OKLAHOMA CITY — The new regime in charge of the Cleveland Browns has done nothing to cement Brandon Weeden’s status as the franchise quarterback and that’s just fine with him.
After a rocky rookie season, Weeden is eager for the competition that new owner Jimmy Haslam has predicted prior to next season.
“I expect competition,” Weeden said Friday during an appearance at Oklahoma Christian University. “That’s the way professional sports are. Unless you’re Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or these guys, you might as well expect for somebody to try to come take your job. That’s part of the business. But it’s also the fun part. You get to compete and try to be a winner.”
Weeden threw for 3,385 yards with 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season after being the No. 22 draft pick out of Oklahoma State. The Browns won just five games, with the new ownership group getting rid of coach Pat Shurmur, general manager Tom Heckert and team president Mike Holmgren.
New coach Rob Chudzinski has called it “premature” to name Weeden the starting quarterback for next season, and Haslam suggested someone will be brought in to go against Weeden. Cleveland has the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft or could pursue another quarterback by trade or in free agency.
“We’re talking about a multibillion-dollar corporation, essentially,” Weeden said. “There’s going to be changes. Obviously, we’ve already seen some. But there’s going to be competition. The guys that drafted me are no longer there, so I fully expect there to be competition. I would want competition. I want to go into camp and compete. If I had won 10 or 11 games last year, that may not be the case, but we weren’t able to get that done.”
Weeden said he’s working tirelessly to improve his game, although he hasn’t been able to coordinate much with Chudzinski or offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who was brought in after being fired as the San Diego Chargers’ coach after last season.
“I’m going to be learning a totally different offense,” Weeden said. “It’s going to be completely different than what we did last year. But we all are. It’s not just me. Being the quarterback, I think you want to have as much contact with those guys as possible. You’re just not able to talk football. I’ve talked to them a couple times, but it’s been very limited.”
Weeden said he’s impressed with Turner’s resume, including his work with Philip Rivers in San Diego, and he chatted with Troy Aikman about his time with Turner during the Dallas Cowboys’ heyday.
“He thinks highly of Norv, and I think every guy that’s ever played for Norv Turner has always come away extremely impressed and become not only friends but just he’s their mentor. He’s been one of the best in the game for a long time,” Weeden said. “A lot of people regard him as one of the best play-callers of all time — definitely in the game today — so it’s going to be exciting playing for him.”
Weeden made the appearance to bring attention to his effort with The Children’s Hospital Foundation, hoping to raise funding for an endowed chair position that could attract a pediatric heart surgeon to Oklahoma City. One of his wife’s co-workers has a 6-year-old son, Gavin, who required three surgeries after being essentially born with half a heart, and the family had to fly to San Diego to get treatment after a local surgeon relocated there.
“We just don’t have a pediatric surgeon, and we need to find a way to get that done,” said Weeden, who raised $90,000 for the cause last year and is planning a golf tournament and other fundraisers to bring in more this summer.
Before bringing Gavin to the microphone, Weeden recalled the high and low points of his first season and said he’s absolutely looking forward to no longer being a rookie. The highlight, he said, was a victory over rival Pittsburgh even though he missed the end of the game with a concussion and didn’t get to celebrate.
His wake-up calls to NFL reality came when he decided not to wear a rib protector in a game against Green Bay and got hit so hard on a sack that he lost his breath long enough that he couldn’t call the signals on the next play, and when Baltimore’s Ray Lewis leveled him after he released a pass and then stood over him.
Those were only part of the maturing experience for the 29-year-old Weeden.
“I think as a quarterback, you have so much going on around you. There’s so much demand, I guess, is the best way to put it,” he said. “You not only worry about learning our offense. You’ve got to study film on them. There’s so much demand on the quarterback position, it actually went by fast. Everybody talks about a rookie wall. I didn’t even hit a rookie wall because I didn’t have time to.”
In that whirlwind, he also never felt that he became a team leader, and he wants to change that in his second year.
“Now, this year, that’s my job,” he said. “Now, it’s my offense and it’s my turn to kind of take the lead and be the leader.”