The silly season has arrived for NFL fans. The time from the combine through free agency and then through the NFL draft means that even casual fans will find themselves swimming in a sea of rumors. One position that no doubt will get a lot of attention in the rumor mill this year is the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback job. There has been plenty of speculation that the Browns would like to at least bring in competition for incumbent Brandon Weeden, if not replace the Oklahoma State alum entirely. Already in the Haslam/Banner era, we have heard the likes of Alex Smith and Michael Vick as potential competition or successors through the gossip grapevine. While many Browns fans will be tempted by the big names, I have a more modest suggestion for Browns fans that could be better than any of the names we’ve heard linked to the team. He has experience in Coach Chudzinski’s offense and all the physical skills necessary to succeed in the NFL. The quarterback I am referring to is former Notre Dame and Panthers backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
It’s easy to forget, but Clausen was once seen as a franchise quarterback prospect and fell to the second round in the 2010 NFL draft due only to maturity concerns. He was labeled as cocky, arrogant and a prima donna during his time in South Bend and upset scouts with these same traits. He had at least two know run-ins at Notre Dame and one left him with a black eye for all to see. That alone shouldn’t exclude him as a viable option. There were also questions about his ability to get through to other players as he came off entitled.
What people forget is that Clausen has had sufficient reason to gripe, but has remained silent the last two years. He suffered through a poor rookie season and then the coach that drafted him was run out of town. Then his new coach drafted a quarterback with the 1st pick and buried Clausen on the depth chart. He has spent the last two years as the backup and hasn’t seen the field. While that is attributed to Clausen’s rookie performance, you also have to think that Ron Rivera didn’t want Clausen near the field, as a quarterback controversy can be the death of a newer coach. While Rivera hasn’t proven to be the best coach in the world, he had to know that if he let Clausen become Newton’s primary backup, a controversy wasn’t far off with Newton’s maturity and consistency issues.
A lot of people want to point to Clausen’s rookie season as a reason to not trade for him. Undoubtedly, he had a terrible rookie season that covered 13 games and ended with a 58.4 QB rating. What people don’t realize about that year is that his running backs were never fully healthy and he had a porous offensive line that got him sacked 33 times in 10 starts. His only real receiving option was Steve Smith who was in the midst of a two year hiccup in a hall of fame career. This was also when Smith was more focused on being traded than actually catching a pass. It is true that Newton had a fine rookie season, but he had two healthy running backs, a motivated Steve Smith and the tight end combination of Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen (none of which Clausen had.) While Clausen had a bad rookie year, it’s hard to argue that another quarterback could have done more with such a sorry supporting cast.
When did a bad rookie season equate total failure in the NFL? Surrounded by equally terrible teams in his first two seasons, Vinny Testaverde ended up with a 60 and a 48.8 QB rating during his first two pro seasons. He ended up resurrecting his career in Clevleand and then New York. What about Steve Young? His first two season quarterback ratings were 56.9 and 65.5! A chance of scenery and a legitimate chance with more talent led to his accession to greatness. These are both high draft picks who overcame the bust label and similar struggles to Clausen to become high end NFL quarterbacks. There is no reason to believe that Clausen couldn’t do the same.
What’s overlooked in this discussion is Clausen’s NFL caliber talent. This guy wasn’t mentioned as a top ten draft pick for nothing. Even his detractors say that Clausen has the arm and field vision to start in the NFL. He has been criticized for not having a feel for oncoming pressure but he was hit so often in Carolina in 2010, he never had a chance to become comfortable in the pocket. None of the things that caused scouts to label him as a franchise type quarterback have disappeared.
Another reason that Clausen works here is that he has been in Coach Chudzinski’s offense for the last two years in Carolina. Alex Smith or Carson Palmer would be learning everything from the ground up, whereas Clausen understands the offense and Chudzinski’s expectations from firsthand experience. Knowing the terminology is another reason that Clausen could make an immediate impact in Cleveland and would give him a leg up in the competition over Weeden.
Some might try to sell you that Chudzinski drafted Cam Newton and that he had no faith in Clausen. The argument doesn’t work. John Fox drafted Clausen and was fired after his rookie season. Like any new organization would with the first pick, Ron Rivera decided to draft his own guy. This move is similar to the Browns looking to replace Weeden after his rookie season. It had little to do with Clausen and a lot more to do the organization wanting credit for their own guys.
I’m not suggesting that Clausen would automatically become an NFL legend. I am simply pointing out that the raw deal he has received in Carolina and his God given talent could make him a solid acquisition for this Browns team. Thanks to the Panthers burying him on their depth chart and his reputation, Clausen would be much less expensive than someone like Alex Smith, who we aren’t even sure can play in Chudzinski’s offense. With this weak of quarterback class, the truth is finding an upgrade over Weeden will be next to impossible. That leaves an outside the box candidate who has the talent to succeed. Despite his former maturity concerns and a poor rookie season, Clausen could be just the diamond in the rough that the Cleveland Browns are looking for.