Sunday, March 14, 2010

In with the Old, Out with the New


Of all the sentences I imagined myself writing about the 2010 version of the Cleveland Browns, the least likely was “now starting for the Browns, Jake Delhomme.” Ok, that's not true. That's the second least likely. The most unlikely was “now entering the game at quarterback, Seneca Wallace.”

Yet that's where the Browns now find themselves a week or so into free agency and still several weeks from the 2010 draft.

The agreement the Browns reached on Saturday with Delhomme on a two-year deal makes some sense in that it was obvious that nobody associated with the new Browns' regime, team president Mike Holmgren or general manager Tom Heckert in particular, seemed to have much fascination with either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson. Inside of the span of just a few days, both quarterbacks who couldnt' wrest control of the starting position here find themselves elsewhere. For Quinn, that's Denver. For Anderson, who knows.

Whether Holmgren and Heckert are right or wrong is irrelevant for the moment. The two were brought in exactly for this reason--to make the hard decisions and move the franchise forward. You can't criticize a bird for flying.

But lest anyone think that the signing of Delhomme and Wallace settles the quarterback position, it doesn't. All those signings really represent is a stop gap measure for a season or two while Holmgren and Heckert go about fixing the league's worst defense.

Delhomme is 35-years old, which isn't ancient when compared to someone like Brett Favre who, I believe, is 164 years old at this point. But Delhomme is on the back side of a career that has seen some decent highs and fairly typical lows. This past season was a struggle for Delhomme illustrating how a team's golden goose can suddenly look expendable as the number of golden eggs laid decreases precipitously.

Indeed Delhomme seemed nearly ready to ride out his last few years as a backup for Drew Brees, so despondent was he following his release by the Carolina Panthers. But the Browns' willingness to pay him starter's wages for 2010 changed him mind in the way only money could and now Delhomme gets a chance to spend his next few summers and falls in Cleveland instead of his hometown of New Orleans. At least he's no stranger to humidity.

There's a theory that perhaps Delhomme may be coming in to mentor Wallace, but no matter what Holmgren says about Wallace's upside it's doubtful even Holmgren sees him as the long-term answer either. More likely is that the intention with Delhomme is that he starts in 2010 and then mentors whatever young quarterback Holmgren and Heckert eventually set their sights on.

Maybe that young quarterback is Brett Ratliff, a third stringer that head coach Eric Mangini actually traded for last season. But I doubt that, too. Holmgren may have been impressed enough with Mangini's coaching acumen, if not results, to give him another year but everything both Holmgren and Heckert have done since arriving screams that they didn't think much of Mangini's personnel decisions or acquisitions.

All of which means, of course, that the Browns probably are on a quest for a young quarterback at some point soon. With the options that their stockpiled draft picks gives them this year, maybe the Browns have targeted someone like Dan LeFevour from Central Michigan or even Cincinnati's Tony Pike as a second or third rounder. If that's the case, the Delhomme signing makes even more sense.

But how the Delhomme signing actually fits into the longer range plan won't become completely clear until the draft. Meanwhile, Quinn, finds his career once again overshadowed with uncertainty as he heads to Denver. It's been that way since draft day in 2007.

At various points Quinn was projected as the number 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft. But with the Oakland Raiders sitting at the top spot that year nothing was certain and they proved that by making Jamarcus Russell the top pick instead, a mistake they're still paying for.

After the Raiders' drafted there were two other teams that really needed quarterbacks, Cleveland and Miami. But former general manager Phil Savage smartly targeted left tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick instead. It was the Dolphins that threw Quinn the real curve ball. While most thought they'd go after Quinn, they instead made Ted Ginn, Jr. their top pick. That allowed Quinn to free fall further until he literally was rescued by Savage, who made a trade in order to get Quinn with the 22nd pick.

It ended an agonizing day for Quinn but little could he have foreseen that his troubles were just beginning. The next part, really, was self-inflicted. Quinn stupidly listened to his agent as he tried to wrangle top 10 money out of the Browns. He wasn't successful and the 10-day hold out essentially cost him any chance to start that year.

That misstep opened the door for Derek Anderson who then went on to have a Pro Bowl season while Quinn watched from the sidelines with a clipboard. When Savage decided to re-sign Anderson after the 2007 season instead of parlaying it into more draft picks, that too cost Quinn valuable development time. With Anderson in the fold for 2008, Quinn would once again be relegated to backup status. Former head coach Romeo Crennel really had no other choice.

Quinn was able to get playing time late in the season as Anderson first faltered and then was injured, but then Quinn himself got injured. He showed enough promise, or maybe it was just that Anderson was so awful, that Crennel in his own waning days actually named Quinn the starter for 2009. But as with everything else to that point in Quinn's career, it wasn't to be. Crennel was fired and Mangini came in and declared an open competition between Quinn and Anderson for 2009.

Mangini's handling of the quarterback situation was ill-conceived from the outset as his open competition only assured that neither Quinn nor Anderson would be adequately prepared for the 2009 season. Quinn “won” that competition though it was mostly be default. Quinn outplayed Anderson during the preseason but that's niggling. Neither played well.

With another new offense to learn and limited talent available at the skill positions, it wasn't a surprise that Quinn struggled at the outset. Then Mangini panicked, benched Quinn and inserted Anderson. Of course Anderson fared no better. In fact he was actually worse and then Mangini once again went back to Quinn, telling the fans that Quinn had actually improved while watching from the sidelines. Whatever.

Quinn once again got hurt and finished the season on the injured list. During his second starting stint, though, Quinn began to show some flashes that he belonged in the league. It wasn't enough, apparently, to sway Holmgren or Heckert and so he's off to Denver and in return the Browns get another fullback, Peyton Hillis, a 6th round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012. The only real surprise is that it took Heckert nearly 24 hours to consummate the trade after signing Delhomme.

It will be interesting to see what the future does indeed hold for Quinn. The recent past hasn't been so kind. Maybe Denver will be that right situation and he'll flourish. More likely his career will be forever shrouded by bad timing as he competes against Kyle Orton, a Derek Anderson clone with less of an arm. Once a player develops a reputation in the NFL, it's hard to shake it. Quinn will forever be known as the guy that dropped like a rock on draft day and then couldn't beat out Anderson in Cleveland. And if that wasn't enough, he's got a weak arm, just ask anyone.

Whether or not any of that is unfair is beside the point. As Holmgren himself said the other day, the NFL is a big boy league. Players that spend too much time wallowing in self pity may as well move on to another profession. Quinn's not that guy, of course, and so he will move on to Denver where his potential will intrigue another fan base. But you can't help wondering if, 10 years from now, when the NFL paragraphs of Quinn's Wikipedia entry are complete, if the only thing people ask is whether or not he was that guy that used to play for Notre Dame.

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