The past two decades have seen a deluge of talented passers enter the NFL. From future Hall of Famers like Tom Brady and Drew Brees to budding stars like Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz, franchises across the league have been the beneficiary of a rising tide of quarterback play in a pass-happy league.
Except for the Browns.
Cleveland has cycled through a string of first-round busts and incapable also-rans in its search to find its offensive touchstone. The process has been futile. Since the franchise was rebooted in 1999, only one quarterback has seen the postseason with the club — 1999 No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch. Only one Browns quarterback has earned a spot in the Pro Bowl — Derek Anderson in 2007. Behind them, the list of starters includes luminaries like Ken Dorsey (0-3 as a starter), Seneca Wallace (1-6), Thad Lewis (0-1), and Cody Kessler (0-8).
But if you were forced to build your franchise around one of the Browns’ signal callers from the past two decades, which player would cause the least damage?
First, some caveats. The player you pick starts at the exact level he played at while he was a Brown. You’re not getting Super Bowl participant and Pro Bowler Jake Delhomme — you’re getting 35-year-old, 2:7 TD:INT ratio Jake Delhomme. And since we’re only talking players with regular season Browns experience, that means no Baker Mayfield or Tyrod Taylor.
You’re also signed on for no fewer than three years with this player as your starting QB. So you can take Derek Anderson at his 2007 Pro Bowl peak, but you’re also getting his 2008 and 2009 campaigns as well — so enjoy a passer who makes 16 starts over his next two years and only completes 48 percent of his passes.
With that in mind, you have to build your franchise around a quarterback who proudly donned the brown and white in some point in his career (and it almost certainly went poorly). Who do you choose?
The case for: Jeff Garcia (2004)
Anderson was a one-year wonder, and while it’s tempting to add a player with the potential to throw 29 touchdown passes in a season, his sudden and steep decline in the years that followed took a 10-win team into one that won nine games the following two seasons combined. Garcia, on the other hand, remained a steady veteran hand who mostly stayed out of his own way in his one season with the Browns and then until his retirement five years later.
Garcia went to the Pro Bowl three straight times with the 49ers between 2000 and 2002, but was 33 years old and coming off his worst season as a pro when San Francisco released him in 2003. That downturn and an offseason DUI didn’t prevent the Browns from signing him, however, and he was quickly named the team’s starter.
Garcia was slightly below average as Cleveland’s quarterback, which immediately boosts him to the upper echelon of the rebooted Browns’ annals. He bombed out in losses to the Steelers and Cowboys (19 combined completed passes in two games, 15 if you’re not counting interceptions) and showed out in wins over Baltimore, Washington, and Cincinnati. But he also missed six starts due to injuries, and the team decided to release him in favor of (checks notes. oh no) Trent Dilfer, who promptly turned the league’s 27th-ranked scoring defense into its 32nd.
Meanwhile, Garcia floated to Detroit, where he was bad, and then revived his career as a backup-turned-starter in Philadelphia, going 5-1 in 2006 and recording a 10:2 TD:INT ratio. So, you get a better-than-average QB BROWNS season, one average one, and then one pretty-good-for-anyone season on the way out. You could even hold on to him for a fourth, when Garcia recorded his final Pro Bowl season in a 13-game stint with the Buccaneers.
You weren’t going to win much with late-stage, oft-injured Jeff Garcia — but for the most part, he wasn’t going to be the reason why you lost the games he started. In the world of Browns quarterbacks, that makes him king. — Christian D’Andrea
The case for: Brian Hoyer (2014)
The best thing you can say about Brian Hoyer’s time in Cleveland is that he was a functional player. Hoyer started 13 games for the Browns in 2014 and actually had a productive season (though, he might’ve been aided by a certain receiver named Josh Gordon).
Hoyer averaged 7.6 yards per attempt for the season, which ranked ninth in the league among qualified passers — ahead of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady. Hoyer doesn’t compare to these quarterbacks when you throw in touchdown-to-interception ratio (12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions), but he’s still put together the best Browns season in quite some time.
Most of Hoyer’s success that season can probably be attributed to the play-calling of then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, as well as Gordon bulldozing secondaries. But he did have the Browns in playoff contention at 7-6 before they decided to bench him for ... rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Hoyer left after the 2014 season, but he’s probably responsible for the most competent quarterback play the Browns have seen in the past 20 years. — Charles McDonald
The case for: Josh Cribbs (2008)
Or, you can choose to burn it all down and put Cribbs in the wildcat for three years. The All-Pro kick returner was electric with the ball in his hands, but typically awful when asked to throw the ball to fulfill Cleveland’s gadget plays. The Browns gave him 14 pass attempts in his NFL career; he completed four of those passes, was sacked twice, and threw one interception.
But Cribbs also gained nearly six yards per carry out of the backfield and was basically the only reason to watch the Browns from 2008 to 2010 other than “a cobra built its nest around my remote.” Plus, his yards per completion number (11.3) was still better than Kessler’s. Or Dorsey’s. Or Robert Griffin III’s. Or Kevin Hogan’s. Or Charlie Frye’s. Or Brady Quinn’s. Or...
Which Browns QB would you choose?
If you had to build your team around a veteran Browns QB, who would you pick?
This poll is closed
Josh by-God Cribbs
Thinking about Browns QBs has left me too depressed to choose.
Other (let us know in the comments!)