NFL Free Agency 2012: 7 Reasons the Cleveland Browns Should Avoid Matt Flynn
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"The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have sav'd my life."-Falstaff, Henry IV Act 5, Scene 4
Browns Backers, I present Matt Flynn, the latest not-our-quarterback-of-the-week after which a significant contingent of our Backers brethren have desperately lusted for over a decade. Whether through pursuing "proven" talent like Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer or Jake Delhomme, clamoring for a streaky backup with an endearing moxie and a gunslinger mentality—Kelly Holcomb, Derek Anderson—or investing through the draft via trade-ups (Brady Quinn) and No. 1 picks (Tim Couch), the Browns consistently fail to protect their quarterback for the duration of an entire season.
Fear not; salty old Brian is here to tell you why it's not going to happen. Why it shouldn't happen. If it does, the Browns' front office would place a colossal wager on an unproven quantity in Matt Flynn.
I know some will holler that it's a quarterback-driven league, but would the Browns shell out $20 million in guaranteed money at any other position to someone with two career starts?
You can follow Brian on Twitter @StepanekButton
Hold the Line
A healthy line, quality targets and a run game sent DA to Hawaii.
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The one shining year in Cleveland Browns' contemporary history within the passing offense (not counting the flashes of Kelly Holcomb in 2002-03) will always be 2007.
What did the Browns do before 2007? Draft Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. When was Derek Anderson, the Browns' Pro Bowl quarterback from that season, selected in the draft? The sixth round. The Browns claimed Anderson off waivers.
Further, the offensive line featured two legitimate professionals in the healthy Eric Steinbach and the serviceable Hank Fraley. Anderson hardly worked Drew Brees or Peyton Manning magic, elevating the play of his receivers through intricate audibles or otherworldly play.
Derek Anderson won 10 games behind a half-decent offensive line, simply by managing an above-average rushing game led by the aging future Hall of Famer Jamal Lewis and by hitting Braylon Edwards or Kellen Winslow when the time came.
For the first time, a Browns quarterback played behind a consistently healthy offensive line—save Seth McKinney and Ryan Tucker splitting the season right down the middle.
Continuity, health and quality play on the offensive line leads to Pro Bowl and championship quarterbacking. Good quarterbacking rarely helps the offensive line, but solid line play always improves a quarterback's chances.
We've Tried This Before
Kelly Holcomb and Matt Flynn bear a striking resemblance...
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Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer and Jake Delhomme all proved they could operate an offense for an entire season elsewhere, but none managed to complete a single season in Cleveland. At some point, the front office and fans must consider what's failed and what's worked in the past when their well-honed "replace-the-quarterback" reflex starts twitching.
Do the Browns want to invest their entire free-agency class in a spot where historically the Browns have struggled to maintain continuity for over 10 games in a season?
Cleveland Browns Quarterbacks: Starts per Season 2002-2011
2011: Colt McCoy 13 / Seneca Wallace 3
2010: Colt McCoy 8 / Seneca Wallace 4 / Jake Delhomme 4
2009: Brady Quinn 9 / Derek Anderson 7
2008: Derek Anderson 9 / Brady Quinn 3 / Ken Dorsey 3 / Bruce Gradkowski 1
2007: Derek Anderson 15 / Charlie Frye 1
2006: Charlie Frye 13 / Derek Anderson 3
2005: Trent Dilfer 11 / Charlie Frye 5
2004: Jeff Garcia 10 / Luke McCown 4 / Kelly Holcomb 2
2003: Kelly Holcomb 8 / Tim Couch 8
2002: Tim Couch 14 / Kelly Holcomb 2
It's the Most Expensive and Riskiest Solution
KC guaranteed Cassel $28 million after one season.
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After picking up where Tom Brady left off in 2008, Matt Cassel earned himself a massive payday by leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record. The Kansas City Chiefs offered Cassel a massive six-year, $63 million deal with $28 million guaranteed.
Cassel won 11 games and—bad break or not—never played in a playoff game.
The Arizona Cardinals extended Kevin Kolb a five-year, $63 million offer with $21 million guaranteed. With the Eagles, Kolb started a mere seven games. Yet he earned more than Mark Sanchez, Cam Newton and Eli Manning last season. The Browns can ill-afford to make the same mistake.
