As summer drags on, with baseball winding down and basketball still a couple months away, all eyes in Cleveland are focused on the Browns. We follow training camp, and try to decipher how the team looks when scrimmaging and performing drills against themselves. We watch meaningless preseason games with much anticipation and scrutiny. As football fans, it’s what we do.
For fans of the Cleveland Browns, though, preseason usually means a little more to us than most fans of other teams. The reason for this is that almost every season since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 they have been indecisive in terms of naming a starter at QB and as a result they have brought out the banality in QB competitions.
While most teams have named their starter by now, and are giving that guy significant reps with the first team offense to make sure everyone is on the same page and a sense of chemistry is being found, the Browns continuously toil in indecision and insecurity when it comes to the most important position in the NFL. By the time the Browns name their starter in most seasons, that player is already behind most teams and when the season opens, while other QBs are already comfortable and know their place in the offense, the Browns QBs are routinely just trying to get settled in.
This isn’t a Mangini/Kokinis issue, per se. I mean, don’t get me wrong, in my opinion Mangini isn’t doing the team any favors by dragging his feet, but he certainly wants to make sure he gets this right. This issue is bigger than the current regime. It has plagued this franchise for most of 11 years now.
The Tim Couch Era
If you remember 1999, the Browns drafted Tim Couch to be the leader of the new franchise. Rookie head coach Chris Palmer and rookie GM Dwight Clark both seemed to agree that Couch would benefit from watching from the sidelines to begin the season, and thus Ty Detmer, who was signed to be Couch’s mentor, was given the starting nod. However, after a disastrous 43-0 shelling by the Steelers at home to open the season, Palmer panicked and threw Couch to the wolves. Couch ended up starting 14 games that season, and despite the 2-14 record, Browns fans hoped Couch could chalk it up to a learning situation.
Heading into 2000, everyone was looking for steps in the right direction and continued improvement and learning. Couch was now entrenched as the starter, but injuries would derail the Browns season. Doug Pederson would end up starting the most games for the Browns that year, with 8 starts to just 7 for Couch. The 3-13 season wasn’t the kind of improvement Browns fans were hoping for, but with so many injuries, most Browns fans hoped it was just a fluke season.
Regardless, the Browns fired Palmer and brought in another rookie head coach in Butch Davis. Despite the fact he hadn’t been a head coach in the NFL before, Davis had a highly successful pedigree both as an assistant in Dallas under Jimmy Johnson when the Cowboys dynasty was in tact, and also as a head coach where he rejuvenated and brought the sleeping giant Miami Hurricane program back to life. Davis brought a sense of urgency and legitimacy to the Browns and the 2001 season was precisely what the franchise needed. Tim Couch came into camp as the undisputed starter and started all 16 games that year. The Browns jumped from 3-13 the previous year to 7-9.
In 2002, Tim Couch was still the starter of the Browns and he would start 14 games that year, going 8-6 in those games and would lead the Browns into the playoffs for the first time since their return. However, an injury in the last game of the season would ensure that Kelly Holcomb would start the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, and we all know what happened next. Holcomb had a game for the ages, throwing for 429 yards and 3 TDs. The Browns lost that game anyway, and in retrospect, Holcomb’s performance might have been one of the worst things to happen to the new franchise.
The Kelly Holcomb Era
As a result of Holcomb’s output in the playoff game, 2003 opened with a QB competition, and essentially the Browns would spend the entire season split between two QBs. Both Couch and Holcomb would start 8 games each that year. Holcomb went 2-6 and Couch went 3-5, and the Browns as a franchise took an enormous step backward as they fell to 5-11 in disappointing fashion.
The Jeff Garcia Era
In 2004, the Browns, concerned about elbow issues and inconsistent play, shipped out Tim Couch and brought in Jeff Garcia. Garcia was a former Pro Bowl QB and the Browns hoped to finally re-establish a leader at QB. Garcia would start in 10 games, play mediocre at best, and would be injured the rest of the time. Luke McCown got 4 starts, and went 0-4 in those games. Kelly Holcomb was battling injuries himself and would start only 2 games and play sparingly. The season was a disaster and Butch Davis quit on the team after 10 games. The team wound up 4-12 for the season.
