What a difference a few weeks can make.
After being rendered an afterthought during the publicized chase of Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy has suddenly reemerged as a viable quarterback option for the Browns. Or, if you adhere to the words of the Browns' current leadership triumvirate, perhaps McCoy was never meant to be a fallback plan.
Just ignore that whole RG3 episode.
"I like Colt McCoy as a player. I think he's a fine player and has a chance to be a fine player in this league. Last year I thought one, he got beat up pretty good. We didn't protect him quite as well. I thought our running game after Peyton Hillis got hurt wasn't helping him enough in my opinion. And then we had the lockout."
Mike Holmgren - 3/19/12
"We've got Colt. That's kind of our deal. That doesn't mean we're not going to take somebody, but we're fine with Colt as our quarterback."
Tom Heckert – 3/26/12
"At this point, he's our quarterback. We're looking forward to him being our guy and I'm looking forward to seeing him improve. We believe he has a chance to be a fine player in this league.''
-Pat Shurmur – 3/27/12
At the least, the top three members of the Browns' organization are finally on the same page – or reading from the same public relations script. After all, everyone now seems to be "fine" with McCoy as a quarterback. This is rather convenient considering that the Browns' options at the position have become severely limited.
After the consensus top two draft picks Andrew Luck and Griffin come off the board, the Browns are looking at a thin crop of potential starting quarterback candidates in Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and possibly Kirk Cousins. While the Browns could certainly draft any of the three – or choose another lower round prospect – the reality is that McCoy is all but a lock to begin the 2012 season under center.
All of this helps to explain the recent like-minded endorsements of McCoy, but also brings up a few nagging questions.
The Season of Subterfuge
Normally, this point in the NFL's offseason calendar is filled with teams offering clandestine media statements in order to improve their draft positioning. Teams that are looking to trade down often couch their ambitions by stressing their overall needs. However, it appears the Browns are doing the exact opposite with their newfound support of McCoy.
If the Browns felt that another team (such as Miami) would trade up for Tannehill at the fourth spot, then a public endorsement of McCoy would make little sense. In this scenario, the Browns would want the Dolphins to feel some urgency to make a move – based on some expressed desire for the Browns to land Tannehill. Certainly Miami is feeling the PR pressure caused by their failure to upgrade at quarterback and could feel motivated to trade up.
Otherwise – and this is a big assumption considering Tannehill's limited resume – the Dolphins could jump ahead of the Browns, rather than engage in a direct trade. Of course all of this is flimsy projection mostly based on Tannehill's connection with new Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Also, it's worth noting that the Browns will attend Tannehill's Pro Day workout – which would alter any logic stated here.
While a public endorsement of McCoy is soothing for the young Texas quarterback – and makes for a unified organizational front – it does little for the team's eventual draft realities. Instead of challenging Miami to make a move, the Browns appear to be removing themselves from any enticing draft scenarios.
The Process – West Coast Edition
Let's again reference logic as it relates to the Browns' front office. After stating for two years that the Browns would build through the draft, Holmgren tried to orchestrate a trade that would rob the team of four high draft choices. Additionally, the Browns – who are firmly entrenched in the West Coast Offense – would have had to virtually start over with another inexperienced quarterback in a system which admittedly takes years to yield results.
In finding a new quarterback, the Browns would again be countering logic by discarding McCoy's 2011 experience through the installation of another new starter. With a new starter comes yet another year (or two) of growing pains, more losses and ultimately more doubt in the struggling quarterback. Compounding the issue is Holmgren's fascination with "collecting quarterbacks", a theme started in 2010 with McCoy and likely to resume in April.
The point here is a simple one for an organization that has lacked continuity for over a decade. The Browns simply need to make a decision and then stick with it. If such a decision is coming from Holmgren, then any ties other than pure success need to be severed. Much in the way that Holmgren halted the West Coast transition by retaining Eric Mangini in 2010, the Browns cannot afford another setback in what is proving to be a complex and lengthy rebuilding project.
The point here is that if the front office is truly committed to McCoy, then April's draft needs to be a reflection of such. Giving McCoy some offensive talent to work with would be the best indicator that the franchise has established a plan. Otherwise, a new quarterback – either a high draft choice or a Holmgren project – needs to be secured.
Fitting the System
Either way, whoever the quarterback is needs to be an actual fit in the West Coast system. The question that the front office needs to answer – and one that hopefully has already been considered – is whether McCoy is actually a good fit for the West Coast offense. In 2011, there was evidence to be considered on each side.
McCoy's college background would suggest that the West Coast offense is not a good fit for a quarterback who played exclusively in a college spread attack. Similar to Griffin, McCoy's college roots were tied to a system of simple, often predetermined reads and wide open throwing lanes. In Shurmur's offense, McCoy has had to dramatically refine his game – or perhaps even harness some of his athletic gifts. A similar line of thinking existed (at least a few weeks ago) regarding Griffin's potential NFL transition.
This begs another question – potentially a more serious one – is Shurmur confident enough in his own abilities to alter his offense? One would assume that Shurmur would have had to modify his offense in order to best capture Griffin's amazing talents. As such, does the same rationale apply to McCoy? Or another quarterback?
Speaking of another McCoy – Denver's offensive coordinator Mike McCoy – it would appear that offenses are becoming less draconian in their approach and more malleable based on available talent. In the past year and a half, Denver has transformed from a passing offense under Kyle Orton to a Tim Tebow-led run option attack and is now poised to change again based on Peyton Manning's desires. Such flexibility is reflective of the talent surrounding the Broncos' various quarterbacks and couldn't be achieved if a prescribed offensive system was set in stone.
These thoughts lead to the most important question regarding the Browns' most vital position. If neither McCoy or a new quarterback are ultimately successful in the West Coast offense, what happens? Clearly, the Browns are invested in the West Coast offense, Holmgren has bought into Shurmur and now that the Griffin trade fell through – the Browns are again committed to rebuilding through the draft.
And for now, Colt McCoy is once again the Browns' starting quarterback.