INDIANAPOLIS – NFL free agency begins March 5. So does the trading season.
Quarterback Derek Anderson’s $2 million roster bonus becomes due March 19. The draft starts April 22.
Browns president Mike Holmgren has those dates memorized, and he plans on using all the available time to resolve the quagmire at quarterback.
“I haven’t made any final decisions on the quarterbacks yet. It’s a huge decision,” he said Friday at the scouting combine. “I think it’s the most important job on the football team. Great teams have that guy.”
Anderson and Brady Quinn are the candidates on the roster. Holmgren doesn’t like quarterback competitions and said it’s doubtful both will return in 2010.
“It’s a long shot, but never say never,” he said. “I’ve gone on the record saying no quarterback competition. They did that last year. It didn’t work all that great. Now let’s try to fix it.”
Anderson and Quinn were both benched for the other during 2009. Quinn started nine games, completing 53.1 percent for 1,339 yards, eight touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 67.2 rating. In seven starts, Anderson completed 44.5 percent for 888 yards, three touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 42.1 rating.
Their struggles have made it difficult for Holmgren to decide the future of the position for the Browns.
“We’re doing everything humanly possible to evaluate them,” he said. “The guys that came with me, that’s their project. The staff that was there, that’s their project. I want reports from both groups telling me what they think – Eric (Mangini, coach), (general manager) Tom Heckert, everybody.
“Eventually I’m going to have to decide.”
The first deadline is three weeks away, when Anderson must be traded, released or given the bonus. He’s also due $7.45 million in salary in 2010 if he were to make the team. Holmgren hasn’t ruled out paying the bonus and will take it down to the wire.
“That will be a midnight (decision),” he said. “That’s negotiated into contracts to help the club make those decisions on a timely matter. In our case I wish it wasn’t there, but it is.”
Holmgren has watched film of Anderson and Quinn and met Quinn. He hasn’t seen or talked to Anderson, who went home to Oregon right after the season.
“I would like to spend time with them if possible before we have to make some of these decisions, just to get a feel about the people,” Holmgren said. “But I’m going to have enough information to make a decision pretty quickly.”
If he isn’t sold on either, he can explore trades – Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb and Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck have been mentioned in rumors – or sign someone from a weak free-agent class. The draft can supplement or replace either avenue.
“You factor in every possible way that you could make a change, but then you have to make sure you’re doing the right thing with the players you have,” Holmgren said.
After a year with Anderson and Quinn, Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll likely have firm opinions on both. The impression is they’re not fans of either.
“Of course I value their opinion,” Holmgren said. “As a coach you get very emotionally involved with players, good or bad.
“I analyze that when I listen to comments on any players. Because I’m new I can be pretty objective.”
Holmgren is viewed as a quarterback guru after his work with Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young and future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. He also cultivated and went to a Super Bowl with Hasselbeck, a sixth-round pick. Holmgren believes a quarterback must start 32 games before a conclusive judgment can be made.
Anderson has started 34, but Quinn just 12 in three years.
“We’re not sending men to the moon, but it takes some time at the position,” Holmgren said. “Not only that, whoever’s playing has to believe you have his back. It’s all part of coaching that position.”
Holmgren’s watching the calendar and may not have the luxury of letting Quinn get to 32 starts.
“We can’t wait too much longer. I want to turn the team around very quickly,” he said. “The last four games (all wins) of last year was a good start. Players and coaches and fans should come back this season and feel very, very good about how they finished last year.
“Someone’s got to play a full season. Not two games here, off two games. It doesn’t work. So pick one, commit, coach them up, build confidence, make them better and go.
And surround them with good people.”
Holmgren said the front office and coaching staff are in the process of figuring out how to raise the talent level of the entire team.
“On offense, we’d like to get a little more depth on our offensive line, depth at running back, speed at wide receiver,” he said. “Not that we don’t have some of those things, but we need more. We’re kind of prioritizing for the draft and in free agency, throwing some stuff out there for possible trades, doing everything we can to kind of change the roster a little bit.”
Holmgren touched on a number of other topics:
• The Browns will place a high tender on running back Jerome Harrison, who’s scheduled to be a restricted free agent.
“We’re going to tender him something to make it very difficult for somebody to come in and get him,” Holmgren said.
The Browns could use a second-round tender ($1.759 million), a first-round tender ($2.521 million) or a first- and third-round tender ($3.168). They would have the right to match any offer Harrison received from another and would get the draft pick compensation attached to the tender if they let him leave. If he stayed, his salary would be the amount of the tender.
• Decisions have been made on tenders for their other restricted free agents, but Holmgren wouldn’t reveal them, even when asked specifically about linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The tenders must be declared by March 4.
Linebacker Matt Roth, safeties Brodney Pool and Abram Elam and fullback Lawrence Vickers are also on the list.
• Talks are progressing with All-Pro Joshua Cribbs, but a new deal isn’t imminent.
“The dialogue is very healthy. It’s very good,” Holmgren said. “We’re not quite there yet.”
• The Browns are considering Pro Bowl free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers, who would likely convert to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
“When we talk about possible free agents, certainly Julius is one of the guys we talk about,” he said. “But there are some financial ramifications there.”
• He’s adjusting to life as president after more than two decades as a coach.
“Start with the budgets, my goodness gracious,” he said. “I never thought one second about a budget and now it’s consuming my life.
“I’m going to be Randy’s (Lerner, owner) representative at the league meetings and I want to do that correctly. I want to be able to articulate the Browns’ position properly.”
• Gil Haskell, a senior adviser to Holmgren, has been working closely with Daboll. Holmgren said Haskell’s wife just had major surgery and he’s in California.
“He’s got an office right next to me and I get to tell him what to do all the time,” Holmgren said. “He’s kind of my trouble-shooter.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.