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Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn?

Posted by Jason Lisk on November 28, 2007

The Cleveland Browns are going to face some decisions in the off-season at quarterback. They traded their 2008 first round pick to move up and draft Brady Quinn at #22 overall last year. Derek Anderson, who lost a coin flip with Charlie Frye in the pre-season, came in and started, presumably to just warm the spot until Quinn was ready, when Frye predictably faltered.

But then something happened--Anderson has been very good. And he is only 24 years old. But the other thing is that he is a restricted free agent. This means that the Browns can make a tender offer at different levels--presumably they would make the highest tender offer of 2.35 million, which is still very cheap for a starting quarterback. But then Anderson would be free to try to negotiate a deal with another team, and if another team signed him to an offer sheet, the Browns would have to either match, or let him go in exchange for a first and third round pick in next year's draft. So before you read further, play along at home, and see what your gut reaction is to the following two questions:

1. Who is more likely to have the better NFL career from this point forward, Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn?

2. If you were an NFL franchise in need of a starting quarterback, would you trade a first and third round pick for Derek Anderson?

The Cleveland front office and coaching staff will have to consider these questions entering next season. Who to go with, the hot young local kid, drafted in the first round, for whom you gave up a first rounder in 2008? Or the guy who you didn't start over Charlie Frye in the season opener? How they choose to answer this question may decide the course of the franchise for the next five years, or more.

As I see it, the Browns have four options to consider:

1. Be proactive and sign Anderson to a longer term deal, thus keeping him from becoming a restricted free agent in the first place. The risk is obvious--if he is a one hit wonder, you pay for years. The benefit is that the deal is probably a lot smaller than it would be a year later, and he is guaranteed to stay. Obviously, this move would insure Anderson as the starter in the next few years.

2. Tender the highest offer (1st and 3rd), and hope no one else signs him to an offer sheet for that compensation, in which case you have a cheap starter for the next season to compete with Quinn. If someone does sign the offer sheet, let him go, take the draft picks, and go with Brady Quinn as the starter.

3. Make the tender offer, but match any offer sheet, and let the league set the market price. The problem here, as we have seen in recent deals, is that teams can sign restricted free agents to deals that skirt the lines, with poison pill clauses, and make it difficult to match.

4. Franchise Anderson. This means you are going to pay a lot of money for one season, but not have a long term commitment. The downside is the large cap charge for next season, the benefit is that you are not committed to Anderson, can go into next season with him at starter, but evaluating both, and can push off the decision long term, until after the 2008 season. At that point, you can either sign Anderson to a long term deal, or let him go and start Quinn.

Now, I'll try to answer these questions looking at history. The answer is not as simple as saying that a first rounder is likely to be more successful than a late round pick (which is certainly true, as a general statement). Brady Quinn has not played any significant minutes, so his relevant comparables are all similarly drafted quarterbacks, before they played a snap in the NFL.

That is not true of Derek Anderson. His comparables, in light of his performance as a starter, even in less than a full season, no longer include the multitude of later round quarterbacks who never played any significant amount of time in the league. His comparables also do not include guys like Kyle Orton or Billy Joe Hobert.

So, here's what I did for each. For Quinn, I used all quarterbacks drafted in the first 30 picks, except for the first overall picks, since 1978. This also includes the supplemental first round picks. That is a total of fifty-one players drafted before this season. If you think Quinn is not the typical 22nd overall pick, because he should have gone top ten, and the Browns paid a premium for him--fine. Turns out, it doesn't really matter that much between being an early first and later first round pick, so long as we exclude the first overalls. And I don't think we can reasonably argue that Quinn should be viewed as a first overall pick prospect.

For Anderson, it was a little more difficult. If you define his breakout narrowly, then you get very few comparables. For example, here is the exclusive list of all non-first round picks who had a "passing value added" (I discussed my methodology for computing that here) of +500 or more in the first season they threw 150 or more pass attempts, at age 25 or younger:

Boomer Esiason
Marc Bulger
Dave Krieg
Charlie Batch
Brett Favre
Tom Brady

Right now, Anderson is easily on pace to finish second on this list behind Esiason. When I wrote about finding the next Brady or Bulger, I didn't even have the foresight to evaluate Derek Anderson, as he was seemingly buried behind the incumbent, Charlie Frye, and the future, Brady Quinn. Yet here they both turn up as two of his best comparables.

But with only six comparables, I loosened up the requirements. I settled on a "breakout" season of +400 passing value added. I moved the age requirement to age 26, and I didn't require that the "breakout" occur in the first season in which the player got 150+ pass attempts, just some time by age 26. Even with this, the list of comparables is only 26 players. But I felt going any lower than this on my definition of a breakout would bring in guys who never really had a good season, and not be fair comparables for what we are trying to answer, and going with older players, which would bring in Warner, Green, and Moon, among others, wasn't fair either.

