There is no more important position in football than quarterback, and the expectations on the men who play the position can be enormous. In Cleveland, the Browns have been searching for an answer at quarterback for nearly a decade, starting with their first draft selection in 1999.
Since their return, the Browns failed to develop a quarterback, and the organization seemed riddled with indecision, ego and less-than-stellar player evaluation as they stumbled to create a legitimate roster. Since their return, the Browns searched high and low for an answer, from Tim Couch to Spergon Wynn, and still hadn't found the next Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar.
As the 2007 season progresses, the play of quarterback Derek Anderson has been the biggest surprise in a campaign which has brought Cleveland Browns football back to respectability. Anderson, a third-year pro from Oregon State University, has become a household name with Browns fans, as well as a much-discussed player in the national media.
In throwing the most touchdown passes in a season (22) since Kosar did in 1987, Anderson has grasped the opportunity to not only lead his team, but achieve when the odds were against him. A backup coming out of training camp who was part of trade discussions prior to the season, the surprising Anderson earned the respect and belief of teammates upon stepping into a turbulent situation at the beginning of the season.
Waiting in the wings is rookie Brady Quinn, a player whose acquisition on draft day cost the team a first-round draft selection in the 2008 NFL draft. The talented and popular Quinn was expected to be the next standout quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. This may happen at some point in time, but for now Quinn is second-fiddle in Cleveland, watching as Anderson leads the Browns to a 7-4 record and legitimate playoff contention.
Anderson is taking advantage of the opportunity not only to display his skills, but to refine them, according to former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar.
"You can see Derek (Anderson) developing. He is making far less mistakes than last season or even earlier this season. As defenses scheme to take away his weapons, he has done well to adjust and minimize mistakes," Kosar said. "He (Anderson) is playing well in Chud's (offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski) offensive scheme."
Anderson, a restricted free agent at season's end could the subject of much attention during a busy off-season. With no less than six teams rumored to be engaging the possibility of upgrading the quarterback position, Anderson could become a hot commodity.
Many player personnel evaluators and general managers alike note that Anderson has the size and athletic qualities they look for in a successful quarterback. Generally thought to be a backup at this level, Anderson has excelled with the close coaching and confidence he has gained throughout the 2007 season. At 24 years of age, his best years of playing should be in front of the signal-caller.
It's a package which is enticing to NFL teams question whether they should risk a high draft selection on an unproven player in the draft, or use the pick in an attempt to acquire a rare and proven commodity.
Although Anderson will have the opportunity to field offers this upcoming off-season, do not expect the Browns to sit idly by. Since Anderson is a restricted free agent, the Browns will be able to match any offer he receives, and will be subject to draft pick compensation if they choose not to match. Cleveland will surely tender the quarterback an offer which will secure no less than a first and third round selection in return.
With Anderson and Quinn at quarterback, the team has depth they have desired since their rebirth in the 1999 season. Since the organization has room under the salary cap, the Browns have the ability to sign Anderson to a high-value deal, as well as keep their proposed quarterback of the future in position to compete for the starting job in the 2008 pre-season.
The Browns are naturally ecstatic about Anderson's development, which has provided the organization the opportunity to let Quinn sit, learn and develop at a pace that makes the Cleveland from office comfortable.
"We feel we got our 2008 first-round draft pick a year early," Phil Savage said on draft-day 2007. "Whether Brady Quinn plays this year or not, we have the opportunity to get him in here to learn this season."
An eleven-day holdout of training camp in a contract dispute put Quinn behind the other quarterbacks in camp (Anderson, Charlie Frye and Ken Dorsey), which seemingly ended all hope the rookie may have had in becoming the starting quarterback for the team this season.
"All I can do is work hard, show what type of teammate and player I am and be ready when I am needed," Quinn said. "Derek (Anderson) and I have a great relationship, he is playing great and we are winning. This is what it is all about, I will be ready when I am called upon, but I am here supporting Derek all I can."