The Trent Dilfer Era
For 2005, Browns owner cleaned house in the front office and brought in Phil Savage to be the GM and rookie head coach Romeo Crennel was hired to try to recapture Bill Belichick’s magic from New England. With Jeff Garcia removed from the roster, the Browns brought in veteran Trent Dilfer and drafted University of Akron’s Charlie Frye. There wasn’t exactly a QB competition in camp, but the Browns were hoping Dilfer could essentially hold down the fort until they could see if Frye was ready/able to be a starting QB. As it would happen, injuries and inconsistency would continue to be the theme, and Dilfer would start 11 games, with Frye starting the other 5, and both would struggle as the Browns limped through another frustrating season, ending up at 6-10.
The Charlie Frye Era
2006 would see more turnover at the QB position. For the 2nd year in a row the Browns got rid of the QB who just 1 year prior was brought in to stabilize the position. With Dilfer gone, the job was now Charlie Frye’s, but the Browns also picked up Derek Anderson when Baltimore was forced to cut him. Frye would start 13 games that year, which seemed like an improvement in stability for the franchise, but Frye still went just 4-9 in those 13 games and threw just 10 TDs to 17 INTs. DA would go 0-3 in the 3 games he started and once again the Browns found themselves far under .500 for the season with a 4-12 record.
The Derek Anderson Era
2007 came and the Browns seemingly had a 3-way QB competition between Frye, Anderson, and new draft pick Brady Quinn. Quinn would hold out, though, and thus cost himself any real chance at the job. The competition came down to Frye and Anderson again, and you wouldn’t really say that Frye won the job, but more realistically DA lost the competition. Regardless, Frye started the first game, got annihilated by the Steelers, and the next day Frye was traded to Seattle and the job was DA’s. Shockingly, DA went on to a 10-5 record and the Browns thus finished 10-6 on the season but amazingly missed the playoffs.
2008 brought great optimism, but we all remember what happened. DA continued to be reckless with the ball, throwing bad interception after bad interception, but this time the breaks weren’t going the Browns way. Joe Jurevicius was hurt all season, the offensive line was substantially worse, and when DA managed to throw the ball to Braylon Edwards rather than the opposing team, Edwards would drop the ball anyway. DA had a million excuses for why he wasn’t playing well, but the fact is he showed that despite his cannon of an arm, until he could portray not just leadership, but precise decision making abilities as well as an understanding of the importance of not taking unnecessary risks when throwing the football, he simply isn’t ready to be an NFL starting QB. DA went 3-6 in the 9 games he started. Brady Quinn would start just 3 games before injuries ended his year. Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski would get the starts in the remainder of the games, and the Browns finished 4-12 and Romeo Crennel would be fired.
The Brady Quinn Era?
Which brings us to 2009. The Browns entered into training camp with yet another QB competition on their hands. It’s a lot more understandable for the Mangini regime to need a QB competition to make sure they get the right guy. All Browns fans want the same thing…..we want the best QB to be starting. But what hurts the Browns as an organization is this legacy of QB competitions and the revolving door of starters within a year. The Browns have played 10 seasons since they’ve been back. That’s an entire decade. And in that decade, only once have they had the same QB start all 16 games.
This legacy is unforgivable and it needs to stop sooner rather than later. If Mangini and Kokinis don’t think Brady Quinn is able to handle the job, then next year they better make a move to find someone who is. The one thing we know for sure is that Derek Anderson is a quality backup QB to have, but he’s just not the type of QB who wins games for you as a starter. Which leads me to believe that Mangini truly wanted the job to be Quinn’s, but of course he wanted Quinn to earn.
So here we are, week 3 of the preseason, and still no QB. Until this franchise can establish a leader at that position, we will continue to see year after year of sub 500 play with the occasional 9-7 or 10-6 season to make us think there is improvement. I hope as much as the next guy that Brady Quinn can be that guy, but to this point, as close as he has come to reaching out and grabbing the starting job, the fact remains that he has failed to do so. There are no obstacles in his way other than himself. The job is his if he wants it, I truly believe this. This next preseason game will be an interesting one, as we wait and see if someone is able to finally grab a hold of the starting job and secure it as their own. Unless that happens very soon, we’re in for another very long 4-12 type season.