INDIANAPOLIS — General manager Phil Savage always expected contract negotiations with quarterback Derek Anderson to go down to the final minutes before free agency.
After discussions with Anderson’s agents Thursday at the scouting combine, Savage said Friday he wouldn’t be surprised if the talks went overtime.
“I think we’ve made some progress,” Savage said. “I know that people are considering (next Friday) to be a hard deadline. But it’s almost a perforated deadline.”
If the Browns and Anderson haven’t reached a deal, Savage reiterated that the Browns would give Anderson the highest tender, which must be applied by Thursday at 4 p.m. Free agency begins Friday at 12:01 a.m.
The tender would pay Anderson, a restricted free agent, $2.562 million in 2008 or give the Browns first- and third-round draft picks if he signs with another team. The Browns would have the option of matching any offer.
“That’s probably about the best protection we could give ourselves,” Savage said.
Applying the tender would also give the sides more time to negotiate a multiyear deal.
“Our preference is to get it done before the free-agency period begins,” Savage said. “But I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”
Savage is adamant about signing Anderson to a three-year contract, because the team doesn’t want to commit itself to a longer deal. The reasons: Anderson has just one good year under his belt and Brady Quinn, a first-round pick last year, is waiting in the wings.
“We obviously have alternatives planned for a lot of different things that can happen,” Savage said.
Anderson’s representatives are pushing for a six-year deal, preferably in the neighborhood of the $67.5 million deal signed during the season by Dallas’ Tony Romo, which included $30 million guaranteed. The Browns have reportedly offered three years at $18 million, which is closer to the first three years of Matt Schaub’s six-year deal with Houston. Schaub, who had made just two career starts, signed a six-year, $48 million deal with $7 million guaranteed and $20 million due in the first three years.
“Because of the makeup of our team right now, we feel like a three-year agreement is one that would work for both sides because Derek is 24 years old,” Savage said. “He could play three years and then potentially hit free agency again where the money could be $70 million or $80 million.
“I’m of the optimistic side of things. I think that (Anderson’s agents) may say they’re more pessimistic.”
Anderson’s representatives have failed to return several messages left by The Chronicle.
The biggest unknown – besides if a deal will be reached – is the amount of interest Anderson would draw on the open market. A number of teams need a quarterback, but they may not be willing to part with a pair of draft picks for a guy with 18 career starts and 27 interceptions.
“Obviously no one is going to tell me what their interest is,” Savage said. “We would certainly find out if we can’t get this contract done before next Thursday.”
Anderson earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after a stunning season. He came off the bench in Week 1 and finished with 29 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 3,787 yards, an 82.5 rating and 14 sacks. He went 10-5 as the starter.
“It’s important (to get a deal done),” coach Romeo Crennel said. “It’s not as important as if we didn’t have a Brady Quinn type in house. But I think it’s important because the guy did win 10 games for us, he was productive and to maintain continuity.”
Running back Jamal Lewis said he’d like Anderson to return, but knows it might not happen.
“It keeps the offense together and everybody is used to Derek and knows his style and knows what he does,” he said. “At the same time, it’s a business. We do have another great quarterback. Brady Quinn is waiting back in the wings.”
Savage was asked how long the two quarterbacks can coexist.
“We like them both,” he said. “To keep both on our team protects us the most in terms of trying to put a winning team out there and keeping us from being at risk by losing a guy and then someone getting hurt.”
Savage declined to apply the franchise tag to Anderson, which would’ve paid him around $10.6 for one season or required a team to give up two first-round picks. The deadline to use the tag was Thursday.
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