Monday March 15th, 2010

And so the Brady Quinn era ends with a whimper in Cleveland, roughly the same way it did for Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch before him. There was much promise and fanfare upon arrival, but only an air of failure and disappointment as he made his exit.

As trends go, I cannot fathom a bigger dead-end job in the NFL than playing quarterback for the Browns over the past 10 years or so. No quarterback ever leaves Cleveland with their reputation burnished and their future looking bright. They depart as damaged goods, and just hope -- over time -- to put a few of the pieces back together.

Sunday's trade of Quinn to Denver sweeps the slate completely clean at quarterback in Cleveland. Gone are Quinn, a 2007 first-round pick, and Anderson, a 2007 Pro Bowl selection, and in their place come Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. Clearly, new team president Mike Holmgren must have come to the same conclusion that was etched on the face of head coach Eric Mangini last season: Given two bad options to pick from at the game's most pivotal position, he decided he could live with neither one. If this were a game of cards, Holmgren just threw a pair to the discard pile and chose to go fish.

It's hard to disagree with the notion that new blood was needed at quarterback for the Browns. Quinn and Anderson spent most of the past two years locked in a mortal battle of mediocrity -- and that was on their good days. Cleveland quarterbacking had become such a quagmire that its most productive plays seemed to invariably include all-purpose receiver/return man Josh Cribbs taking snaps in the Wildcat formation.

Quinn and Anderson are gone, and that much was easy to see coming. But tougher to discern is where the Browns are now headed at the position that can either make or break an NFL team. Delhomme certainly makes for a curious savior at this point. He's 35, coming off the worst season of his seven-year stay in Carolina (18 interceptions, 59.4 passer rating) and his name has become almost synonymous with turnovers ever since that ghastly meltdown against Arizona in the 2008 NFC divisional playoffs.

Is he really the guy who deserves the chance to build on the four-game season-ending winning streak that Cleveland mounted for Mangini after its horrid 1-11 start? If Delhomme couldn't take care of the football and win as a game manager-type quarterback in 2009 for the Panthers -- who had a decent defense and the first-ever NFL running game to feature a pair of 1,100-yard rushers -- what should give anyone the belief that he can succeed without those obvious advantages in Cleveland?

Seriously, am I missing something? Which is why my money is actually on Wallace to wind up with the Browns' starting job at some point fairly early in the 2010 season -- if not from the get-go based on beating out Delhomme in the preseason. Wallace isn't going to wow anyone, but Holmgren did draft the seven-year veteran out of Iowa State in 2003 and genuinely believes in his talent.

The Seahawks didn't win much the past two years with anyone at quarterback, but Wallace is no slouch, even if he does wear the career-backup label. In 2008, he threw for 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions, with an 87.0 passer rating in relief of the injured Matt Hasselbeck. And last year, he was a 65 percent passer (78 of 120), with three touchdowns, two interceptions and a decent 81.9 QB rating. Nothing spectacular, but that's still more than 20 points higher than Delhomme's QB rating.

Can Wallace elevate his game enough to lift the Browns out of last place in the tougher-all-the-time AFC North? I'm not sure. But he wouldn't be the first Cleveland quarterback to prove he's not up to that challenge. The Browns have finished in last place eight times in the 11 years since they were reborn as a 1999 expansion team, and still own just one playoff berth and two winning records in that span.

At least Holmgren is doing the smart thing in getting whatever he can for the players who have underachieved in Cleveland and amassing as many picks as possible in the 2010 draft, the deepest in years. Besides dealing Quinn to Denver in exchange for fullback Peyton Hillis, a sixth-round pick this year and a conditional pick next year, the Browns sent 2006 first-round pick Kamerion Wimbley to Oakland on Sunday, getting a third-round selection this year in exchange for the outside linebacker.

Cleveland now owns 13 picks in April -- almost two per round -- and should be in position to remake at least a third of its roster. In the NFL, there are no quick fixes, but the Browns at least have the right idea. They've got to tear down a few walls and hope they can rebuild something stronger and more long-lasting.

As for Quinn, the Dublin, Ohio, native who considered it his lifelong dream to quarterback the Browns, I'm sure he'll be more careful what he wishes for from here on out. In his three seasons in Cleveland, he started just 12 games, winning only three times. Though popular with Browns fans, his 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 66.8 passer rating never made anyone forget Bernie Kosar or Brian Sipe.

And now the ex-Notre Damer is in Denver, where he'll serve as a fairly cheap insurance policy behind starter Kyle Orton, with the possibility of injecting himself into a competition for the No. 1 job if he thrives in Josh McDaniels' offense and Orton fails to deliver for a team that slumped to 8-8 last season after starting 6-0. Like Quinn, Orton played his college ball in Indiana, though for the less-heralded Purdue Boilermakers of the Big Ten.

Quinn was one of the stories of the year in the 2007 draft -- when the Browns traded with Dallas to get back into the first round and take him at No. 22 -- and his arrival in Denver could ironically wind up impacting this year's first round, as well. With Quinn and Orton on hand, it's hard to see Denver spending its No. 11 overall pick on Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. After all, one ex-Irish starter on the Broncos depth chart is probably enough.

What does that mean for this year's first round? Perhaps that Seattle can afford to pass on Clausen with its valuable No. 6 pick, and be reasonably assured of still getting him with its second first-round choice, at No. 14. The only two teams between Denver and Seattle in that portion of the round -- No. 12 Miami and No. 13 San Francisco -- aren't thought to be in the market for a first-round quarterback.

Whatever unfolds, Quinn's fresh start in Denver doesn't disguise the fact that another quarterback has crashed and burned in Cleveland. As most everyone starting with Tim Couch on down has learned the hard way, playing the game's glamour position for the Browns can be the NFL's ultimate career killer.

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