Like Modell In 1995, Chudzinski 'Had No Choice' But To Bench Weeden
By Steven King
A little bit of this and a little bit of that concerning the Cleveland Browns as they prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium:
Gone but not forgotten
Art Modell passed away about 15 months ago, but the former Browns owner’s most famous line has come into play with the current team. When Modell told a group of beat reporters in the media room at team headquarters in Berea on Friday, Nov. 3, 1995, that he would be moving the club to Baltimore following the season, he used the excuse, “I had no choice.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski is not Modell, who is still despised in Cleveland. He’s far from it, in fact. But if nice-guy Chudzinski, who refuses to throw his players under the bus in public, had been brutally honest in explaining to the media on Wednesday why he was benching QB Brandon Weeden in favor of Jason Campbell, he would have echoed Modell’s words from 18 years ago and admitted, “I had no choice.”
After Weeden’s struggles over the last year and a half – climaxed by an especially bad performance in last Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers – Chudzinski could do nothing but to move on from him.
The other players on the team appreciate that Chudzinski didn’t drag Weeden through the mud to the media. He won a lot of points in the locker room for that. No player wants to be laid bare like that for all to see.
But in the minds of everybody – whether they are players, coaches, media, fans or whomever – it had finally come time to put Weeden on the sideline for the benefit of all involved, including the quarterback. No one has faith anymore in Weeden’s ability to be productive enough for the Browns to win a game – not now and not for the foreseeable future.
Is Campbell the answer? No. He’s not the long-term one by any stretch of the imagination and maybe not even the short-term one, either. He is a backup, a body -- the classic NFL journeyman. In fact, he might well end up being so bad that he makes Weeden look like Otto Graham.
But Chudzinski has to at least give Campbell the chance to show what he can do. He has no one else. Like Modell – yeah, right -- he has no choice.
And if Chudzinski wouldn’t have named Campbell the starter, then he would have promptly lost the support of all the players in the locker room he had just won over with his respectful treatment of Weeden. The players want to win games. To be sure, they don’t want to step onto Weeden’s crumpled body – and confidence – to do it, but they can’t worry about that anymore. There are 52 other players to whom Chudzinski must answer.
It’s not where the Browns wanted to be, particularly even before they reach the halfway point of the season, but that’s exactly where they are nonetheless. As such, they have no choice (there’s that phrase again) to make the best of it over these final nine games and just get through the year.
This is tough to say – Browns fans have had to look to next year since this whole expansion era mess began in 1999 – but if everything goes according to plan in the offseason, 2014 will be much easier to digest, at least in regards to the quarterback position.
Brian Hoyer – out for the rest of this season with a torn ACL suffered Oct. 3 against the Buffalo Bills – will be healthy and ready to go as he serves as the mentor for the young quarterback the club will certainly take at, or near, the top of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Until then, though, Cleveland fans will have to hold on tight and grab the antacid medicine.
They have no choice.
Should he stay or go?
With the NFL trading deadline next Tuesday, Oct. 29, the Browns have another, much more immediate problem to deal with: what to do with WR Josh Gordon.
Should they deal him for a high 2014 draft pick and a player, adding to the large stash of draft choices they already have to possibly use as ammunition to go up and get the quarterback they want? Or should they keep him?
Like finding Cleveland’s franchise quarterback, it is a tough call that will go a long way toward defining the Chudzinski-CEO Joe Banner-GM Mike Lombardi era in Cleveland. In short, it is a high-risk, high-reward decision.
On one hand, Gordon – already a two-time offender in the NFL’s banned substance program – is just one misstep away from being suspended for an entire year. Talk about getting absolutely nothing back on your return if that happens.
The Browns could act before that scenario has a chance to play out – that is, strike while the iron is out – and jettison him out of town while they still can in order to get some assets for this rebuilding process.
But on the other hand, the Browns have only two offensive weapons now as it is in Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron. Can they really afford to get rid of one of them? They’re already struggling mightily to score points.
Despite Chudzinski’s public backing of Gordon and his insistence the wide receiver is not going anywhere, the guess here is that he indeed will go somewhere else in a trade. After all, the members of this regime didn’t take him in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, giving up a second-round pick in last April’s draft in order to do so. So they’re not culpable for acquiring Gordon in the first place. They’ve just inherited the problem and are trying to do their best to solve it.
When in doubt. the philosophy of this group seems to be to take a big broom and sweep the person in question out of the building.
Reid it and weep
By late afternoon Sunday, Browns fans will probably not be very happy. The unbeaten Chiefs will have beaten their struggling team.
But truth be told, those same fans are already not very happy. That’s because they’re wondering, “How in the name of 180-degree turnarounds can the Chiefs, who were completely outmatched in losing 30-7 in Cleveland last Dec. 9 en route to finishing with an NFL-worst 2-14 record in 2012, be a league-best 7-0 just a season later? Why can’t the Browns, who were only 5-11 last year, do something like that? When is it our team’s turn?”
Indeed, Kansas City is the story of the year thus far in the NFL. Most of the reason for that is the fact the Chiefs last offseason added the right coach in Andy Reid and the right quarterback in Alex Smith. Those are the two most important positions on any football team, so when both men are very good at what they do and joined at the hip, it makes for a great situation. It certainly can enable a club to go from rags to riches – worst to first -- as the Chiefs have done.
Banner, Lombardi and owner Jimmy Haslam maintain they’re not interested in overnight, meteoric turnarounds like that – a so-called quick fix, as it were. They want to build a team that, once it arrives, is able to contend over a long period of time.
We’ll see how the Chiefs finish out the season and if they can come back next year and sustain their success. And we’ll also see how the Browns’ plan goes and if a contender with some staying power can be built.
In the meantime, Sunday’s game will be hard to watch for Browns fans. For that matter, just thinking about is hard, too.