The suggestion was so insulting that Jake Delhomme had every right to spit out his lunch. However, the Browns newcomer calmly swallowed the bite of his peanut-butter-and-jelly wrap last week when asked about the perception that Cleveland's quarterback situation has gone from bad to worse since he arrived in March to replace Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
"It's pretty much been that way my whole career," said the 35-year-old Delhomme, who was released by the Panthers in March. "I'm an undrafted guy who wasn't even invited to the combine out of college. It is what it is. Until we go out and get some wins, it'll stay that way."
Arguably no other team is taking as big a gamble at quarterback as the Browns, who knew they had to make a change after Anderson and Quinn failed to command the respect of their teammates and the faith of their coaches last season. The two quarterbacks were so bad that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll basically took the ball out of their hands for everything but the exchange from center. Anderson and Quinn combined for only 33 completions in the Browns' five victories and threw for 90 or fewer yards in four of those games. In March, Quinn was traded to the Broncos and Anderson was released three days later.
Still, it's a roll of the dice to entrust your offense to a quarterback who turned the ball over 27 times and threw only nine touchdown passes in his last 12 starts. Delhomme, who led the Panthers to their only Super Bowl (in February 2004) and a 53--38 record in seven seasons, has not been the same since his six-turnover performance in Carolina's 33--13 home playoff loss to Arizona two seasons ago. He committed at least one turnover in nine of his 11 starts last season and threw a career-high 18 interceptions before being sidelined by an injury to his passing hand. That Carolina would release him despite owing him at least $12 million in guarantees was a red flag to some teams, but evidently not to Cleveland, which will have a new opening-game starter for the eighth time in the 11 seasons since it rejoined the league.
"You have to look at the body of work," coach Eric Mangini says of Delhomme. "We've all had bad years, but when you look at a guy's track record, you take in the full picture, not just one season. You also look at the human being. He has great leadership, he has great charisma, he's very smart, guys rally around him."
The feeling within the organization is that Delhomme, a career 59.2% passer, will rebound strongly, in part because Cleveland plans to lean heavily on its running game, which churned out at least 171 yards in each of the last four games of 2009, all of them victories.
"We're going to be able to run the ball," says first-year general manager Tom Heckert. Last year, Heckert notes, Cleveland quarterbacks completed less than 50% of their passes. "It's tough to win games that way," he says. "Jake has been successful before. He can complete the [pass]; he's accurate. As long as he doesn't throw interceptions, he'll be fine."
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