The recent spin of the NFL's quarterbacking merry-go-round reminded me of a phone call I received about a month before the 2007 draft from an angry Charlie Weis. It didn't matter that we had collaborated on a book about his coaching career a year earlier. Weis wanted me to know, in a way that he would communicate displeasure over an official's call, that my mock draft for NFL.com had a glaring omission in the top five: Brady Quinn.
Weis was entering his third season as Notre Dame's football coach. He and Quinn had enjoyed two prolific years together. And Weis was absolutely convinced that Quinn not only was the best quarterback from the Class of '07, he was certain he would soon become the third-best quarterback in the NFL behind another of his former pupils, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Holmgren's credibility on the line
My mock had Quinn going somewhere in the middle of the first round. Given Weis' mood, I thought better of telling him that, based on what I was hearing from various personnel folks in the NFL, Quinn figured to fall even lower ... which he did, going to the Cleveland Browns in the 22nd spot ... 21 picks after the Oakland Raiders used the top overall choice on another quarterback, JaMarcus Russell.
With new Browns president Mike Holmgren deciding that Quinn's limited playing time in three seasons was enough proof that he wasn't going to live up to first-round expectations (and that he apparently wasn't worthy of Holmgren's legendary quarterback-fixing prowess), he made a trade with Denver that hardly qualifies as a blockbuster: fullback Peyton Hillis, a sixth-round pick in 2011, and a conditional pick in 2012. But it does put Quinn in one of the two places that give him his best chance to flourish.
The ideal spot would have been Kansas City, where he would have been reunited with the last coach who knew exactly how to get maximum production from him. Denver is a close second, though, for a couple of reasons. First, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was New England's quarterbacks coach when Weis was the Patriots' offensive coordinator and employs the same scheme that Weis ran at Notre Dame. McDaniels also will give Quinn the same coaching points that he received in his Fighting Irish days. Second, although all indications are that Kyle Orton has the inside track to retain the starting job in Denver, it isn't as if he has any sort of stranglehold on it. Quinn should have a legitimate shot to win over McDaniels between now and the start of the regular season.
The Quinn deal is one of several quarterback moves that have been made this month, which also has brought plenty of discussion about other potential movement at the position.
Here's a closer look at the other moves that have been made and some that could happen:
Jake Delhomme signs with the Browns: He probably starts this year because of his experience and familiarity with the West Coast offense the Browns will use. However, it's hard to see this as anything more than a stopgap between now and whenever the Browns get their true franchise quarterback in the draft, either next month or next year. Expecting Delhomme to be dramatically better than the guy who had the NFL's worst ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions last season is expecting too much.
David Carr signs with the San Francisco 49ers: This is a little bit bigger than the 49ers simply replacing Shaun Hill as the backup to Alex Smith. Carr entered the league as a top overall draft choice, and his career has been a major disappointment. But after sitting behind another top overall choice, Eli Manning, in New York, he gets the chance to show that he is more than an understudy. Yes, Smith, too, is a former No. 1 overall pick, but he doesn't exactly have untouchable status. Carr is going to have a chance to get the attention of coach Mike Singletary, although the chances are slim that he'll do something spectacular.
Shaun Hill joins the Detroit Lions in a trade: For a seventh-round pick in 2011, the Lions got themselves a decent reserve for Matthew Stafford. Some who have witnessed Hill's improvisational flashes in San Francisco are curious to see what he might do if Stafford ends up missing any time behind that shaky protection of his.
Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks flirting with Charlie Whitehurst and Derek Anderson: Whitehurst, a restricted free agent from the San Diego Chargers, and Anderson, recently cut by the Browns, are on the radar of both teams. The Cardinals provide the better opportunity to compete for a starting spot in the near future because even though Matt Leinart will enter training camp No. 1 on the depth chart, he is somewhat of a mystery. He has not had enough playing time to prove much of anything in the NFL, although the fact he couldn't prevent Kurt Warner from having the opportunity to win the starting job that he kept until his offseason retirement isn't much of an endorsement. Matt Hasselbeck is the man in Seattle, but the Seahawks do have a new coach, Pete Carroll, who is searching for his longer-term answer at quarterback.
» The New York Jets clearly understand the need for damage control within their locker room after making what was supposedly a financial decision in saying good-bye to leading rusher Thomas Jones and essentially negating whatever savings they realized by signing LaDainian Tomlinson.
Jones' extreme popularity among his teammates made it a hard move for many of them to swallow, regardless of how well rookie Shonn Greene performed at the end of last season. The Jets gave up a tough, grinding runner in Jones (now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs) to get a player in Tomlinson whose greatest impact is likely to be made as a receiver out of the backfield.
Small wonder the Jets took out a full-page ad in the Kansas City Star praising Thomas for his "toughness, dedication, and leadership" and thanking him for three great seasons.
» Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the trade that sent Quinn to Denver was the Browns' acquisition of Hillis. Hillis is a solid blocker, a good receiver, and a nice power runner. He'll end up making a significant contribution this season, quite possibly a much larger one than Quinn ends up making in Denver.
» It's one thing for Larry Foote to express frustration over going through a 2-14 season with the Detroit Lions in 2009. The experience was a mind-boggling contrast to the Super Bowl-winning success he enjoyed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the fact Detroit is his hometown did little to take the sting out of it. But when Foote, who is back with the Steelers, told reporters in Pittsburgh, "I'm just glad I'm back and thank God I didn't sign a longer deal there," he said plenty. His sentiment is similar to what has been expressed by multiple folks with whom I've spoken: Despite their aggressive free-agent moves, the Lions still have an extremely long way to go to become even remotely competitive. There still appears to be a substantial gap between them and the rest of the NFC North, although the Minnesota Vikings' outlook still depends on whether Brett Favre chooses to return.