'Last Stop to Nowhere': The Browns' Infamous QB Jersey Has a Tale to Tell

Don BanksFeatured Columnist IDecember 8, 2017

Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch throws during the game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2002 in East Rutherford, N.J.  Couch completed 33 of 49 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns as the Browns beat the Jets 24-21. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bleacher Report/Getty Images

Some visuals wordlessly tell a story all by themselves. The Cleveland Browns' quarterback jersey is one such image.

You've seen it. We've all seen it. It's the jersey of hopes extinguished, simply yet powerfully capturing the litany of woes one star-crossed franchise has experienced in trying to fill the most critical position in football.

The statistics are mind-boggling, but almost familiar by now. In the 19 seasons since the Browns re-entered the NFL as a 1999 expansion team, the franchise has gone through 28 different starting quarterbacks. Cleveland has had just two winning seasons and a single playoff tripa one-and-done appearance in 2002in that span. For 16 consecutive seasons, the Browns have started at least two different quarterbacks, and often three or more.

The endless churn at the position in Cleveland has come to symbolize the Browns' dysfunction and failure. The prescient fan who decided to tape all of those crossed-out names on the back of a white No. 2 Tim Couch jersey was clearly on to something. Sometimes catharsis begins just by making a list.

The Browns jersey of quarterbacks past reportedly was "retired'' in the summer of 2016, when the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title, thereby lifting a portion of the city's sports curse. It had 24 names on it at the time, but that exorcism didn't quite do the trick. For the Browns, the beat goes on, as do the beatings.

After finishing 1-15 last year, Cleveland is 0-12 this season. Dating back to November 2014, the Browns are an astounding 4-45 (.082)—an epic run of futility by any historical standard, whether or not you trust the process. (Apparently the Browns don't, as they fired top personnel executive Sashi Brown on Thursday morning, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, to start the franchise's latest makeover.)

Photo courtesy of Brokaw.com

Seeking to put into perspective the almost two-decade odyssey that has been the Browns' quarterback search, we offer up a retrospective of the position that has become the toughest job in NFL history. Playing quarterback in Cleveland is professional football's version of the Bermuda Triangle, from which ultimately no one escapes unscathed.

Here are the recollections and reflections of some of those who played the position for the Browns, and some of the franchise's key decision-makers who made the calls along the way that led to Cleveland's string of failures at the game's most pivotal position. They are all firsthand witnesses to infamy.   

Like Peyton Manning to Indianapolis the year before him, Tim Couch was the first overall pick of the NFL draft in 1999, landing with the newly reformed Browns. His selection was presumed to launch a long and special relationship between a quarterback and his adopted Midwestern city, with some early struggles giving way to steady periods of success and the chasing of championships. Instead, Couch battled injuries and inefficiency for a good bit of his five years with the Browns, only once starting all 16 games (2001). He absorbed 50-plus sacks in two of his first three seasons in the league, went 22-37 as the team's starter and never managed a passer rating higher than 77.6. Couch has seen plenty of the infamous Browns quarterback jersey, and he knows whose name is at the top. 

Tim Couch, 59 games started, 1999-2003: It's frustrating to me when I see that jersey, for sure. There was not a doubt in my mind that I would play there for a long time, so I just kind of shake my head and think about what could have been. I should have been there for a long time.    

It's shocking to me they're still looking for a quarterback, because when I went there, I totally thought I'd be finishing up my career there within the last couple years. I thought I'd be a guy to be there 15 years or so. But injuries really set me back, and coaching changes. A lot of things happened up there.

After passing for 74 touchdowns in three years at Kentucky, Tim Couch was drafted first overall by owner Al Lerner (left) and the Browns in 1999.
After passing for 74 touchdowns in three years at Kentucky, Tim Couch was drafted first overall by owner Al Lerner (left) and the Browns in 1999.MARK LENNIHAN/Associated Press

Chris Palmer, Browns head coach, 1999-2000 (5-27 record): We started 1999 with [veteran] Ty Detmer at quarterback, and we got blown out at home by Pittsburgh 43-0 in our opener, and I said, 'Why go through this every week? Why not start Tim's development?' Later that year, we came back and beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, and I got a tremendous letter from [Steelers owner] Mr. Rooney that I still have and will cherish until I go to my grave.    

