A Look Ahead To The Browns’ 2008 Starting Quarterback
The Cleveland Browns are certainly no strangers to quarterback controversies. The position has been a virtual, and literal, revolving door since the team re-emerged from hiatus in 1999. In the 9 seasons of the new Browns franchise, there have been a total of 10 starting quarterbacks. That’s right, an average of more than 1 different starting QB per year. Ty Detmer, Tim Couch, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, and Derek Anderson have all taken their turn starting at least one game for the Browns. This season, Derek Anderson is trying to do something that has happened only one other time in the last 9 years….start every game in a single season (Tim Couch was the other, in 2001). Indeed, stability at quarterback has not been the trademark of the Lerner Family era Browns.
General Manager Phil Savage almost certainly thought he had fixed this problem in the offseason, but it wasn’t Derek Anderson he had in mind. Savage traded away the Browns 2008 1st round draft pick to move back into the first round this year and selected Brady Quinn with the 22nd overall pick. It was a draft day coup that was roundly praised by draft experts nation-wide. Offensive Tackle Joe Thomas, the 3rd overall pick, and Quinn were to be the rock and cornerstone of the Browns as they looked to turn around the legacy of losing that had dug deep into the organization. Quinn was expected to come in right away and compete for the starting job. Incumbent Charlie Frye was thought to be done, and many local insiders reported that Derek Anderson had the inital leg up on the starting job coming into training camp.
Then something bizarre happened. First, Brady Quinn held out of camp, causing him to fall out of serious consideration for the job. He likely never imagined what was about to happen to the team. Anderson was incredibly underwhelming in the preseason, and Frye held onto his job coming into the regular season. After an abysmal season opener at home against the Steelers in which Frye looked completely hopeless and clueless, a major shake-up took place. Frye was traded to Seattle the next day, and rumors ran rampant that Quinn was going to be starting sooner rather than later. However, for the initial time being, the starting job was handed to Derek Anderson.
Suddenly, a whole new Derek Anderson emerged. He torched the Cincinnati secondary in week 2 for 328 yards and a wild 51-45 win. Before the league and its fans knew what had hit them, Anderson led the Browns to a 7-4 record through Week 12. And that’s where we are today. The Browns are in good position to make the playoffs for just the 2nd time in the last 9 years, the first since 2002. The offense has become one of the NFL’s top offenses and DA is one of the NFL’s top QBs. And all the while, Brady Quinn hasn’t been able to do anything but stand behind the sidelines and watch.
All this has created a new kind of QB controversy. Derek Anderson will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and more than a dozen stories have been written in the past week pointing out that DA will be a free agent after this year, and the Browns are going to have to make a tough decision. But what should the Browns do in the offseason and what will the Browns do?
The first part is easy. Derek Anderson is a restricted free agent, and Brady Quinn has a very team-friendly contract for the next 5 years. This season, the Browns are paying Quinn $285,000 (plus an $862,ooo roster bonus). In 2008 the Browns will pay him $1.43 million and in 2009 he will make $1.72 million. He is due no more roster bonuses, but he can make an additional $11 million in 2010 and 2011 if A) he takes at least 55% of the team’s snaps in each of his first 2 seasons (which he won’t do), or B) he takes at least 70% of the team’s snaps in 2009. As for Derek Anderson, as a restricted free agent, the Browns can offer him a one year max tender ($2.56 million), which means if a different team signs him in the offseason, that team must give the Browns their 1st and 3rd round draft picks. This means the Browns can have both QBs back in 2008 for a combined total of $3.99 million.
Compare this number to, say, Eli Manning, the high profile QB of the New York Giants. This year, the Giants paid Eli $6.45 million (plus a $3 million roster bonus). Next year, they will pay him an astounding $8.45 million. Eli alone will double the amount the Browns can pay both of their QBs. This is especially remarkable when you compare Eli and DA’s performances this season. Through Week 12, DA is 6th in the NFL in QB Score Per Play (10th in QB Rating), while Eli is 22nd in the NFL in QB Score Per Play (19th in QB Rating). DA is 9th in the NFL in yards and 4th in TD Passes. Eli is 13th in yards and 10th in TD Passes.
These numbers show why the Browns must keep DA. Granted, there are legit questions about DA’s accuracy and whether or not he is a product of a great offensive line giving him all the time in the world and athletic receivers making amazing catches on his overthrows. Maybe that’s true. But with no risk and relatively little cost to the team, why not keep DA around for another year to find out? Brady Quinn will still be here to serve as Plan B should DA not pan out to be the real thing.
Some people will say the problem with this is that by only offering DA a max tender, he will then be an unrestricted free agent after the 2008 season, thus exposing him to the league and allowing him to sign anywhere for any amount. But the truth is, thanks to the team-friendly setup of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the Browns don’t really have to expose DA. They can always slap the franchise tag on him. If a different team wanted to sign him then, they would have to give 2 first round picks to the Browns.
The Browns truly are covered on all sides on this issue. The question of what the Browns should do isn’t really all that difficult after all. After this season, they should offer him the max tender. If another team signs him, fine. The Browns can use the 1st and 3rd round picks to further solidify the defense and will go forward with Brady Quinn, who showed promise in the preseason. Plus, if DA really is a product of the line and his receivers, well, then Brady Quinn will still have those same built-in advantages as well. If no other team signs him, fine. Then DA gets to start for the Browns in 2008. If he plays to this level again in 2008, then the Browns should try to negotiate a long term deal with him and see what they can get for Quinn. If they’re unable to sign him to a long term deal, then they should franchise him. If another team signs him, fine. The Browns will gladly take 2 first round picks for him. If another team doesn’t sign him, fine. Then the Browns get him for yet another year and can try again in the post-2009 offseason to sign him. If at any point, whether it be in 2008 or 2009, DA doesn’t live up to what he has shown this year, well, then you move on and move forward with Quinn.
At the end of the day, the Browns are in a favorable position with both QBs. In today’s NFL, if you don’t have to get rid of one guy, you shouldn’t. You can look at what Aaron Rodgers did for the Packers this week as proof. You can look at some of the guys starting in the NFL this year (Harrington, Testaverde, Croyle, Boller, Grossman, etc) as proof of the value of QB depth. The Browns should hang on to both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. Let this thing play out organically.
On the other hand, the question of what the Browns will do, is much harder to predict. There’s no good way to predict future cap space, because the cap is adjusted every single season. Who knows what the cap will look like in 2009. The Browns have a solid salary cap manager, Trip MacCracken, who surely knows more about what the Browns will look like cap-wise in 2 years. Perhaps that will factor more into this decision than I think it should. Phil Savage, as a guy who scouted DA for the Ravens and who drafted Quinn for the Browns, likely has a close personal attachment to both guys. How much will that factor into his decision? Who knows. On top of all that, the Browns have shown a history of making poor personnel decisions since their return. All of this makes the future very cloudy. If you’re forcing me to speculate, though, it is my guess that Savage will do exactly what I think he should do, and offer DA the max tender, and use 2008 to re-evaluate DA’s legitimacy while reaping the benefits of having real QB depth.