browns have been over the .500 mark after five games since way back in 2001, Butch Davis’s first year as head coach.

As such, the Browns owe it to themselves and their fans to pull out all the stops – within reason – to take full advantage of this golden opportunity and get into the postseason. Certainly, CEO Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi aren’t going to make big changes to their long-term rebuilding plan, and that’s understandable for they want to put together a franchise that can year-in and year-out. But they can tweak it a bit by going out and signing veteran players who can help right now at position of need.

The problem is that no matter they do otherwise, the Browns have to go forward with QB Brandon Weeden. After losing his job to Hoyer when he sprained his thumb at Baltimore on Sept. 16, he is back as the starter for the rest of the year --  barring injury. So, this id Weeden’s team, after all, if only for the rest of this season. It isn’t likely the Browns will bring him back. They’ve seen enough of his game, such as his lack of pocket presence or touch on his passes, they don’t like. But they’re forced to lean on him now to get them where they haven’t been since 2002, while at the same time he gets to showcase his talents for interested clubs for next season.

The Browns and Weeden are stuck with each other, like a man and wife deciding to stay together for a while for the sake of the kids. They’ll both have to grit their teeth and bare it.

This is not a marriage made in heaven, to say the least, but it could be a huge win-win for everybody involved if Weeden plays well.

Even if Hoyer had avoided injury and performed at a high level over the course of the season, the Browns still would have used the top of the draft to get their franchise quarterback. Now, with Hoyer out, they are more determined than ever to do it. It’s an even bigger necessity. In a perfect world, they would pair that player and Hoyer together going into next season, maybe letting Hoyer start the year while mentoring the rookie. But who knows? Again, that’s far in the future.

It makes no sense to bring veteran Jason Campbell back next season. He has no future – or even present – with the Browns. They got turned off on him when he begged out of the preseason finale at Chicago. Hoyer played instead and performed well. All that is why the Browns bypassed the presumed No. 2 in Campbell and made Hoyer the starter when Weeden got hurt. It’s also why they rushed Weeden back from the thumb injury and made him the No. 2 instead of Campbell for the Bills game.

With Hoyer out, the Browns are going to have to sign a quarterback. They should definitely consider – er, make that, rush to add -- Josh Freeman, who was recently released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because he and head coach Greg Schiano didn’t see eye to eye. Freeman is a former first-round draft pick who played well last year. What’s the downside in rolling the dice, bringing him in and letting him develop? He wouldn’t supplant Weeden as the starter, at least not anytime soon as he learns the offense, but, in an emergency, he could help out a lot more than Campbell, whose biggest strength is simply managing the game.

That’s not good enough for a team hungry to go to the playoffs.

As former Washington Redskins head coach George Allen used to say, “The future is now.” That the future holds so many possibilities for 2013 is, and will continue to be, the story in Cleveland. The Browns and their fans can’t lose sight of that.

Who knows? It could be a special season throughout. The division title is up for grabs. So why not the Browns?