Carmen Policy, Browns team president and CEO, 1998-2004: When we started there, everybody in the building felt we should take a quarterback with our first pick, and when it was all said and done, the football people were all in on Tim. But the strategy was let's get Ty Detmer in here. He was a veteran quarterback and [Browns general manager] Dwight Clark and I knew him from the 49ers. He was a solid guy, a team guy, and he was the type of guy we felt would nurture and mentor and help develop Tim. If Tim didn't play until the end of the season, fine. We just wanted to take it easy and let everyone get their feet on the ground.

Then, of course, the coach made a decision after one game, when we really got embarrassed by the Pittsburgh Steelers on a Sunday night in our first game. He said, 'Look, I'm going to go with it,' even though it wasn't part of the plan. The plan was to not throw Tim to the wolves. But it happened. You don't interfere with the coach and his coaching, because he felt he should do it. But the bottom line is, I think we should have stuck with the plan. Because we knew we weren't going to have a very proud record that year anyway. And we didn't. We went 2-14.    

Palmer: Everybody is always critical, saying, 'Why didn't you get Kurt Warner in the expansion draft that year? [Warner went on to earn MVP honors and lead the 1999 Rams to a Super Bowl title.] The problem was [Rams coach] Dick Vermeil. He's sitting there, and he's watching Kurt Warner in practice every day, and he still gives Trent Green $25 million (according to an AP report, the figure was $16.5 million) to come to St. Louis [from Washington]. We had very little film on Kurt Warner. We traded for Detmer instead, and then we drafted Couch. But Couch got beat up.

There's 324 million people in the United States, and the NFL still has a hard time finding 32 who can play quarterback.

      

Though acquired to start in the Browns' inaugural return season, Ty Detmer was benched after a 43-0 Week 1 loss.
Though acquired to start in the Browns' inaugural return season, Ty Detmer was benched after a 43-0 Week 1 loss.DAVID MAXWELL/Getty Images

In 2000, the Browns' second season, the quarterback situation got markedly worse, presaging the game of musical chairs to come at the position. Detmer got hurt in the team's second preseason game and missed the entire season with a ruptured Achilles. Couch broke his thumb in practice and started just seven games. Doug Pederson, the current Eagles head coach, signed with Cleveland in early September and wound up starting eight games that season. Even one of the team's sixth-round draft picks that season, Spergon Wynn, got a start, his one and only as a Brown. He, too, was knocked out with a season-ending injury.

Cleveland started the season 2-1 with Couch under center, but it won just once after September, finishing 3-13. The Browns' only victory in the final 13 weeks of the season came at home against New England in Week 11. The loss had to sting for ex-Browns head coach Bill Belichick, who was in his first season with the Pats, and New England's rookie QB, Tom Brady, who the Patriots selected 16 spots behind Wynn in the draft that year.    

Policy: Bizarre situations just seemed to happen to us back then. We had [offensive tackle] Orlando Brown almost being blinded by the ref, Jeff Triplette, when his flag hit him in the eye [in December 1999]. It was one of those situations where you find yourself pointing 1,000 fingers in 1,000 directions.

Joe Banner, Browns team president, late 2012-early 2014: We wouldn't be having this conversation today if the Browns had just picked Donovan McNabb. [Banner was the Eagles' team president when they drafted McNabb No. 2 overall in 1999, one pick after Cleveland took Couch.] He was sitting right there. Ben Roethlisberger was sitting right there [in 2004]. Carson Wentz was sitting right there [in 2016]. It's not like they had to go make some major dramatic move, like the Eagles had to do to get Wentz. All the Browns had to do like five different times over these 19 years was, like, hand in the card. Just hand it in. Don't overthink it. Don't mess around with it. Just hand it in.

Couch: Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, their head coaches and quarterbacks have all been together for a long time. It's patience. Those teams have had down years, and their quarterbacks have, too. But they stick with them, and that's why they go to the playoffs so often. The Browns could learn just by looking at their own division.

