Sunday, April 29, 2007

Free Fallin' | by Jay

Brady Quinn, for better or worse, will forever be the story of this draft. From the NYT:

Still, if Quinn was a little heartbroken when the Browns opted for left tackle Joe Thomas with the third overall pick, he concealed it well. He smiled and shrugged. He had said that he would not worry about sliding, because it only meant he would go to a better team with a chance to win sooner. But maybe Thomas had had the right idea. He declined the N.F.L.’s invitation to come to the green room, and went fishing with his father instead.

Then the picks went by quickly. Defensive end Gaines Adams to Tampa Bay. Offensive tackle Levi Brown to Arizona, to protect Leinart, who could have offered Quinn some words of wisdom. Leinart dropped to the 10th spot last year. The Redskins picked safety LaRon Landry, and Minnesota, which many believed might consider Quinn, went with running back Adrian Peterson.

That left Quinn alone in the green room. His number had not come yet. Atlanta picked defensive end Jamaal Anderson, then the Dolphins were on the clock.

The Dolphins’ fans at Radio City started chanting his name and the Quinn highlight reel was cued up on the big screens. But the Dolphins pulled off the first shocker of the draft, selecting receiver and kick returner Ted Ginn Jr.

Quinn’s face, captured at the moment of the announcement, tightened and turned grim. Commissioner Roger Goodell approached him. Perhaps, Goodell said to Quinn, you would like to sit in a private suite, away from the cameras, because you might not be picked for a while. A look at the draft order made that clear. Houston, San Francisco, Buffalo, St. Louis — none of them needed quarterbacks. The stunned Quinn agreed and went off to his exile. In Miami, fans booed the new coach, Cam Cameron.

“At a certain point, when you’re past those teams that you’ve built some sort of relationship with, you’re entering an unknown,” Quinn said later.

He stayed in exile for several excruciating hours. This had happened before to quarterbacks. Leinart’s slide was one of the most compelling stories of last year’s draft. In 2005, Aaron Rodgers sat in the green room until the Packers took him with the 24th pick. But Quinn’s wait was the worst. This ended up being the longest first round in the history of the draft — 6 hours 8 minutes.

While Quinn sat, there was a run on defensive players, with 13 of 16 picks in the middle part of the first round going to defense, including nine in a row. That included the Jets, who traded up to the 14th pick from the 25th to take cornerback Darrelle Revis, and the Giants, who took cornerback Aaron Ross at No. 20. Jacksonville, which had traded with Denver to get the 21st spot, picked safety Reggie Nelson.

Then Quinn’s phone rang. It was the Baltimore Ravens. They were working on a trade to get him. The Ravens’ interest perhaps indicated that the wait for Kyle Boller to become their quarterback of the future was nearing its end. During the day, Quinn had already begun to think that once he finally landed with a team, he would work to show the Browns what they missed. Perhaps he would do that for Baltimore. He hung up, and his cellphone rang again. This time it was the Browns. Dallas was on the clock with the 22nd pick.

“We made a trade, we are going to come get you right now,” Quinn said the Browns told him.

If it sounded a bit like a rescue, perhaps it was. As soon as Quinn started falling, the Browns began working the phones, calling teams as high as No. 12, hoping to find a trading partner. When Goodell finally called his name, Quinn looked to the heavens and exhaled heavily.

“I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” he said.

General Manager Phil Savage is banking on Quinn to improve the Browns’ record immediately. He traded the team’s first-round pick next year to Dallas to get Quinn. “We didn’t expect Brady Quinn to fall as far as he did,” Savage said. “We had Brady rated very high on our board, just not top three.”

Weis had already called Quinn. Quinn told him that things had a funny way of working out.

“Well, it ended up working out how we wanted it to, not exactly, but how we wanted it to,” Quinn said Weis told him. “Go out and prove everyone wrong.”

I sat down at 11am yesterday to watch the draft, fully expecting to be out of there in about 45 minutes. Four hours and twenty-one picks later I was finally able to turn off the tube.

Some bleary-eyed, pre-coffee thoughts at 6:40am...

• First off, here's the Why (as in, "Why the hell did he fall so far?"):
  1. Only a few teams really needed a first-round quarterback this year badly enough to spend first-round cash: Oakland, Cleveland, a couple others.
  2. Oakland satisfied their need with Russell.
  3. Cleveland picked the best tackle in the draft. Understandable.
  4. Miami screwed up by not picking Quinn.
  5. Once Miami passed, Quinn dropped twelve more slots because none of those teams had a QB as a #1 priority.
  6. Cleveland made their deal where they could, moving up ahead of Kansas City, who also might have taken Quinn.
Hence, Brady Quinn was the twenty-second player taken overall.

• Regardless of your fan affiliation, how could you not feel for Quinn yesterday? After Cleveland passed on him, ESPN had him on the split-screen for a reaction during damn near every pick, regardless of whether that team needed a quarterback or not. It was like a bizarro Academy Awards, when they have a camera on everyone and show the losers' reactions -- but with Brady as the lone, jilted nominee in every single category. Painful.

• When he was finally selected, there was a shot of Brady emerging from behind the screen, shaking his head, and exclaiming a long, audible, "Whew." When interviewed, he seemed miffed at the Dolphins (as miffed as Brady Quinn could seem), but he tried to put a good face on it. At one point Sanders asked him about "losing all that money", and Quinn pointed out the obvious: "Hey, I never had that money in the first place, so how could I lose it?"

