Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Only Thing Worse Than Losing...

The Cleveland Browns on Sunday did the football equivalent of passing a kidney stone in dominating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-10. That stone, jagged and huge, had been stuck for over a decade.  Yet as it passed, the sweet relief lasted about as long as it took a reporter to finally discover that quarterback Brian Hoyer is a free agent after the season.
Now, instead of feeling satisfied for at least a few minutes, fans are fretting over the status of a quarterback who was mostly an afterthought just a few months ago and what it means for the high profile savior-in-waiting, Johnny Manziel.  In other words, this is exactly what it’s like to be a fan of Cleveland sports.
I suppose it won’t be long until another reporter starts asking general manager Ray Farmer, should the Browns continue winning, about the wisdom of stockpiling picks for next year’s draft if the Browns end up with a lower draft pick.  In Cleveland it seems the only thing worse than losing is winning.
It really is a testament to the unique paranoia in Cleveland that no good win goes unpunished.  The status of Hoyer’s contract on a team that sits at 3-2 and the bulk of its season still in front of them shouldn’t even register a blip on fans’ collective consciences at the moment.
The Browns are 5 games into the season and find themselves at 3-2.  That’s better than most predicted and with the next 3 games against teams with 1 combined win among them, there is some reason to think that 8 games into the season the Browns could find themselves with 6 wins.

But to get there would require a 5-game winning streak.  This is a team that hasn’t won 5 games in a season more than twice in a dozen years and has not won 5 in a row in 20 years!  The roster is young with some talent.  It’s also thin and getting thinner with two key injuries just this past week.  To think it can run the immediate table in front of them is dreaming.

In that context Hoyer’s contract status is hardly a story and his unwillingness to address it doesn’t make it a story.  The premise of the question, as essentially concocted in the head of a Bleacher Report reporter, is that Hoyer has let people know that he won’t sign long term in Cleveland if Johnny Manziel is still on the roster.
The question, as we say in the law business, assumes facts not in evidence.  The reporter never specifically attributes Hoyer’s alleged comments to anyone in particular, just people in general. That’s probably because the reporter just made it up in order to advance a point that isn’t yet ripe to be made but what the heck it creates anxiety and where there’s anxiety there’s also buzz.  So let’s give some credit.  The Bleacher Report got its click bait just as did Crain’s Cleveland, The Plain Dealer and The Beacon Journal, all of whom reported what was reported elsewhere, which is that this isn’t even something Hoyer has thought about.
The larger point though is that 5 games into the season it’s silly to even begin pondering the Browns’ quarterback situation next year.  The odds are high that Hoyer will get injured this year, not just because he got injured last year, but because that’s what happens to quarterbacks in the NFL.  But yea, it’s also because Hoyer had a serious knee injury last year and it would surprise exactly no one if the repaired knee can’t withstand the rigors of a full season.
The Browns more or less fell into Hoyer the same way they fell into their head coach, Mike Pettine.  It’s not as if anyone thought even last year that Hoyer had a viable career as a NFL starter just like Pettine wasn’t thought to be a viable head coaching candidate.  And yet each, given a chance, has shown that they may have been underestimated.
There is no question that Hoyer has a certain “it” factor about him that most if not all of the others that have come before him did not.   Where the Brandon Weedens of the world always seemed to be adding water to a grease fire, Hoyer doesn’t get nearly that rattled.  His ability to help keep his team in games, particularly the first Pittsburgh game and the comeback against Tennessee, speaks volumes about his ability to lead the offense. Players will follow whoever leads them.  Too often in Cleveland that’s been no one in particular.
Hoyer may very well be a long term solution for the Browns, though it’s a bit premature to render a verdict..  He’s 29 years old and for the benefit of Mike Holmgren it’s worth noting that he’s 2 years younger than Weeden.  So there is still plenty of runway left in Hoyer’s career should the Browns eventually reach a conclusion about his long term worth.

But it’s not as if NFL executives and fans haven’t been fooled by previous flashes in the pan.  Do the names Scott Mitchell and Kelly Holcomb mean anything to anyone?  How about Derek Anderson?

Indeed Anderson is a particularly recent example of why getting too excited too early can be dangerous.
In 2007 Anderson threw for nearly 3800 yards.  He threw for 29 touchdowns against 19 interceptions.  His 29 touchdowns were just 1 less than Brian Sipe’s franchise record of 30.  As Anderson was having the season of a lifetime, the savior-in-waiting was Brady Quinn, who had been the team’s number one pick entering the season.  As Anderson continued to pile up the wins and enhance his own stats, fans became less interested in Quinn and more interested in Anderson’s contract status since he could be a free agent at season’s end.  Is any of this sounding familiar?
We know how former general manager Phil Savage handled it.  He signed Anderson to a multi-year multi-million dollar, albeit relatively club friendly, deal.  At the time Savage’s move was viewed as savvy.  It gave him the option to then trade Anderson before the draft in order to recoup the draft pick he gave up to get Quinn initially.
But Savage dithered, as was his wont.  Despite teams needing a starter and despite both Anderson and Quinn being at the zenith of their trade value, Savage held on to both.  The Browns’ draft suffered, which itself isn’t unusual.  But then both Anderson and Quinn proved to be less than Savage had anticipated and the Browns were once again in search of a new quarterback once Anderson was cut, a search that hasn’t exactly concluded even with the emergence of Hoyer.
Right now the Browns have a good problem with a dozen ways to resolve it, none of which require action now.  Let the situation play itself out.  Let’s not have Farmer make a long term decision about Hoyer based on a relatively small sample and for God’s sake don’t make a long term decision about Manziel without any sample.
Hoyer has shown himself to be the glue holding the offense together, but the team’s early success isn’t the product of any one person.  At least as much credit, if not more, could go to Kyle Shanahan.  His approach has seemed to rejuvenate, for example, the offensive line.  His dogged insistence on establishing a running game in a passing league has proven that some adages remain just as true as ever: the run does set up the pass.  Credit also could go to receivers like Jordan Cameron, someone whose next contract should rightly be rich and lengthy.  And credit could go to Farmer for making some good decisions at running back, including the signing of Ben Tate.
As much as it’s true that Hoyer is playing well and as much of a great story he is at the moment, what this team really needs to do is keep the bigger picture in mind.  It really does appear that it’s building a team that can compete weekly.  Five games in that appears to be the case.  But it is only five games in. The one thing that could stop that progress is knee jerk decisions made in the heat of the moment.
Hoyer’s contract isn’t a story right now and may never be so relax.  The Browns are on a wild ride at the moment and for once it has more thrill than folly.  Enjoy it because as should be more than apparent to all, there’s no telling if or when it might come around again.

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