Drafted 16 spots before Tom Brady, Spergon Wynn was one of three quarterbacks to start a game for the Browns in the 2000 season.
Drafted 16 spots before Tom Brady, Spergon Wynn was one of three quarterbacks to start a game for the Browns in the 2000 season.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

      

In retrospect, the 2001 and 2002 seasons in Cleveland were the relative glory days of the new Browns. Under head coach Butch Davis, who left the University of Miami job to take over in Cleveland, the team went 7-9 in 2001, starting the season 4-2 and showing marked improvement. Couch started every game that season, still the only time in 19 years the Browns have used just one quarterback.

In 2002, Cleveland took another step, rallying to win five of its last seven games to finish 9-7 and clinch a wild-card berth as the AFC's No. 6 seed. The Browns scored a pair of dramatic fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat visiting Atlanta 24-16 in Week 17, but the victory was marred by Couch breaking his right leg in the second quarter. Backup Kelly Holcomb replaced him and led Cleveland to the comeback victory, getting the Browns into the postseason for the first time since 1994.

Holcomb started Cleveland's first-round playoff game at AFC North champion Pittsburgh (10-5-1) and nearly orchestrated a miracle against the third-seeded Steelers. The Browns led 24-7 early in the third quarter, but Pittsburgh rallied and scored the game's final 15 points, winning 36-33 on a touchdown run with less than a minute remaining. The game still haunts Holcomb and the rest of the Browns, because with Cleveland leading 33-28 and 2:42 to play, receiver Dennis Northcutt dropped what likely would have been a game-clinching first-down reception on third-and-12, allowing the Steelers one last possession. Holcomb threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns that day, but the Browns lost, and they haven't been back to the playoffs since.

Kelly Holcomb, 12 games started, 2001-04: I tell people all the time, lives were changed with that one drop. Because if we get that first down, all we have to do is kneel on the ball and we win the game. I love Dennis Northcutt. Me and him, when I first got to Cleveland, we just clicked. And Dennis had made some huge plays in that game already. But that one play, third and whatever, we had that corner route and he just dropped the ball.

It pains me to think about that stuff, because I really believe things could have been different if we win that game in Pittsburgh. I really do. We win that game, and then we don't dismantle that team for salary-cap reasons. If we keep that team together and just added some pieces, I really believe the whole organization is on a different path today. I think this whole deal that's going on with the Cleveland Browns is totally different. ... [That drop] not only changed my life, it changed all our lives. It kind of changed the direction of the whole Browns organization.

Phil Savage, Browns general manager, 2005-08: They were still reeling from that play when I got there in 2005. It was referenced a lot inside the building, among the personnel people who were left over. I heard that a bunch in 2005 and 2006.   

Couch: We went to the playoffs my fourth year, so I thought we were on the right track. I was improving as a player each and every year, and the team was continuing to get better. We had a very good young football team, and obviously we still had a ways to go, but I thought we had some really good pieces there. And then all of a sudden, they blew the whole team up the next year, and it hasn't been right since.  

Policy: All I know is Tim Couch got us to the playoffs in 2002, and we're up 17 points at Pittsburgh. And we should have been 10-6 that year, because remember in our opener against Kansas City, when [linebacker] Dwayne Rudd took his helmet off before the game was over and that caused a penalty, allowing the Chiefs to kick the field goal and beat us 40-39? That's the kind of stuff that happened.

Couch: We had a quarterback controversy coming back the next year, which shocked me, because I'm the No. 1 pick in the draft, the face of the franchise and just took the team to playoffs, and I'm not going to be the starting quarterback the next year? So at that point, it started getting very toxic.

And in 2003, it was Butch Davis' decision to pull Kelly every time he had a bad game and put me in, and then do the same to me. It was very frustrating to Kelly and me because we just wanted them to pick a guy and stick with him. It went on the whole entire last year I was there.

Policy: After the playoff game, that offseason, Butch said to me, 'I've been talking to the coaches, and we actually want to start Kelly Holcomb next year. It seems like he's got what the coaches and players feel is needed for us to move forward.' I said, 'Coach, it's your decision. It's a little awkward because of the way we're financially structured, but you play who you want to play.' And that was the deal. They wanted Kelly to start the next year.    

