Since they're the only ones involved in the open competition for the job, either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson will be the Browns starting quarterback for 2009 – at least for the regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 13.
But who will be the Browns quarterback for 2010? Will it be Quinn? Anderson? Or neither one? You assume it won't be third-stringer Brett Ratliff or fourth-stringer Richard Bartel, the two other quarterbacks on the team.
So, in fact, is the quarterback for 2010 even on the roster right now as the 2009 season approaches?
That's the bigger question, one that will reveal much about how head coach Eric Mangini plans to rebuild this team, and how successful he'll be in Cleveland – at least initially.
When Mangini was hired last January, he began sorting through the players he inherited, setting a relatively large number of them out by the curb for the next morning's refuse pickup but also keeping who he thought might be salvageable, if only for a year. After all, a coach can't get rid of everybody all at once. The constraints of the salary cap won't allow it. It's a process, and you have to go slowly – at least more slowly than most new coaches want to go.
Two of the pieces he kept were the top two quarterbacks, Quinn and Anderson. He decided he'd let them battle for the job in training camp and the preseason in an open competition, the merits of which ought to be debated – but at another time, not now, not in this piece, for it's not the issue here.
Remember, Mangini inherited a good portion of what he has on the roster. He didn't buy it. He didn't bring it in. Therefore, he's not beholden to those players. If he determines they can't help him – no matter if they were drafted in the first round, or if they were once street free agents – he can get rid of them with a clear conscience. It's no skin off his back. Sorry, but it's the fault of the previous regime, not him.
So while Anderson looked like Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe in 2007 in having one of the best seasons in club history, and while the drafting of Quinn, who grew up a Browns fan just two hours down the road in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, sent a cascade of shrieks of joy from team employees in Browns Headquarters as they watched the process unfold on the TVs in their offices, none of that has anything to do with Mangini. All he can worry about – all he will worry about -- is what he can control – that is, what has happened only from the day he arrived going forward.
This is a big season for all three men, Anderson, Quinn and Mangini.
The jury is still out on Anderson. A lowly sixth-round draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens in 2005, he rusted on the bench with the Browns for most of his first two years before finally getting a full-fledged chance in Week 2 of the 2007 when, in complete desperation, the club traded Charlie Frye after Week 1 and promoted Anderson to the starting role. They thought he'd keep the spot warm for a while until Quinn was ready. What they didn't count on – actually, what neither they nor anyone else ever fathomed – was that Anderson would throw for five touchdowns and ring up 51 points on the Cincinnati Bengals in his first start en route to passing for 29 scores, tied for the second-most in team history, and becoming the first Browns quarterback in 20 years to make the Pro Bowl.
But it was a complete reversal of fortunes for Anderson – and even the offense and the team – last season, as what occurred down the stretch in 2007 when he struggled, particularly in the pivotal next-to-last-game at Cincinnati, morphed into 2008 and Anderson reverted back to what he was when he entered the league – that is, a player whose future is cloudy.
Now, will the real Derek Anderson please stand up?
If he wins the job and plays poorly, or if he doesn't win it, then he's probably done in Cleveland and will have to move on and start anew someplace else.
The jury, though, is still out on Quinn as well – probably even more so. He was an outstanding quarterback at Notre Dame, but that was in college. No one knows what he can do in the NFL, for while playing just four games with three starts the last two seasons, he has done nothing but gather rust.
If he fails to win the starting nod, then he, too, will be finished in Cleveland and, with the clock ticking on a career that will not have even started in earnest yet, will also have to find a new team to get a fresh start.
And then there's Mangini, whose NFL career had been on a meteoric rise. He went from public relations intern with the Browns in 1994 to head coach of one of the teams in the country's biggest market, New York, in just 12 years, which has to be some kind of league record for going from rags to riches in the coaching ranks. But after guiding the Jets to the playoffs in that first season of 2006, the team floundered in '07 and then started fast and floundered down the stretch in '08, causing him to get fired.
Now he's trying to jump-start his career, and if he can turn the Browns around, then that will happen and he'll be rising again. But if he can't get the job done, then he runs the risk of getting fired at some point, at which time he would have to go back to being a defensive coordinator to begin rebuilding his name.
Mangini – or any coach – can't win without a quarterback. It's the most important piece of the puzzle. So Mangini's future is tied to making the right decision on Quinn and Anderson. He gets a pass for this season as he sorts things out, but heading into 2010, he has to have his guy of the present and future in place, whether it's Quinn, Anderson or somebody currently on another NFL team or still in college.
Watching all that unfold is what 2009 – and this quarterback derby – is really all about.