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Posted by Feb - 8 - 2013 0 Comment
Photo courtesy of John Martinez Pavliga. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Photo courtesy of John Martinez Pavliga. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

So you want Alex Smith. But how do you want him? To compete with Brandon Weeden? To replace Brandon Weeden? To back up Brandon Weeden? While the latter is not likely as Smith will undoubtedly garner attention as a starter for some teams, many Browns fans see him as the presence in competition that might bring out the best in Weeden. Others would simply have Smith replace Weeden, since the overwhelming sentiment is that new Browns coaches aren’t confident in the second year QB. Head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have said little to think that it’s Weeden’s job to lose, and at the Super Bowl last week new owner Jimmy Haslam III said Weeden will compete for the job. So the thought persists that if he isn’t good enough to simply keep the job, he’s good enough to simply be replaced. Now a faction of Browns fans have put on their armchair GM hats recently and taken to everything from the sports talk shows to Twitter to either extol the virtues of the long maligned signal caller in San Fran, or lament the idea that he’s even being considered. Stats have been tossed about both defending and vilifying him, and in true fan form (and even from some local media types) show only a small part of what Alex Smith is, has been, or could be in a Browns uniform. What would a Browns off-season be without some form of a quarterback debate?

First and foremost, before doing any homework for this I have not been an advocate of bringing in Alex Smith. I don’t dislike Alex Smith, but am not sure that exchanging him for Brandon Weeden is a sure fire improvement to the immediate or long term solution to the quarterback position here in Cleveland. For starters, you are going to have to pay him starter money to get him here, if he is granted his release from the 49ers. (Otherwise you will have to work out a trade for him, though many expect him to get his release.) If you are going to do that, then he is your starter. Period. That is akin to taking a player #22 overall. If you are making that kind of investment, that guy is going to be your starter. There will be no competition in reality. Just ask Colt McCoy. And if you think that you can get Smith in here for some discount or for less than starter money, remember that Arizona, Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Oakland all have unsettled quarterback situations along with Cleveland, just to name a few. There will be competition (there’s that word again) for his services, and that will drive up the market price.

From the perspective of Weeden’s contract, he is one year into a  4-yr, $8 million deal, with $7.5 million guaranteed (per spotrac.com). The first year took $1.47 million off that total, leaving around $6 million left in guaranteed money over the next 3 years. This is all thanks to the new rookie salary structure, so the Browns have Weeden on the hook for basically backup money. So acquiring Smith for starter money wouldn’t have an overly abundant amount of the salary cap (that the Browns are reported to be almost $50 million under) tied up at the QB position. They could afford to carry both players for at least the 2013 season and still improve other areas of the team. Likewise, releasing Weeden could be an option if they bring in another QB and are unable to trade him. The salary cap hit would be financially digestible for the cap. For the man signing player paychecks, well that is another conversation.

Before we get into dissecting Smith himself, let’s take a quick tale of the tape look at these guys. Weeden is 6’3″ and 220 lbs. Smith is 6’4″ and 217. Physically, they are very similar. There are some that are of the opinion Smith lacks a bit of arm strength for a QB his size. Others talk of Weeden’s arm strength as an advantage, but at the end of the day, both are capable of making all the necessary NFL throws. So that argument is somewhat irrelevant. Smith will be 29 in May, Weeden 30 in October. Much is made about Weeden’s age, and has been since he was drafted out of Oklahoma State last April. If the logic that a 30 year old QB has a short window of opportunity before Father Time alters his career path, that window for Smith as a Brown is the same at this point with maybe a year more at best. At this point the relevant conversation about age isn’t what is out in front of them, but behind them. Smith has 7 more years of NFL experience than Weeden, though he missed the entire 2008 season on IR with a shoulder injury. Until 2011 his effort was rather unimpressive. One of those unimpressive season was under current Browns OC Norv Turner, but we’ll get into that a bit later. All that said, Smith’s experience over Weeden does have some value.

So let’s dig into Alex Smith, and see what may or may not make him a fit in Cleveland. For starters, here are his career numbers (stats courtesy of the 49ers official website):

  • 59% completion career completion percentage (1,290 of 2, 177)
  • 14,280 career passing yards over 80 games (178.5 yds/gm avg.)
  • 81 touchdowns, 63 interceptions

These are overall unimpressive numbers, but are they the totality of Alex Smith the quarterback? His last two seasons – well season and a half thanks to a concussion and Colin Kaepernick – were by far his best. Here are his numbers over the 27 starts (including 2 postseason in 2011) since opening day 2011:

  • 63.2% completion percentage (461/730)
  • 5,370 yds passing (198.8 yds/gm avg.)
  • 35 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (5 TD, zero INT in postseason)

It is these numbers that has many feeling that Alex Smith is the potential answer to the quarterback situation in Cleveland. But again, are the the true Alex Smith? Many feel that he has breached the threshold from being just a guy playing quarterback to being a winning quarterback. Are those 27 games proof enough that he is no longer a draft bust as a former #1 overall pick? It’s probably fair to say he has matured as a quarterback. Certainly helping matters was finally some stability at the offensive coordinator post in San Fran, with Greg Roman taking over those duties when Jim Harbaugh arrived as head coach before the 2011 season. Certainly helping matters was having receiving targets over those two seasons like Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss in 2012, and a versatile RB like Frank Gore. But much has been made of Roman’s read-option offense, and it was on full display under Kaepernick as the Niners rode the 2nd year signal caller all the way to the Super Bowl. So then was it Smith or the system he was in? This leads us to a conversation about the aforementioned Norv Turner.