As it turns out, in looking at my list of comparables and dissecting it any number of ways, the "Derek Andersons" dominate the "Brady Quinns" in virtually every measure, except for number of opportunities to continue to fail. Here is the complete list of Derek Anderson comparables, sorted by value added in their breakout season, age, and number of prior 150+ attempt seasons before the breakout:

player              value          age          prev.150+
Drew Brees          +1194           25            2  
Boomer Esiason      +1104           24            0  
Brian Griese        +1085           25            1  
Mark Brunell         +983           26            1  
Tony Romo            +890           26            0  
Joe Montana          +872           25            1  
Gus Frerotte         +822           25            1  
Don Majkowski        +813           25            1  
Jay Schroeder        +742           25            1  
Craig Erickson       +713           25            1  
Neil Lomax           +682           26            2  
Marc Bulger          +669           25            0   
Dave Krieg           +658           25            0  
Charlie Batch        +564           24            0  
Brett Favre          +561           23            0  
Randall Cunningham   +527           24            1  
Neil O'Donnell       +506           26            1  
Tom Brady            +501           24            0  
Eric Hipple          +484           24            0  
Tony Banks           +471           24            1  
Elvis Grbac          +446           25            0  
Rodney Peete         +443           24            1  
Jeff Blake           +420           24            0  
Scott Mitchell       +415           25            0  
Aaron Brooks         +403           24            0  

[NOTE: Through week 11, Anderson is on pace for approximately +1010 passing value added, which would place him between Griese and Brunell. Matt Schaub would also qualify for this list, at age 26, on pace for +728 passing value added through week 11].

The primary reason that the "Derek Andersons" dominate the "Brady Quinns" is because there are far fewer complete flukes from the former, compared to complete busts from the latter. Excluding Romo, whose breakout was last year, only 8% (2/25) of the "Andersons" started (i.e., threw 150+ pass attempts) in two or fewer seasons after their breakout--Craig Erickson and Jeff Kemp. Excluding the first rounders still playing who have yet to get to 3 starting seasons, 37% (17/46) of the "Quinns" started 2 or fewer seasons in their careers.

Of the players who reached at least three starting seasons, slightly over half (12 of 23) of the "Andersons" would post at least three more seasons of at least 400+ passing value added. The "Quinns" posted a similar rate, at 14 of 29. So, after the complete busts were removed, the "Quinns" and "Andersons" were about even in terms of number of consistent starters.

But what about the stars, and the really big seasons? 57% of the "Andersons" who started three or more seasons after their breakout posted at least one 1000+ passing value season. 45% of the "Quinns" who started three or more seasons posted at least one 1000+ passing value added season.

Even excluding the busts who were not given more than a couple of opportunities, the "Quinns" also had alot more poor starting seasons than the "Andersons". Of those that started three or more seasons, 13 (45%) of the "Quinns" were above +400 passing value added in 25% or fewer of their starting seasons. In other words, alot of the "Quinns" have lingered around to put up alot of mediocre to bad seasons, with the poster boys being the likes of Harrington, Mirer, and Dilfer. 6 (26%) of the "Andersons" were above +400 passing value added in 25% or fewer of their starting seasons.

I'll modify an old saying here. A quarterback in hand is worth two in the draft. Knowing that a lesser regarded quarterback has had a successful season early in his career (which rarely happens) swings the odds in favor of the quarterback who has actually shown something on the field, rather than the higher end prospect with potential.

As to my first question, who is more likely to have the better career, the answer is Anderson based on history. At this point, there is still a good chance Quinn simply does not have what it takes to be a starter, in which case Anderson is the correct answer by default. Even if Quinn does end up starting, the first rounders are no more likely to put up big seasons, or be a long term starter. Anderson is only 24 years old, so his upside is about the same as Quinn's right now, if not a little higher, with far less downside.

As for my second question, which may have seemed laughable, I think for much the same reason, Anderson would be worth a first and third round pick based on history. I guess this depends on how you view the value of the first round pick. If you are confident that you will nail the first round pick and draft like Bill Polian or Belichek/Pioli, then you wouldn't trade it. But then again, you wouldn't be looking for a quarterback in the first place. History would suggest that Anderson is worth far more than a non-first overall first round draft pick, if you were going to use that draft pick on a quarterback. Sure, he might be the next Scott Mitchell, Elvis Grbac or Gus Frerotte, but if you keep the pick, you have an even better chance of getting the next Mirer, Marinovich, McNown, Malone, McGwire or Maddox. If I were a team in need of a quarterback for next season, I would at least have to have my director of pro scouting reviewing every pass Anderson threw this year, to see if he was worth the first and third round picks, if the Browns did not franchise or sign him to a longer deal.

Conversely, the Browns know far more than others about the progress of Quinn versus Anderson in practice. If they are confident that Quinn can duplicate the success of Anderson, then they can accept a first and a third and let him go. But if they are not, it would be a huge error to make a 24 year old quarterback available.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2007 at 6:16 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.