Brady Quinn: Rookie or Third-Year Pro?

How should Browns fans set their expectations for Brady Quinn after two years spent watching? Steve King examines the question...

Browns quarterback Brady Quinn is in his third NFL season.

But he hasn't played very much.

So is he, in essence, still a rookie? Or a third-year pro?

Or somewhere in between?

With him and the Browns offense struggling mightily in these first two games, those are questions that have to be asked.

Sunday's contest against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium will mark just his sixth regular-season pro start. Ironically, they've come in two sets of three. He started three straight games in the second half of last season before a fractured finger ended his year.

But this will be the 30th game that Quinn has been on the active roster for the Browns dating back to his rookie season of 2007, when the club took him at No. 22 overall in the NFL Draft (he missed the last five contests of last year with the injury). So he has started just 20 percent of the games he's been in the league.

Compare that to the other three quarterbacks in the AFC North, the Ravens' Joe Flacco, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer, who were moved into the starting role early in their careers. Flacco started from the very start last year as a rookie, Roethlisberger began starting the third game of his rookie campaign in 2004 after Tommy Maddox got hurt, and Palmer, after not playing at all – not even one play – as a rookie in 2003 when he stood on the sidelines and watched Jon Kitna take every snap, began starting in the next year's opener.

Quinn watched, too – a lot. He saw action in just one game – the regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers – and only because Derek Anderson got hurt. He didn't play long, either, throwing just eight passes.

He got a chance last season only because Anderson – and the Browns offense – were sputtering.

But things could have been different – oh, so different – with Quinn's career. In fact, they should have been different, and if they were, then he and the Browns offense – and the Browns overall – would probably be much farther along.

Part of it is his fault. And part of it is the fault of the Browns.

Quinn held out of training camp in a contract dispute before signing in his rookie season of 2007. As such, he was never a consideration in the quarterback derby in camp and preseason that year between Anderson and Charlie Frye. General manager Phil Savage said that if he had been in on time, then things might have been different.

There's a good argument for that. The Browns needed to find a quarterback, and Quinn wasn't there. Plus the team had an old-school head coach in Romeo Crennel who believed rookies were not good for much more than carrying the veterans' helmets and shoulder pads in off the field following practice. Crennel didn't want to waste his time getting Quinn into the mix.

But Savage – and if need be, owner Randy Lerner – should have gotten involved and made Quinn part of the QB competition. In actuality, they should have just given him the job. The Browns made a big draft day trade with the Dallas Cowboys to get back up into the first round to draft Quinn. When a team does something like that, it so the pick can play, not so he could stand on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard. That was a wasted year for Quinn. There's only so much players can learn from watching. They need to play at some point – and the sooner, the better.

Instead, the Browns initially picked Frye, a third-round draft pick from Akron in 2005 who everybody knew had a low ceiling in this league. Then they quickly went to Anderson, a sixth-round draft choice of the Ravens in 2005 who was picked off the scrap heap by the Browns early in his rookie season. Anderson had one of the best passing seasons in Browns history. But – but – it wasn't enough to get the Browns into the playoffs, and that was because in the next-to-last game of the year – the most important game of the year, which, if the Browns won over a struggling foe, could have clinched them a postseason spot – Anderson had his poorest performance of the season. The Browns lost 19-14, and neither they nor Anderson have been the same since. In addition, the whole coaching staff got fired a year later, so what good did it all do?

If the Browns would have played Quinn a missed the playoffs in that same manner, then at least he would have had a whole year under his belt, including having played in big games that meant something. So it was a lost season for everybody involved.

Now it's 2009 and Quinn is a virtual rookie in a third-year pro's body. He's making the typical first-year mistakes – mistakes he could have gotten out of the way in 2007. It's hard for an offense to grow and develop when a quarterback is trying to do so at the same time.

Don't blame Browns head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for that. In fact, they should be praised, for they are doing what should have been done two years ago, and that is to get Quinn on the field from the start of the regular season and let him navigate his way through all the ups and downs.

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