Holcomb: The year we went to the playoffs, I thought we had turned the corner. We had a pretty formidable offensive line with Dave Wohlabaugh, Sean O'Hara, Ross Verba, Ryan Tucker and Barry Stokes. We should have kept those guys together. They all wanted to come back, because we knew what we had going and we all loved being a Cleveland Brown. There's no place like it to play.

Kelly Holcomb found himself in what appeared to be a weekly quarterback battle with Tim Couch in 2003 before both lost the job the following season.
Kelly Holcomb found himself in what appeared to be a weekly quarterback battle with Tim Couch in 2003 before both lost the job the following season.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

You go around the league, and there's little things about teams that people outside don't know about. The Browns organization, they started the cars for us in the winter. We had a barber come to the complex and cut our hair. They did things for you that a lot of teams just don't do. So all those guys wanted to stay. But our team after that playoff game got dismantled, and for the life of me, I just don't understand why.

      

The Browns unsuccessfully yo-yoed between Holcomb and Couch at quarterback in 2003, with each man starting eight games. Cleveland was 3-3 and beat the defending AFC champion Raiders in Week 6, but then the bottom fell out, with the Browns losing eight of their last 10 games to finish 5-11 and in last place in the AFC North. Couch was released after the season, and Davis, now the head coach and general manager, signed ex-49ers starter Jeff Garcia, 34, as the team's new starting quarterback for 2004. That's the year the Browns decided to pass on Ohio native Ben Roethlisberger with their No. 6 pick in the draft. Roethlisberger is 22-2 in his 14-year NFL career against Cleveland.     

Holcomb: [Former Browns offensive coordinator] Bruce Arians wrote this in his recent book, and I agree: Tim Couch was not a bust. I know he's considered that, but he wasn't. He and I get lumped together in the history of Browns quarterbacks, but we both handled it professionally. I ended up getting the starting job that year [in 2003], and I know he was upset, but we didn't change. People thought we didn't like each other, and that's not true. We helped each other. But Tim, in coming to an expansion team, he just didn't have the pieces around him. There's not many John Elways or Peyton Mannings or Tom Bradys who can carry a team on their back.    

Couch: It just felt like I didn't get to where I could show what I could do in the league. I certainly showed signs of it, and there were stretches where I played really well, but an injury would set me back or something else would set me back. Every time I felt like I was about to take the next step as a quarterback, and continue to develop and be one of the top guys, these constant setbacks happened once there was a little bit of success.     

Holcomb: The fans were so tough on Tim. He was getting injured and getting hit a lot, and I think that hurt his confidence, I really do. We all try to be tough guys, and we try not to read the paper or listen to talk radio in town, but it's in the back of your mind. When you get booed by your own fans, I mean, that's tough. I think that wore on him, and I think he lost a little bit of his confidence.

Beset by injuries and frequent coaching changes, Tim Couch eventually lost the trust of the team and its fans in Cleveland.
Beset by injuries and frequent coaching changes, Tim Couch eventually lost the trust of the team and its fans in Cleveland.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jeff Garcia, 10 games started, 2004: Signing with the Browns was a very optimistic situation for me. I had just had a pretty good run in San Francisco, but there was a change of the guard out there that led to my being released. I knew Cleveland was a die-hard football city, and their fans were loyal and passionate. Just knowing that blue-collar mentality, I was excited to be the guy coming in and hopefully having an opportunity to rejuvenate the organization. They'd been to the playoffs a couple years earlier, so they weren't far removed from being a quality team. It was a good change for me, and I was fired up about being part of that team.    

Holcomb: I had shoulder surgery that offseason, and they signed Jeff Garcia. Jeff's a good guy, but he'd been in a West Coast offense, and Bruce [Arians'] offense was not the West Coast offense. It was kind of tough for him to adjust. It was a tough fit for Jeff. It's not the same reads, and the West Coast stuff is more timing. But between my time with the Colts and Browns, I had been in that offense for nine years, and I was used to it. I loved it.

Garcia: Believe it or not, we had no audible system in that offense. Terry Robiskie was our offensive coordinator that year. But it's amazing in the NFL, not to be given the opportunity or the right to be able to check out of a play at the line of scrimmage. But based on our coordinator's philosophy, that just wasn't part of our program. The system was very basic. It was not up-to-date.

