Infatuation can be an alluring emotion. It can make you giddy. It can make you do stupid things, too. A case in point is the latest column, the second in two weeks, by the Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw imploring the Browns to essentially move heaven and earth to get Jay Cutler on the roster. Now that Cutler's off to Chicago, one can only imagine Bud's next column.
Clearly Shaw has a case of man-love for Cutler. That's all well and good. We all have our crushes. But this was is just puzzling.
Shaw makes his case by going straight for the jugular of Browns fans, invoking the one person who still is the object of more man-love from modern day Browns fans than any other player, Bernie Kosar. Shaw says that Cutler possesses the same swagger that made Kosar so successful. Not so fast, Bud.
Cutler is a nice player. But he's a nice player like Derek Anderson is a nice player. The only difference between the two right now is that Cutler's had two relatively decent years while Anderson has had one good year and one not so good year that ended prematurely with an injury.
Anderson and Cutler are the same age, although Anderson entered the league a year earlier than Cutler. Both quarterbacks have what the scouts like to call a "big arm." Cutler was a 1st round pick of the Broncos in 2006 out of Vanderbilt and became somewhat of a "flavor of the month" to NFL scouts during the combine, akin to Joe Flacco last season. As a first round pick, Cutler brought with him all the usual pressures that come with it, including the desire of fans to rush him into action.
Anderson played for pass happy Oregon State, which seemed to cause scouts to discount his somewhat gaudy statistics. But it is noteworthy that Anderson was only the 6th person in the PAC-10 to throw for more than 10,000 yards in his career. Anderson also holds pretty much every Oregon State passing record.
But Anderson stayed under the radar screen throughout the combine. He ended up being drafted in the sixth round by Baltimore in the 2005 draft which means the Ravens' investment in him was only slightly more than their investment in new water coolers. That status accorded him little pressure from the fans and little respect from the coaching staff. But when Anderson was cut by the Ravens in September, 2005, former Browns' general manager, Phil Savage, grabbed him. Anderson spent the 2005 season watching Trent Dilfer and Charlie Frye.
While Anderson technically had a year of experience on Cutler, the first game action for each came during the 2006 season. Cutler started 5 games, Anderson 3. Both showed some promise, Cutler perhaps a bit more. In Cutler's 5 starts, he through 9 touchdowns against interceptions. In Anderson's 5 games, 3 of which were starts, he had 5 touchdowns against 8 interceptions.
Cutler was all but set to be the Broncos starter in 2006. Anderson was in a training camp battle with Charlie Frye that Frye ostensibly won. Frye's victory lasted all of about one quarter in the team's first game when all the traits that made fans wonder why Frye got the start were exposed against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Anderson quickly replaced Frye (who was traded the next day) and embarked on one of the most magical seasons of any quarterback in Cleveland Browns' history.
Indeed, the 2007 season was the coming out party for both players. Cutler led his team to a 7-9 record. Cutler, though, had a breakout year. He completed over 63% of his passes, through 20 touchdowns to 14 interceptions, and ended the year with a rating of 88.1. He also averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. The one downside of Cutler's year was the number of sacks, 27.
But Anderson was even better. After the disaster of the opening game, Anderson helped lead the team to a 10-6 record while throwing 29 touchdown passes against 19 interceptions. He ended the season with a 82.5 rating and his yards per attempt was similar to Cutler's at 7.2. Anderson was sacked only 14 times, or less than once per game, and made the Pro Bowl.
Maybe it was the pressure of the previous season, maybe it was the inability to make adjustments after teams had made adjustments to him, or maybe it was a little of both, but Anderson had an awful 2008 season, by almost any measure. Anderson too often looked confused and too reliant on just flinging the ball deep, hoping something good would happen. It didn't help Anderson either that Joe Jurevicius was out the whole season or that Braylon Edwards played like he was. The Browns' running attack wasn't particularly effective and the line, without Ryan Tucker, struggled far more than it did in 2007.
Cutler, by contrast, put up another good season personally and made the Pro Bowl even as he wasn't able to move the needle much on the team's overall performance. More damming though for Cutler was the fact that his team entered it's final 3 games with a 8-5 record and really needed only to win one of them to make the playoffs. They lost all 3. The Broncos' defense was awful last season and that accounts for a large part of it, but Cutler wasn't exactly brilliant either. While he threw for over 300 yards in the last two games, that was more a function of the fact that he attempted nearly 50 passes in each game. What ever leadership he brought to the team generally wasn't enough to help it get over the hump when it needed to most.
This isn't to damn Cutler at the expense of Anderson. It's just to underscore the reality that is Cutler. Like Anderson, he still hasn't led a team to the playoffs. He's put up some nice numbers in his first two seasons as a starter and probably will get better. If your team is lacking a quarterback, he'd be a decent pick up. But all that doesn't make him the "sure thing" that Shaw seems to think.
In Shaw's world, the Browns should do whatever it takes to get Cutler. I wonder if that means swinging a trade now with Chicago? Shaw doesn't offer whether it should be at the expense of Anderson or Brady Quinn, but the clear implication is that it doesn't really matter because Cutler would be a far better choice to lead this team.
It might be true that Cutler eventually becomes a sure thing and it might be true that he will have a better career than either Anderson or Quinn, but there aren't enough facts on which to base those suppositions. The full depth of Anderson's potential isn't really known. About the only conclusion you can really draw is that he's a fire or ice kind of player.
But putting Anderson aside, what's the push to simply dump an unknown commodity in Quinn? Shaw never explains. Quinn had very little opportunity with an objectively poor team last season. That he would get injured given the scattered play of the line was almost a foregone conclusion. But in his relatively limited playing time covering the last few seasons all Quinn ever has done is show he belongs in the NFL. Exactly where, it's hard to say. But he is a NFL quarterback.
The fact that head coach Eric Mangini is conducting open auditions for the starting quarterback as if he was casting the road show production of "A Chorus Line" shouldn't be taken as confirmation that neither Quinn nor Anderson is a viable starter. Giving Mangini the full benefit of the doubt at this point, it simply means that he sees what everyone else does: the book on Anderson is only about 1/3 written and we've barely gotten past the preface in Quinn's.
Even more to the point though, as I've been constantly preaching, it isn't going to matter whether the Browns have Cutler, Quinn or Joe Montana in his prime. If there's no one to throw to that can actually catch, Mangini would do just as well to dig up the corpse of George Plimpton.
The real barometer for whether or not the Browns should make a run at Cutler is whether by adding him, whatever the cost, the Browns are a better team. If the answer to that is "yes," and I struggle to see how anyone could even make that conclusion, then you have to ask the next question, "is the value he adds worth the cost?"
Chicago paid a fairly hefty price, in the form of two first round picks and Kyle Orton, though they did get a third rounder back this year. Bravo to the Broncos for exploiting a desperate market and we'll leave it to the discerning fans of Chicago to skewer their front office for giving into the frenzy by overpaying. But even if what Chicago paid is an accurate barometer of Cutler's market value, it clearly would have cost them Anderson or Quinn. Thus, two first round picks and one of your quarterbacks for another quarterback that doesn't appear to be much, if any, of an upgrade is simply too steep for a team that has numerous holes to plug.
But then again, infatuation can make a person do stupid things. Just be glad Shaw isn't running the Browns these days. He'd have them filling a hole that no one's sure yet is even cracked all the while missing the fact that the rest of the team is as bumpy and pockmarked as Euclid Avenue in March.