Monday, October 5

The No-Quinn Scenario

Let's get one thing straight: the Brady Quinn era is over. You could argue that it never really began, but now it looks like the former first-round pick is never going to get a fair shake in Cleveland.

Let's also all admit that Derek Anderson probably gives the Browns a marginally better chance to win at this point. Unfortunately, as good as Anderson looks from time to time, eventually his inner Hyde will burst through, and when the pressure is on we'll witness the meltdown. Opposing teams figured out how to stop Anderson during the second half of 2007, and DA never was able to adjust - it's as simple as that.

Derek Anderson isn't light years ahead of Brady Quinn, and while Anderson is largely a known quantity, Quinn is not. Most NFL teams realize that patience is necessary when developing a quarterback. If anything, teams sometimes stick with first-round quarterbacks for too long simply due to the switching costs associated with unloading a top pick and hitching your wagon to another.

Brady Quinn is in his third season, and unless Derek Anderson gets hurt or spontaneously combusts, Quinn will have six professional starts to his credit at the end of the year. Included in those six starts are two games during which Quinn was playing with a broken finger (2008 at Buffalo, Houston).

During the 2003-2007 NFL drafts (a 5-year span) there were 16 quarterbacks selected in the first round, including Quinn. Take a look at the playing time each signal caller received during his first three seasons:

2007 Draft
1st overall - JaMarcus Russell - 19 starts
22nd overall - Brady Quinn - 6 starts

The first overall pick, JaMarcus Russell, was the only passer other than Quinn chosen in the first round of the 2007 draft. Just like Quinn, this is Russell's third season, and if he doesn't get injured he will have 32 starts under his belt when this season is over. As bad as Quinn has been, Russell has been much worse in Oakland, and it's a little amusing to think that Russell could have more than five times Quinn's starting experience by the end of the season.

2006 Draft
3rd overall - Vince Young - 29 starts
10th overall - Matt Leinart - 16 starts
11th overall - Jay Cutler - 37 starts

Jay Cutler certainly looks like the star in this group, and he's the only guy who’s currently starting. Vince Young is more of an athlete than a quarterback, and was eventually lifted for the more consistent Kerry Collins. Matt Leinart was pretty mediocre as the starter and was replaced by the ageless Kurt Warner, who has somehow managed to recapture his glory days, and has forced us to endure gratuitous shots of his wife in the stands.

2005 Draft
1st overall - Alex Smith - 30 starts
24th overall - Aaron Rodgers - 0 starts
25th overall - Jason Campbell - 36 starts

After his strange ascension up draft boards during the spring of '05, Alex Smith looks like a total bust. Seriously, this guy is Ryan Leaf minus the media outbursts. Jason Campbell has been a pretty average starter despite never having a true number one receiver. The wild card of this group is Aaron Rodgers, who sat for three years behind Brett Favre, but had practically no learning curve when he became the starter last season. Rodgers looks like one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks after less than two seasons under center, and he looks destined to be the star of this group.

2004 Draft
1st overall - Eli Manning - 39 starts
4th overall - Phillip Rivers - 16 starts
11th overall - Ben Roethlisberger - 40 starts
22nd overall - J.P. Losman

This quarterback class has been a smashing success, as the top three guys have all led their respective teams at least as far as the conference championship game. Eli Manning has a Super Bowl ring, and regrettably, Ben Roethlisberger has a pair of his own. Roethlisberger is also the proud owner of the NFL’s fattest face. Not unlike Rodgers, Rivers had to sit behind a veteran quarterback for a couple of seasons, and that probably made his transition to the starting job much more seamless. J.P. Losman had some success, but was never able to find any consistency in Buffalo. Losman is currently trying his hand in the UFL. (Is it just me, or did it always seem like a bad idea to have quarterback whose name was pronounced “Loss – man?”)

2003 Draft
1st overall - Carson Palmer - 29 starts
7th overall - Byron Leftwich - 38 starts
19th overall - Kyle Boller - 34 starts
22nd overall - Rex Grossman - 7 starts

When the Bengals exploded onto the scene to win the AFC North in 2005, Carson Palmer looked like he was ready to the take the mantle of "top quarterback" away from Peyton Manning in the near future. Freak injuries and a lousy offensive line have stunted Palmer's progression, and although he's still just 29, Palmer may never be considered a truly elite quarterback. Still, Palmer's definitely an above average passer, and there are plenty of teams that would gladly swap their quarterback for Palmer.

Although Byron Leftwich and Rex Grossman both had some success, they'd probably both be graded as failures. Grossman was dragged to the Super Bowl by the solid 2006 Bears. Injury problems limited Grossman to just seven starts in his first three seasons. Kyle Boller was never able to make the leap in Baltimore, and we can consider him a fizzle, too. Boller is currently backing up Marc Bulger in St. Louis. Your career is not going well if you’re backing up Marc Bulger.

When you consider those stats, it's clear that Brady Quinn hasn't been given much of an opportunity to grow. Guys like Rex Grossman and Kyle Boller, who were never good, were given a much longer leash than Quinn ever was. Whether it was his initial holdout, Anderson's short-lived success, Quinn's finger injury, or Mangini's indecisiveness, circumstances have prevented Brady Quinn from seeing the field with any consistency.