We were our own worst enemies in some ways. We had to overcome some self-inflicted challenges. People say, 'Oh, you weren't anything with the Browns,' and I say, 'Was it the quarterback or the organization?'

          

The 2004 Browns won their opener at home against Baltimore, 20-3, which was the last time Cleveland would start a season 1-0. But the good times didn't last, and a 3-3 record after six weeks unraveled into a 4-12 last-place showing. Davis abruptly resigned as the team's coach and GM after a 58-48 slugfest loss at Cincinnati in Week 12, and Robiskie took over as the interim coach for the final five games. Garcia opened the year as the starter, but he struggled, and Holcomb returned to the lineup. Rookie Luke McCown also started four games at quarterback, all losses.

By 2005, the Browns were starting over again, with Phil Savage hired away from Baltimore's personnel department to serve as general manager, Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel named the new head coach and veteran Trent Dilfer, 33, signed in free agency as a starting quarterback option. The Browns also drafted Charlie Frye in the third round, and in a rare bit of quarterbacking foresight, they signed rookie sixth-round pick Derek Anderson off the Ravens practice squad just before the opener.

Garcia: They bring in Romeo Crennel, and he decides I'm not his type of quarterback, I'm not his future. I had signed a four-year contract, but I'm released, and they start from scratch with Trent Dilfer and draft Charlie Frye. That next year, I'm playing with Detroit, and I go into Cleveland and beat them, even though I've got a broken leg from breaking my fibula in the last game of the preseason against Buffalo. That was fun.    

Jeff Garcia was not enamored with an offensive system that prevented him from calling audibles. He led the Brown to a 3-7 record in 10 starts with the team.
Jeff Garcia was not enamored with an offensive system that prevented him from calling audibles. He led the Brown to a 3-7 record in 10 starts with the team.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Savage: Because of all the turnover in the organization, the quarterback position had become such a focal point there. You need everyone in the building to line up behind one quarterback and say he's our guy, and we're staying with him through thick and thin. But that is just not even close to the reality in Cleveland. As soon as the quarterback throws a pick in practice, people there start getting shaky. Is he really the right guy? At the quarterback position, unless you're a transcendent talent, you need a sponsor, so to speak. When you look at the last decade, all the quarterbacks who have been taken by Cleveland lost their sponsor in a very short period of time.

Savage: Everybody who's been through there has done something ludicrous, crazy, out of character, whatever. In 2006, LeCharles Bentley, our Pro Bowl center, goes down on the first play of training camp. He was supposed to be Charlie Frye's personal protector that season, but it didn't happen. He never played again.

But that's small potatoes and seems somewhat reasonable compared to Cleveland in recent years. Since then, they've left people cross-eyed with their heads spinning. It's just amazing. Every time they think they've hit bottom, they're still trying to find bottom. They're longing for the six-wins-a-year era of Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel. I can't even imagine what that stadium is like on Sunday these days.

       

The Browns went 6-10 and 4-12 in Savage's first two seasons on the job, going through the likes of Dilfer, Frye and Anderson at quarterback. But in 2007, something clicked, and the Browns posted their finest season yet in their new incarnation, finishing 10-6 and barely missing the AFC playoffs. Frye had narrowly won the starting job in a training camp battle with Anderson, but he was yanked in the second quarter of a blowout opening-day home loss to Pittsburgh and replaced by Anderson. Two days later, Frye, the local boy who did not make good, was banished to Seattle for a sixth-round pick, and Brady Quinn, the team's prized first-round rookie, was elevated to Anderson's backup.

The Browns had surprisingly passed on Notre Dame's Quinn at No. 3 in the first round of the 2007 draft, taking standout Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas instead. But as the lower reaches of the first round unfolded with Quinn still on the board, the Browns struck a deal with Dallas at No. 22 and selected Quinn, seemingly securing their quarterback of the future. As usual,  it wasn't quite that clear-cut in Cleveland. Anderson seized the job after Frye's unceremonious exit and turned in his career year, throwing 29 touchdown passes and becoming the first (and only) new Browns quarterback to play in the Pro Bowl. Quinn, another local product who once wore a Bernie Kosar Browns jersey as a kid, would have to wait for his turn.    

