Browns have tough offseason choice to make with Anderson

Cleveland surrendered one first-round pick for a quarterback this year. But it's possible, if they choose, that the Browns could get back two first-round picks for another quarterback.

While the popular opinion has been that the Browns will give restricted free agent quarterback Derek Anderson a qualifying offer with the highest tender -- $2.562 million, which would bring back first- and third-round draft choices to Cleveland if another team signed him -- there also is another viable and pricey scenario that has gone virtually ignored.

Cleveland still could opt to slap its franchise tag on Anderson, meaning that any team that signed him would have to surrender two first-round picks to the Browns.

The move would potentially be costly to Cleveland. It would increase the price it would pay for Anderson next season from $2.562 million to about $10.6 million. But there is no price a team can place on the value of a proven quarterback, a position Cleveland has struggled to fill since it re-entered the league.

And as pricey as it would be for Cleveland to keep Anderson, it would be even costlier for another team to pry him away.

Still, it's extremely rare for a team to franchise a restricted free agent. Yet it has been done before.

The last time was 1999, when San Francisco slapped its franchise tag on restricted free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens, which carried along a price tag of $3.5 million. San Francisco could have been given a qualifying offer of $1.25 million that would have meant any team signing Owens to an offer sheet would have had to compensate the 49ers with first- and third-round draft picks. But San Francisco went the franchise route.

Owens was miffed the 49ers franchised him, but in the first week of June 1999, he still signed a seven-year, $34 million contract that included a $7.5 million signing bonus.

The franchise tag was the start of the end for Owens in San Francisco, but it could be just the beginning of an extended career in Cleveland for Anderson. Or it could be that Cleveland decides two first-round draft choices are worth a quarterback that has played at a Pro Bowl level this season.

It is the biggest decision the Browns will make this off-season.

Quarterback carousel

In the NFL, teams change quarterbacks even quicker than Tony Romo changes girlfriends.

When Miami's John Beck and Kansas City's Brodie Croyle start Sunday, they will become the 51st and 52nd different starting quarterbacks used this season -- two more than all of last year.

Now, partly due to injury and partly due to performance, quarterbacks are as much quarter-to-quarter as much as they are game-to-game.

Already, 17 teams have used two different starting quarterbacks. Two teams -- Carolina and Minnesota -- have used three different starting quarterbacks, and Miami will become the third team to start three quarterbacks this season when Beck takes the field at Philadelphia, becoming the 12th different starting quarterback for Miami since Dan Marino retired in 1999.

Things change so quickly now, that even the new faces are the old ones. Baltimore is going back to Kyle Boller, Buffalo to J.P. Losman, Chicago to Rex Grossman, Jacksonville to David Garrard, Minnesota to Tarvaris Jackson, Oakland to Daunte Culpepper and San Francisco to Trent Dilfer.

The changes are unending -- and there are still seven weeks left in the season.

All this proves, above else, how fragile the quarterback position really is and how incredible Brett Favre's streak of 246 consecutive starts, dating to Sept. 27, 1992, actually is. Favre has become part Cal Ripken and all legend.

Not far behind him are the two quarterbacks with the next longest consecutive start streaks. Peyton Manning has started 165 straight games, Tom Brady 117. It's probably no coincidence that football's three most stable quarterbacks play on three of football's top teams.

But this is a season, with its constant quarterback changes, that has become legendary in an entirely different way.

It has given us a whole new definition of turnover.

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