Turner was Smith’s OC under then 49er head coach Mike Nolan. This would be Smith’s first season as the full time starter after making appearances in 9 games during a difficult rookie season in 2005. Turner, renowned for his offensive mind and quarterback development, coached Smith up to a pedestrian season statistically, but promising given Smith’s debut season in ’05.

  • 58% completion percentage (257/442)
  • 2,890 yds passing (180.6 yds/gm avg.)
  • 16 touchdowns, 16 interceptions

The Niners finished 7-9 that season, good enough for 3rd in the NFC West. Smith wasn’t exactly blessed with an abundance of talent at the wide receiver position, with names like Arnaz Battle, the much traveled Antonio Bryant, and Eric Johnson. 2006 was also the rookie season for one Vernon Davis. Bryant led all 49er pass catchers with 733 yards, while the leading pass catcher was running back Frank Gore with 61 receptions. Gore also provided Smith with a solid running attack, gaining 1,695 yards on the ground  and 8 TDs that season. Turner would only last one season in San Francisco, taking the head coaching job in San Diego in 2007.

While early in his career, Smith clearly did not acclimate as well to Turner’s system as he did Greg Roman’s. Obviously Turner’s system works, given his success over his career as an OC. It is fair to say that Smith’s 2006 season was akin to a typical rookie year for a new starter, given his sporadic and inconsistent play in 2005 and the change in offensive philosophy with Turner’s arrival. Many have blamed Smith’s lack of success in his first 5 seasons on the revolving door on the offensive coordinator’s office. Certainly that will impact a young QB, though he has twice started a season with the OC from the previous year; 2011-2012 with Roman and 2009-2010 with Jimmy Raye. Still, after losing his starting job for part of the ’09 season and Raye getting the boot after an 0-5 start to 2010, Smith continued to lack consistency among his coaching ranks.

Should Smith find his way to Cleveland, he’ll find himself in relatively familiar surrounding to what he had under Turner in 2006; a wide receiver corps lacking depth and a proven play maker. While the outlook for Trent Richardson remains optimistic, he certainly is not the proven commodity that Frank Gore is. And despite the proven success of Turner and his system, there is going to be a learning curve for everyone, including Smith were he to be here. So while the 2013 Cleveland Browns’ season comes with cautious optimism, it’s hard right now to imagine it being a winning one. That leaves 2014 as being the season where the Browns are to be considered a playoff contender, and now Smith’s age is now a factor in determining the Browns window for success, much like it is with Weeden.

Weeden’s rookie year was almost a carbon copy of the previous season Colt McCoy endured from a critical perspective. While the positive and negative stats between each could be exchanged, the overall perception was that due to many things out of their control combined with their own lack of experience led to first seasons starting in Cleveland that did not indicate whether or not they were the answer at QB for the Browns. It is just as likely that Weeden could be as successful as Smith would be. There is nothing guaranteeing Smith will come here and enjoy the same success he did in San Francisco over the last two years. Truly it can’t be denied that Smith’s overall experience in the league has value. But some quarterbacks spend a dozen years in the league, have one or two good season sprinkled in yet never achieve real NFL success. (See his current head coach as proof of this.)

In the end, the Browns are going to bring in someone. Be it Smith or someone else, it’s been stated that Brandon Weeden will have to compete with someone to keep his starting job. That is what should have happened at the start of his rookie campaign, and certainly should be the case now. He should have every opportunity to defend his position, but needs to prove he deserves it. Now that the Super Bowl is over and the silly season is complete, speculation as to whom that competition will be begins, and will undoubtedly run rampant with names from the ridiculous to the realistic. But you can take it to the bank that if Mr. Smith comes to Cleveland, he will be your opening day starter in 2013. Then the window of opportunity to win will only get smaller for the newly posted leaders of the Cleveland Browns, and Smith brings no more guarantees to the position than you have in Weeden right now. As Browns fans have bemoaned the lack of consistency in Berea, and that at some point stability needs to set in, are they willing to exercise a modicum of patience with the quarterback position? That answer is likely no. The 2013 offseason is ill-suited for change at arguably the most important position on the filed. But that won’t stop Browns fans from clamoring for the next man up. For some that is Alex Smith. And that move won’t bring competition to the position.

Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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