In 2002, the Patriots extended Tom Brady to a five-year contract for around $30 million—total, not guaranteed. I know it's been 10 years, but Brady won a Super Bowl and the Patriots invested half as much and got two more Super Bowls and another appearance out of him under that contract.
Other Free Agents Address Our Needs More Efficiently
Carl Nicks is an ideal free-agency investment.
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Fans and media alike speculate ad nauseum over the fate of well-known players of relatively unevaluated quality. If the Browns sign one player and invest $20-$30 million in guaranteed money, they should focus on what wins in the AFC North: running the ball and stopping the run.
Pass protection relates to running the ball, as teams who excel in one likely succeed in the other. Quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger flourished as young players behind grizzled, seasoned offensive lines featuring perennial Pro Bowlers like Jonathan Ogden and Alan Faneca, as well as upstart prodigies—namely Michael Oher and Maurkice Pouncey.
Running the ball facilitates good defense: Time of possession is the daughter of a timely, effective passing game, stingy run defense and a devastating running attack.
As we know, time of possession wins the AFC North and, occasionally, the Super Bowl.
Affordable Options Exist in the Draft
Experimenting with a 2nd- or 3rd-rounder: far more affordable.
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Why would we almost certainly overpay a quarterback in free agency when there's a perfectly good draft to fill the void?
Even if they grossly overpaid them, the Browns could still pay 10 or maybe even 20 Brandon Weedens or even possibly Ryan Tannehills, as opposed to one Matt Flynn. Literally. Matt Flynn has started two NFL games more than Brandon Weeden or Ryan Tannehill, but will command an exponentially higher asking price.
Why? Name recognition—people know Matt Flynn. Just like they know Robert Griffin III. They knew Kevin Kolb, Matt Cassel, Trent Dilfer and Jeff Garcia, too.
Analysts have spilled countless gallons of digital ink poring over where and how Flynn would get his opportunity as an NFL starter. Browns fans know all too painfully well that fame and notoriety rarely equate to value.
Recent struggles aside, the Browns have improved ever so slightly with their drafting. They've come a long way from drafting the self-monikered Gerard "Big Money" Warren third overall.
Let's keep hedging our bets.
The Black and Blue Division
The path to the AFC North crown leads right up the middle.
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Whether investing financial or organizational capital, the Browns must consider where yardage, first downs, touchdowns and, by extension, victory, originates in the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls and led his team to another. His 2012 salary? $900,000. That's $100,000 less than Kolb and $4,350,000 less than Matt Cassel, neither of whom had won a playoff game when they signed their contracts.
That said, Roethlisberger took a pay cut to help his organization with the salary cap in 2012, and will make $11,600,000 in 2013- but the Browns will pay more to Seneca Wallace this season, who no one's insisting should start. What Browns quarterback would take a pay cut to stay here? Roethlisberger knows he will survive to collect his salary in 2013.
As we've always stated, the AFC North champion historically dominates the run game. That doesn't exclude solid quarterback play from the equation—the Steelers play their most devastating games when Roethlisberger and Wallace, Sanders or Heath Miller hook up downfield on third down play-action. The addition of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith in Baltimore helped Joe Flacco tremendously when called upon to stretch the defense for Ray Rice.
While the quarterback position remains important, the Browns' resources must address the issues preventing us from winning the division, not what keeps us from appearing on SportsCenter.
We Don't Know
Brief success does not a career make, even if you're paid like it.
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Matt Flynn has started two games in his NFL career. Granted, he performed excitingly well in both starts, but he's 1-1, with 731 passing yards, 9 touchdowns and two interceptions. Does that translate into $20 million in guaranteed money? Should we pay Matt Flynn $3-5 million next season, when he's never proven he can improve a team around him?
Flynn's rating in his 2010 start against New England was an impressive 100.2. True, Flynn enjoyed the support of a Super Bowl winning infrastructure both offensively and defensively, but 100.2 against the Patriots? That's tough to ignore. Colt McCoy's quarterback rating in his 2010 matchup with New England? 101.6.
Physically, McCoy may still be more gifted than Flynn and they're the same prototype, according to CBSSports' Ryan Wilson. Can we really dispute that if Colt McCoy were the clean-jerseyed free agent and Matt Flynn was our embattled incumbent, we wouldn't be taking out the pitchforks demanding we ditch Flynn for the shiny, new McCoy?
Bottom line? We don't know.