Browns enter off-season with quarterback quandary

BEREA, Ohio -- Sporting a fitted Cleveland Indians baseball cap, quarterback Derek Anderson packed away a breakout season into a few boxes and prepared for the long drive home to Oregon.

He joked about going cross country nonstop.

"Hopefully," Anderson said. "I'll be back, but I obviously don't control that."

The laid-back big man whose rocket right arm led the Browns to 10 victories and helped restore pride to a franchise which had gone from laudable to laughable in the past few years, wasn't sure of his future.

Nobody seemed to be.

An unexpected season of last-second wins, regrettable losses, personal breakthroughs and points galore in Cleveland ended just a little short of the postseason. The Browns, who went 4-12 last season and weren't expected to do much better in '07, finished 10-6 but were shut out of the AFC playoffs.

But while Cleveland fans swallowed another serving of sports heartbreak, the Browns handled the disappointment in stride.

"It was a positive season," nose tackle Shaun Smith said. "We had to face some negativity all year, but look at us now. We're a team that showed we can play in this league and that's what we can build on."

The Browns are about to embark on an important offseason with several crucial decisions, none bigger than at quarterback. Anderson, the former sixth-round pick who began '07 as Charlie Frye's backup and ended it as a Pro Bowl alternate, is scheduled to become a restricted free agent.

The team has several options with Anderson, who passed for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns but also had 19 interceptions. Complicating matters is that Brady Quinn, he of the Notre Dame pedigree and runway model looks, also is on Cleveland's roster and the Browns gave up their 2008 first-round draft pick to get him.

As '08 beckons, the Browns have a quarterback dilemma - big time. Around here, Anderson or Quinn is as big as Clinton or Obama.

And if a small sampling of Cleveland's locker room is any indication, the Browns are divided.

"I don't believe there's a quarterback controversy," wide receiver Joe Jurevicius said. "I don't buy into that. I just think Derek Anderson's our man."

A few feet away, tight end Kellen Winslow seemed to side with Quinn.

"We drafted the guy," he said. "He's probably going to play. Derek's a great guy, but that's just the way this business works."

Surely, the Browns are developing a game plan for Anderson's situation.

They can tender him a $2.5 million deal for next year. If another club offers Anderson a better deal, the Browns can either match it or receive first- and third-round draft picks from that team as compensation.

The club also can place a "franchise tag" on Anderson, meaning his 2008 salary would be the average of the league's five highest-paid QBs. Any team wanting Anderson then would have to surrender two first-round picks.

Also, the Browns can sign the 24-year-old Anderson to a long-term contract, but that would seem unlikely after just one quality season.

For now, Anderson, good-natured and goofy, says he isn't sweating it. Cleveland has grown on him and he wants to stay.

"I really like it here. I kind of enjoy it. I like my teammates, I like the city and part of me doesn't want to move," he said.

That will be up to the Browns, who have waited for years to find one dependable quarterback and seem to have two.

However, don't dare tell coach Romeo Crennel that he's got a quarterback controversy on his hands. Crennel, whose job seemed in jeopardy when the season opened, insists the Browns are in an enviable position with Anderson and Quinn, who made his pro debut in Sunday's win over San Francisco.

"It's a good problem to have," he said. "I would much rather have too many good players, than not enough good players. We've had not enough good players around here for a while and we saw the results of that."

Needing to fill other holes, especially on a defense that struggled with injuries all season, the Browns may be willing to part with Anderson. They'll listen to offers.

"If anybody is interested in him, we'll just have to see how it goes," Crennel said. "Sometimes people can make you an offer and you can say, 'No, I think I'm going to stay with what I got.' Sometimes they make you an offer and you say, 'Oooohhh."'

With free agency still more than two months away, Crennel is already tired of questions about his quarterbacks. He was baffled when asked if he felt the need to give Anderson a season-ending vote of confidence.

"Why would we think that? The guy just won 10 games for us. Does he need a vote of confidence?" Crennel snapped. "You guys are the ones who always bring up this quarterback thing. Just because you're a draft pick, that doesn't guarantee you success in the NFL. You have to go play and you have to prove it.

"You have to have an opportunity to prove it. Anderson has done a good job with his opportunity. Brady will do a good job with his opportunity when he gets it."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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