BEREA - At some point, the Browns are going to have to make a choice between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. General manager Phil Savage wants to delay the inevitable.
"Everybody feels like they have to have one (good quarterback)," Savage said Wednesday in a state-of-the-team news conference. "We feel like we have two. I`d love to see us hold onto the depth we have at the position for a while."
Anderson is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after the season, which gives other teams the opportunity to offer him a contract. The Browns can match, but the deal could be structured to make that difficult. The Browns can protect themselves by giving him the high tender, which would compensate the Browns with first- and third-round draft picks if he left.
They could also look for the best possible trade offer.
"We`re probably most comfortable with the one and three scenario," Savage said, referring to the high tender.
The Browns could also explore a long-term deal, possibly with $20 million guaranteed, before free agency starts. Savage said he`s "sure" there will be communication with Anderson`s agent, but refused to look too far down the road.
"Right now, we`re letting the season play itself out," Savage said. "We`re trying to keep some of that talk out of the focus of he and the team, because it can become a distraction.
"We`ve got time to make up our mind on how we want to handle it."
Anderson is taking the same approach. No matter what happens, he`s due a big pay raise from the $435,000 he`s making this season.
"I`m not going to go there," he said when asked about his offseason strategy. "I would rather not talk about it. That stuff will take care of itself when the season is over. Right now, we`re just trying to stay focused."
Anderson is one of the biggest surprises of the NFL season. He lost the preseason competition with Charlie Frye, then stepped in to save the season in Week 2. He`s 7-3 as a starter and has thrown 22 touchdown passes, which rank fourth in the NFL.
If Anderson were having this success last season, the Browns` decision would be simpler. But they traded their 2008 first-round draft pick to move back into the first round in April and draft Quinn No. 22. He had the fans and front office excited with his performance and composure during the preseason, but he`s been stapled to the sideline by Anderson`s emergence.
Quinn, surrounded by reporters Wednesday as Anderson sat a few feet away in the corner, was asked if there`s room for him and Anderson.
"That`s a good question," he said. "The funny thing about it is, I`ve obviously learned through this whole process that you have to take things one day at a time."
The Browns drafted Quinn to be the franchise quarterback and signed him to a five-year, $20.2 million deal with $7.75 million guaranteed. Savage was asked how Quinn would fare in the Browns offense, which boasts a solid line and talented skill players.
"I think Brady would plug in and do well," Savage said. "It`s a pretty enviable cockpit to be riding in right now."
The Browns know how difficult it is to find a franchise quarterback. Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer and Frye are just some of the men who`ve flopped in their audition. And quarterback controversies have grossly outnumbered the lone unsuccessful playoff appearance.
"It`s a quarterback-driven league, particularly on the AFC side," Savage said. "Look at (New England`s) Tom Brady, (Indianapolis`) Peyton Manning, even (Pittsburgh`s) Ben Roethlisberger. Those are three teams that you`ve got to beat if you`re going to go where you want to go."
Cleveland`s quarterback situation in 2008 could be determined by the market for Anderson. If a team is willing to give up the first- and third-round picks, which would require it to sign Anderson to a long-term deal, the Browns may let him walk and turn to Quinn. If no team`s willing, Anderson could return for $2.562 million and become an unrestricted free agent following 2008.
Teams have been burned by falling for a quarterback with a limited resume - the Dolphins and Scott Mitchell come to mind - but there aren`t enough good quarterbacks to go around and every team`s desperate to find one. The last five games, and possibly a trip to the playoffs, could shape the opinion of Anderson throughout the league and inside the Browns.
He`s already exceeded expectations in Savage`s eyes.
"Given the situation he was thrust into and what he`s done, you have to give him a lot of credit," he said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or email@example.com.