Two weeks ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion. The Cleveland Browns had traded away Trent Richardson–the third pick in the draft roughly 19 months prior and the man they had leveraged multiple draft picks to get in the first place–and it seemed as if the franchise was throwing in the not-so-proverbial towel.
We were almost certain they did it to get a hold of another first round pick from the Indianapolis Colts, presumably to package up picks and make a run at the first overall pick and Jadeveon Clowney or a franchise quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater. And from a long-term standpoint, it made sense, but to tell millions of embattled fans that they were essentially giving up on the 2013 season seemed strange.
Not even three weeks prior to the trade itself, we proselytized for them. We stood behind them and even had the audacity to call them dangerous in the AFC North, which may be the most competitive conference in football now that the myth of NFC East superiority has been exposed.
So to see them trade their star tailback, the one they worked so hard to get in the first place, once again, it seemed that Cleveland was resigned in their fate. Then, something strange happened.
Let’s call him Brian Hoyer.
When your franchise is in disarray and the fans of that franchise seem so entirely disenchanted, it’s fairly common for the backup quarterback to be the most popular player on the team. In a search for easy answers–regardless of whether or not there are any–the switch at quarterback seems so simple and uncomplicated.
Reality says otherwise–after all, making a change at the most important position in sports is anything but simple–but reality is lost on fans (short for FANATIC, I’ll remind you) when they’re staring down double-digit losses and the irrelevance it carries. So, with the Cleveland Browns sitting at 0-2 with no legitimate hope for change and awful play from starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, it made sense that there was clamor for change.
Brian Hoyer had been the darling backup of the Arizona Cardinals just a year prior before starting (and losing) a game against San Francisco late in the 2012 season. Needless to say, as Weeden struggled, Hoyer was in familiar territory.
Everybody in Cleveland loved him, even if they weren’t sure why… yet.
And it seemed simple enough. Weeden was bad and was dealing with an injury, so the move seemed more semantic than anything. What Cleveland fans didn’t expect, was that before Hoyer had a chance to put his own spin on things, the franchise would trade away their only proven (at the time) offensive weapon before he got his chance.
Never mind the fact that Richardson has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a professional, there was still a lot of potential in a bruising 230 pound tailback with sub-4.5 speed and solid hands out of the backfield. That’s why it seemed like the franchise was punting on third down.
However, two weeks later, it looks like they might have been on to something. And while it is still far too early to judge the trade as an ultimate success (we don’t know who the Browns will turn their acquired pick into, nor how Trent Richardson will ultimately fair in Indianapolis, regardless of how he’s started), the fact that the Cleveland Browns have managed to snare a couple of victories have certainly painted a picture of a front office that’s a lot more competent than we imagined just a few short weeks ago.
In Brian Hoyer’s first start, he made his fair share of mistakes–something you expect from a quarterback in his second start.
The three interceptions certainly jeopardized his team’s chances on the road in a tough environment against the desperate Minnesota Vikings. However, Brian Hoyer also made plays. He threw for three scores (two more than Weeden had in his first two games combined) and over 300 yards.
Most importantly, he made the throw to win the football game, finding tight end Jordan Cameron (and how amazing is this kid?) for a seven-yard strike to win the game.
Then, a week later, two weeks shy of his 28th birthday, Brian Hoyer cut down on the mistakes and efficiently managed his team to the tune of 25-for-38 for 269 yards and two touchdowns to zero interceptions and a win over the rival Cincinnati Bengals. And now, all of a sudden, the Cleveland Browns are in a three-way tie (with the Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens) for first place in the AFC North.
Needless to say, this looks like Brian Hoyer’s team for the time-being. And while Brandon Weeden was a first-round investment just a year ago, we’ve seen that this franchise doesn’t really appear committed to draftees just for the sake of protecting an investment, regardless of whether they were selected in the first round or the fifth.
And, while it’s odd to say considering that when I pitched this column almost two weeks ago (we pitch columns over a week in advance sometimes) it was supposed to be about what the hell the Browns could do in the draft next year to turn this thing around and get something out of this trade… this team might be a playoff contender.
Maybe the Cleveland Browns know what they’re doing after all. Either that or they’ve gotten blindly lucky against a pair of teams that made the playoffs last season and they’re gonna ride the Brian Hoyer love boat straight up the Cuyahoga River and into international waters in Lake Erie, never to be heard from again.
Regardless, this machination of the Cleveland Browns is definitely a lot more fun to watch.