1. Obviously Brandon Weeden didn't develop as hoped in 2013. Is there still prevailing hope that he has a future as a starter for the Browns?
It's remarkable how there are literally no fans who are projecting Brandon Weeden to be our starting quarterback in 2014 (I say "remarkable" because Colt McCoy still had his fair share of supporters after last season). I am one of the more optimistic people on Weeden still, but I'm resigned to the fact that we can't head into next season with the intention of starting or developing him another year.
The biggest knocks on Weeden this year were that he was so slow with his decision-making, he couldn't seem to come off of his first read, and he wasn't very aware of the game situation around him. Brian Hoyer understood the offense so much better in his limited time, and even though Jason Campbell has faded a bit, even he did some things better than Weeden for a stretch. Cleveland has two first-round draft picks in 2014, and this is supposed to be a quarterback-heavy class.
2. Who will start at quarterback Week 1 in the 2014 season for the Browns, or will the Draft have an impact on that?
Right now, the leading opinion in Cleveland seems to be this: start Brian Hoyer on opening day, but draft a quarterback in the first or second round. In an ideal world, Hoyer will recover from his ACL injury and be good enough to have the Browns in playoff contention in 2014, while our rookie quarterback sits for a year so he can develop. Depending on how well Hoyer does, a better decision could then be made in 2015 as to whether Hoyer is our quarterback of the future, or if it's time to turn the reigns over to our youngster. Things don't often work out as you hope, though, so I wouldn't place any money on that type of scenario actually coming to fruition.
3. The Browns are 5th in the NFL at stopping the pass and 6th at stopping the run, yet they are 19th in points allowed. Is that a product of a poor offense, or does the defense still need further changes to be an elite group?
This is a tough question to answer, because it's puzzling how our defense could be so good at times and yet so bad at other times. This is probably the best way to summarize our defense: when teams start with normal field position and have to try to travel the length of the field, our defense excels and can force some three-and-outs. However, if our offense turns the ball over or doesn't win the battle of field position and a team takes over at midfield or closer, our defense seems to yield an extraordinary amount of touchdowns.
Sometimes, you see a defense rise up in spite of offensive struggles or turnovers. With Cleveland, our defense just seems to be completely deflated when they see the offense fail them yet again. Cleveland's third-down defense has finally improved over the past two weeks, but the red zone defense has still been terrible, with the Browns giving up a touchdown 66.66% of the time down there. If that figure was closer to something like 40%, a figure that would seem to match some of our positive defensive statistics, you would see our points allowed per game go down significantly.
4. What was the opinion of the new front office group prior to the Trent Richardson trade, and how was that opinion affected by the move? Did rumors of a Josh Gordon trade also impact that opinion of the fanbase?
A lot of people questioned the front office, particularly the credentials of Michael Lombardi being our general manager. There still isn't much confidence among fans that he will make the right decisions in our drafts, so we'll have to wait a couple of years to see if he can prove all of his critics wrong. Joe Banner, the team president, has been more of a breath of fresh air, in my opinion.
Although most fans thought we were tanking the season when Trent Richardson was dealt, most fans agreed that it was the right decision, which earned some bonus points for the new front office. If the fans were upset at anybody, it was our former front office, which included Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren, for missing so badly on both Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Regarding the Josh Gordon rumors, our fans would have been really pissed off at the new front office if they had traded him away. I don't think he was ever in danger of being traded, though. Here is what I think happened: after the Browns took a deal that was too good to be true (a first-rounder for a possible bust of a running back in Trent Richardson), NFL teams around the country started calling the Browns with the assumption that the front office was having a fire sale. One team even called about left tackle Joe Thomas, reportedly. It wouldn't be wise for the Browns to just ignore every call that comes in -- this was an opportunity for them to gauge the market on some of their players, in the event another too-good-to-be-true trade came up.
The front office and coaching staff couldn't turn a blind eye to the fact that Gordon was so valuable to our offense with his production. Even if they were wary about his character, he's too talented to ship away, even for a first-round pick. If you ship away Gordon, chances are, the person you try to replace him with is going to be far inferior at best. Our front office earned some more brownie points for recognizing that too.
5. With top quarterback play, how far are the Browns from being a Super Bowl contender?
I like to look at the Green Bay Packers' situation right now: without Aaron Rodgers, they look terrible. With him, they are instant Super Bowl contenders. The Browns' new front office spent this past offseason upgrading the defense and acquiring more draft picks for 2014. They barely touched the offense; prior to the season, they said the reason for this was that since the offense was so young, they wanted a year to evaluate how all of those young players did. So far, it hasn't worked out very well, except for a guy like Josh Gordon.
The Browns have both the ammunition in the draft and the cap space in free agency to significantly upgrade their offense in 2014. If they make the right moves and can finally find their first good quarterback since 1999, then sure, why not -- I guess we could finally be in the mix of being a Super Bowl contender. Based on our success rate of finding that quarterback, though, I'm not buying my tickets just yet.