The Anderson/Quinn angle has been examined ad nauseum, so let's concentrate on the Mangini factor. Given the time Mangini invested in grading these quarterbacks, it strikes me as a little odd that it took him less than 10 quarters to make this switch. Quinn obviously was not playing good football, but he didn't look like a basket case, either.

Plus, Mangini had alluded to the fact that he would basically stick it out with the winner of the quarterback derby, regardless of who that ultimately was. If we'd reached the bye week and Quinn hadn't shown any signs of improvement, then I could see considering a switch, but why now? Something doesn't quite add up.

As a matter of fact, "adding up" might be exactly what's going to keep Brady Quinn marooned on the bench. Quinn has escalators in his contract that are triggered if he takes a certain percentage of this year's snaps.

If Quinn takes 70 percent or more snaps this season, escalators kick in that add $5 million to his contract next season, and $5.9 million in 2011. Quinn can also earn an additional $1.3 million if he takes 45 percent of this year's snaps, although that number is relatively insignificant when measured against the NFL's salary cap of approximately $129 million.

So if Mangini's seen enough to think that Quinn isn't his answer at quarterback, and evidently he has, then his logic must be that sitting Quinn will at least save the team some cash over the next few seasons. There is certainly merit to that, but we also know that Derek Anderson isn't the long-term solution, either. That means that the Browns will likely look to the draft for a quarterback, and they will almost certainly be in the top five next April.

Just for the sake of argument, let's say that the Browns are the worst team in football this season, and that they take a quarterback first overall. This year's number one pick, Matt Stafford, inked a six-year deal that could be worth up to $78 million with incentives, and includes $41.7 million guaranteed. If next year's top pick is a quarterback, he will likely be paid 5-10 percent more.

Weigh $13-15 million a year (about $7 million of which will be guaranteed) against Quinn's $11 million over two years and obviously, Quinn's bonus money seems trivial. Of course, there's certainly the possibility that Quinn would fail, but if you glance over that list of 2003-2007's first round quarterbacks, you see that their success rate is only around 50 percent. So Mangini needs to decide whether to roll the dice with Quinn and pay his far smaller bonuses ($11 million still isn't exactly peanuts), or start over with a number one quarterback whose success will probably determine whether or not Mangini sticks in Cleveland.

At least from where I'm sitting, it makes sense to give Quinn his shot. Not only could that save Mangini from making a leap of faith with another young quarterback, but it would allow him to draft a defensive play maker in the mold of an Ed Reed or a Troy Polamalu that this team so sorely lacks. Watch these clips of Eric Berry and Taylor Mays. Commence salivating.

Eric Mangini's problem is that he’s been just as indecisive with Brady Quinn as Phil Savage was. Whereas Savage couldn't decide between Quinn and Anderson, Mangini couldn't decide between Quinn and Mark Sanchez.

Supposedly Mangini was very impressed with Sanchez and spent several hours diagramming plays with him. But instead of pulling the trigger on Sanchez at number five, which would have been an unpopular move, Mangini traded down for poor value. At the time I was fine with that. After all, there wasn't anyone at number five who I was wild about paying big money, but that also came with the assumption that trading down was tantamount to committing to Quinn.

Most of us assumed that the quarterback competition was a sham to pump up Derek Anderson's trade value and/or to maintain Anderson's delicate psyche. There was certainly enough tape to show that Derek Anderson was a good backup, but not a long-term starting solution. As it turns out, the competition was anything but a sham, and Mangini had these two quarterbacks rated almost dead even before, during, and after training camp.

The fact that Mangini couldn't declare Quinn the starter with certainty before camp should have told him all he needed to know. If he wasn't convinced that Brady Quinn was superior to Derek Anderson, then he should have looked in another direction, and it probably should have led him to drafting Sanchez.

I don't mean to suggest that Mark Sanchez would be experiencing the same success in Cleveland that he's had in New York, because there's clearly a huge disparity in talent between those rosters. In fact, it would have made sense to unload Quinn for a second or third round pick, install Anderson as the starter, and stash Sanchez on the bench for a season. The problem is that Mangini didn't use a high pick on a quarterback when he had the chance, and he also missed a huge opportunity to start the developmental clock on a quarterback during a throwaway season.

Now Mangini is faced with his own version of the Kobayashi Maru test, as he's forced to choose between playing and paying Quinn even if he has a slim chance of succeeding, or waiting until the 2010 draft to roll the dice on one of the top quarterbacks. It appears that Mangini has chosen the latter of the two options. He can't afford to be wrong. Frankly, hundreds of thousands of livers throughout northeast Ohio can’t afford for him to be wrong, either.


rakeback said...

Brady Quinn has really failed to live up to expectations to this point and Im really surprised. I thought this kid has the arm, dedication, and mental tools to find a lot of success in the league. I hope that he can get things turned around.

Nick said...

You and me both. He actually looks like he's regressed.