• The Browns got lucky, and anybody who tries to say that this was part of their "master plan" is kidding themselves. I realize Cleveland is now claiming that they were trying to get back in ahead of Miami to select Quinn, but that doesn't pass the smell test. When Miami goofed, that opened the door. Lucky for Cleveland.

• That the Browns traded two picks, including their 1st rounder next year, could be significant. Brady, if he starts for the Browns, is controlling his own value -- but inversely so. The better the Browns do with Brady at the helm, the lower their first round pick next year, and the cheaper the cost of acquiring Brady in the first place. Weird.

• It was a perfect storm for Jamarcus. What other team in this draft would have taken him #1 overall? If the Raiders hadn't been picking first, Russell could have been the one "green-roomed" yesterday instead of Quinn.

[Update, 4/30: I stand corrected on this point. Based on a USA Today article today, Phil Savage, GM of the Browns, confirmed they would have taken Jamarcus #1 overall as well.]

• The reaction in Miami to the Teddy Ginn pick was hilarious. The knives are out for Cam Cameron and the Dolphins brain trust. You have to check out this video, a live reaction of Cameron trying to calm the masses while they gather the torches and pitchforks.

• The NFL Network's coverage was far superior to ESPN's. Just straight picks and commentary, as opposed to ESPN's cheese-packed circus with Boomer sputtering nonsense, Kiper's beady eyes, Suzy Kolber whispering sweet nothings to Brady Quinn whilst reclining on a lounge sofa, and those silly war room "reenactments". (I won't even mention Mark May.) Every time I flipped back over to ESPN, I caught that lame actor in the black and white "footage" exhorting his staff to "LISTEN UP! We're ON THE CLOCK!" I suppose it was better than last year's fashion show theme, but not by much. Listen up, ESPN: everything you touch turns to gouda. For unfiltered, underproduced, and just plain smart commentary (including some surprising prescience by our old friend Adam Schefter, who had nearly every pick confirmed by sources long before Goodell stepped up to the podium each time), NFL Network was the place to be yesterday.

• For Charlie's part, he's not exactly backing off his comparisons of Quinn to Manning and Brady:
"I don't think this is a guy who has to go to a program and be groomed for a year," said Weis in a conference call. "I think if ever there was a quarterback that was ready to go walking in the door - he got hammered for the last two years by me and can take it from just about anybody - he certainly would fit that description."

Weis, the former Patriots offensive coordinator who won three Super Bowls with Tom Brady, said Quinn already has two head starts on Brady, who was a thin, 185-pounder when the Patriots drafted him in the sixth-round.

"No. 1, physically, [Quinn] is a man amongst boys at the quarterback position," said Weis. "No. 2, he's already gone through those first two years of mental preparation. Not too many guys are going to be as good as Tommy Brady, but Brady Quinn has a big head start both physically and mentally."

Weis, who spent most of his career coaching with Browns coach Romeo Crennel, told his good friend that he lucked out by landing Quinn with the No. 22 pick.

"I told him, 'You got a starting left tackle [Joe Thomas] and a quarterback that can come in and challenge as a rookie,' " said Weis. " 'It doesn't get any better than that. You just brought in two dynamic football players. I don't know how many teams are as happy as the Browns right now.' "

Weis reiterated his bold pre-draft statement that Quinn is a combination of Brady and Peyton Manning.

"I look at the two top-line QBs in the league, Tommy and Peyton," said Weis. "In the not too distant future, you're going to be talking about [Quinn] in that pack of guys pushing up to that No. 3 spot."

He said he's confident Quinn will be able to handle the strong personalities of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. - something Charlie Frye was unable to do last season but vowed to improve on.

"[Quinn's] been weathered by the head coach at Notre Dame," said Weis. "As a rookie you have to earn the respect of the players, but when those guys see that the ball is being delivered in their hands, the kid knows how to read coverages and he has a presence about him in the huddle, they'll naturally attract to him."

Weis scoffed at reports that Quinn is inaccurate. He completed about 63 percent of his passes over his final two seasons, with 69 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

"I've said to [critics], 'I didn't realize you're the ones calling the plays and you know where the receivers are supposed to be,' " Weis said. "Almost anybody in the NFL would say, 'Please sign me up for those numbers right now.' "

Quinn, a four-year starter, agrees he can start right away.

"I'm very confident of that, and I think that's why a team would draft me in the first round and do what the Browns did," said Quinn. "It's my desire to step in and start."

Neither Browns General Manager Phil Savage nor Crennel made any promises about Quinn starting right away. He'll compete in camp with Frye and Derek Anderson, neither of whom could be reached for comment.

"The addition of [offensive coordinator] Rob Chudzinski and with Rip Scherer being the quarterbacks coach, I think we'll handle him the correct way," said Savage. "If Brady Quinn is the third-stringer this year, so be it. If he's our starter this year, so be it."

Weis gave Brady a little pep talk after he tumbled to No. 22.

"I said, 'You can be disappointed at the number you went, but you should be delighted that you're going to the Browns,' " said Weis. " 'This is a dream come true. You grew up a Browns fans, you love Ohio, and this is the place you wanted to be all along. Even though it didn't go according to script, you're where you wanted to be. So go into Cleveland with a little chip on your shoulder -- and prove to all the people in the Browns' organization and the team and to the fans that they're going to be extremely happy to have [you].' "
• Charlie's right. All Brady has to do to wash this day away is to strap it on and kick some ass. Time to walk the walk.