The Other 31: Browns upgrade their defense but quarterback questions remain

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Former Redskins starter Jason Campbell, left, is in Cleveland as a possible QB alternative to Brandon Weeden. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Cleveland Browns

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Last season’s record: 5-11

Coaching change: Fired Pat Shurmur, hired Rob Chudzinski

Key players released: DE Frostee Rucker, LB Chris Gocong, S Usama Young

Retired: LB Scott Fujita

Key free agents lost: LB Kaluka Maiava, TE Benjamin Watson, K Phil Dawson, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, TE Alex Smith, QB Josh Johnson, WR/KR Josh Cribbs

Key free agents added: LB Paul Kruger, DT Desmond Bryant, LB Quentin Groves, TE Gary Barnidge, TE Kellen Davis, QB Jason Campbell, CB Kevin Barnes, WR David Nelson, LB Ryan Rau, K Shayne Graham, T Rashad Butler, CB Chris Owens, QB Brian Hoyer

Key trade additions: RB Dion Lewis, WR Davone Bess

Key trade losses: QB Colt McCoy, LB Emmanuel Acho

Draft:

Rd. 1 (No. 6 overall)… Barkevious Mingo, DE/LB, LSU

3 (68)… Leon McFadden, CB, San Diego State

6 (175)… Jamoris Slaughter, S, Notre Dame

7 (217)… Armonty Bryant, DE, East Central Oklahoma

7 (227)… Garrett Gilkey, G, Chadron State

Analysis: The Browns’ new regime spent money in free agency to try to upgrade the team’s defense. Linebacker Paul Kruger was signed to a five-year, $40.5 million contract and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant was added for a five-year, $34 million deal. The overhaul continued on draft night when the Browns used the sixth overall selection on Louisiana State defensive end Barkevious Mingo.

Cleveland ranked 23rd in the league in total defense last season, and there’s little doubt that the unit is more promising now. Kruger and Bryant are proven players. Mingo has the potential to be a standout pass rusher.

But this is unlikely to be an overnight transformation from five-win team to contender. Issues remain on offense for newly hired head coach Rob Chudzinski and his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner. The main question is whether there is a dependable quarterback in the fold. Brandon Weeden threw 14 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions as a rookie last season. It would make sense that he would be the first option to be the starter this season. But if he falters, the Browns could go to veteran Jason Campbell, the former Redskins and Raiders starter who was signed as a free agent off a stint as Chicago’s backup.

The offseason has been dominated by the business troubles being faced by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, with his truck-stop chain under federal investigation. Haslam has said publicly that the matter has no effect on his ownership of the franchise. He has the right person to run the team in chief executive officer Joe Banner, the former Eagles president who helped to build one of the league’s steadiest operations in Philadelphia. The Browns have taken the first steps toward improvement. But until the quarterback situation is resolved — either by Weeden demonstrating he is a capable NFL starter, or by the team getting someone else who is that — the Browns will remain in the not-quite-there-yet category.

Why Redskins fans should care: Jason Campbell potentially could end up being the quarterback for an offense run by former Washington coach Norv Turner as the coordinator.

Conversation starter: Will Brandon Weeden develop into a reliable NFL starting quarterback?

Previous Other 31 reviews:  Cardinals | Falcons | Ravens | Bills | Panthers | Bears | Bengals

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