Brady Quinn, 12 games started, 2007-09: Once the Browns didn't pick me at No. 3, I had written them off, and was excited to play against them and beat their ass, to be honest with you. The whole time before the No. 22 pick, I was talking to the [No. 29] Baltimore Ravens on the phone. So I had made up my mind for about 13 minutes while I'm talking to [general manager] Ozzie Newsome and [head coach] Brian Billick and [offensive coordinator] Rick Neuheisel that I was going to go play for the Ravens, and I was going to kick Cleveland's ass every chance I got and prove it to them.

Brady Quinn is still left with mixed feelings about his being drafted by the Browns after they initially passed him early in the 2007 draft.
Brady Quinn is still left with mixed feelings about his being drafted by the Browns after they initially passed him early in the 2007 draft.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Then, with two minutes left on the clock, I got a call from a 216 Cleveland area-code number. They tell me they're trading up to take me with the 22nd pick. My mind always goes back to that moment, thinking, like, what happens if I just didn't pick up the phone? I mean, would they still have drafted me, or what happens if I had just said, 'Nope, nope, nope. Screw these guys. I want to go play for someone else. You already passed on me once.' I always wonder. My mind goes there a decent amount. 

Derek Anderson, 34 games started, 2005-09: When they traded Charlie, Coach Crennel said, 'Hey, it's your job. Go do it. Have fun.' To be honest, I was a little frustrated that I wasn't the starter going into Week 1. They had drafted Brady in the first round that year, and people didn't think I could get it done.

But that year was special. We were 7-1 at home that year. We lost to the Steelers in the first game and then didn't lose at home the rest of the year. We had seven or eight (actually five) guys go to the Pro Bowl, and when we came back that next year, everybody kind of expected it to happen again. But we kind of lost track of how we got to where we got. Everybody had their little niche. But the next year, guys needed more balls, needed more this or that.    

Savage: We do a short-term deal with Derek Anderson after his big 2007. It gives him a huge raise, but it's a tradable contract for a starting quarterback. We've still got Brady, but we're thinking D.A. is a believable figure for us at quarterback. We're playing Tall Ball with D.A. throwing to Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius. It was a good combination of guys with that style of play.

But then 2008 went downhill. We got to 3-4 and we're at home against Baltimore in Week 9. We're tied at 27-27 in the fourth quarter, and Derek Anderson throws an absolute perfect post down the middle of the field, right in the middle of Cleveland Stadium, and Braylon dropped it. The year before, Braylon caught 16 touchdown passes, and we all got raises and extensions. In '08, he dropped 14 passes, and we all got fired. 

A season after helping to lead the Browns to a 10-5 record, Derek Anderson found himself on the bench after a loss to the Ravens in Week 9 of the 2008 season.
A season after helping to lead the Browns to a 10-5 record, Derek Anderson found himself on the bench after a loss to the Ravens in Week 9 of the 2008 season.Gail Burton/Associated Press

Anderson: I end up throwing a pick-six [to Terrell Suggs] not long after Braylon drops that ball, and then I get benched for Brady Quinn on Monday. That next week was probably one of the hardest things in my career, because deep down, I believed it wasn't Phil's decision and it wasn't Romeo's decision to move on at quarterback. My own personal opinion is that [Browns owner] Randy Lerner wanted it done. Things kind of spiraled out of control there at the end.    

Quinn: It wasn't D.A.'s fault when he got benched. It wasn't all on him. But he was the scapegoat, because that's how it's been in Cleveland.

      

The 2008 Browns sunk back to 4-12 and last place in the AFC North, and that brought about the hiring of Eric Mangini as head coach and George Kokinis as general manager in January 2009. Kokinis was fired by early November, amid reports of a fallout with Mangini, and it looked like Mangini would be gone as well shortly thereafter. But Cleveland won its last four games of the season to rally to a 5-11 finish, and incoming team president Mike Holmgren retained him for 2010. Quarterbacks Quinn and Anderson, however, were both sent packing. Quinn was traded to Denver and Anderson was released. (He later signed with Arizona.)

The 2010 Browns signed veteran Jake Delhomme, traded for Seneca Wallace and then drafted Colt McCoy in the third round. All three wound up starting at least four games that season, sharing the duties for another 5-11 season.        

Seneca Wallace, 7 games started, 2009-10: I had heard a lot of stories about Cleveland [while playing for Seattle from 2005-09], and when I got there, right away I recognized that it wasn't a healthy situation. I say that because Randy Lerner was somewhat involved, but he didn't really care too much about the Browns and what they had going on. Then Mike Holmgren came in as president and he was firing people, but he and Mangini didn't really see eye-to-eye in the direction he wanted to go with the team. It was all over the place.

Quinn: People had kind of warned me when I got drafted there. ... The environment around the quarterback position there is 'Who's the next guy in?' Everybody wanted a quick fix, and everything had to be a quick fix. There was no time to build a culture. We got to 10-6 the first year, but by the third year, there are widespread changes. And once Mangini comes in, I wasn't his decision. I'm not his guy. So you don't have anyone backing you.

Once you leave the team that drafted you, people don't look at you the same, and the logic at that point is why would they invest in you when the people who drafted you don't want to invest in you? So all of a sudden, you kind of have this stench coming off of you, and it's unfair.     

Wallace: People say, 'Wow, you played in Cleveland?' My uncle said it best. He said it's the last stop to nowhere. And it quite frankly is. A lot of guys have gone to Cleveland and you don't hear from them again. I mean, there's a long laundry list of names on the back of that jersey. I'm in the middle somewhere. You just sit and laugh about it. You know there's nothing else you can do. It's part of your journey. But until that organization gets it right, from ownership all the way down, it's going to continue to be a revolving door at the quarterback position.    

Quinn: It doesn't surprise me [that it's still going on in Cleveland], because I witnessed it firsthand. When they kept trying to do the same things they were doing back when I played there, that's the definition of insanity. They literally keep trying to do the same sort of things and expecting a different result, and it doesn't work out that way.

      

It still hasn't worked out at quarterback for the Browns, no matter who or what they try. The team was sold to Jimmy Haslam in 2012, and it has had four different head coachesPat Shurmur (2011-12), Rob Chudzinski (2013), Mike Pettine (2014-15) and now Hue Jackson (2016-17)in the last seven years. At quarterback, the likes of Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III and Austin Davis have come and gone. After last season's 1-15 mark, the 2017 Browns (0-12) are in the hands of rookie DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler at quarterback. (More recent Browns quarterbacks such as Weeden, Hoyer and McCoy were contacted for this story, but they declined to comment. Attempts to reach Holmgren and Mangini were also unsuccessful.)

Johnny Manziel won two of his six starts with the Browns. Seven more quarterbacks have started for the team since.
Johnny Manziel won two of his six starts with the Browns. Seven more quarterbacks have started for the team since.Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

That epic Browns quarterback jersey may have been retired last year, but the misery at the game's most crucial position continues in Cleveland.    

Banner: It shouldn't be that hard a thing to solve, yet there's an irrefutable 19-year history that says for some reason—really a series of different reasonsit's been impossible to solve. Who can possibly explain 19 years of a franchise where [at] the single most important position in the game, the most important in sports, you could never find somebody who was good enough to become your guy?

In my one year we were there, we at least found Brian Hoyer, and I believe he's the only quarterback who left with a winning record in those 19 years (10-6 in 16 starts).   

Holcomb: Oh, yeah, I've seen that jersey. Every time it comes up, I get so many people who text me and take pictures of it. It's so disheartening, it really is, because I do have a soft spot in my heart for Cleveland. I really hate where the Browns are right now, because there's no better fans. Everybody says that about their fans, but Cleveland has the best fans in the NFL, and if the Browns could win just a little bit, that place would explode, man.

Ever since the Browns have come back, we've been to one playoff game, which is kind of pathetic. I just hate it for those people, those fans. Because they deserve more, and it's kind of a vicious cycle at this point. It's a deal where they just can't get it right.

          

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Don Banks has covered the NFL since 1990, both as a beat writer for newspapers in Florida and Minnesota, and as a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for 16-plus years. He currently freelances and lives in the Boston area. Follow him on Twitter: @DonBanks.

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