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Savage conducting chemistry experiment in Cleveland

5/1/2008
Derek Anderson threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2007, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. But was that enough to win over the fans in Cleveland? Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire

There is a chemistry experiment happening in Cleveland -- a project so volatile that it can last for only the 2008 season.

The subjects are Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, two talented quarterbacks under the age of 25. The problem is only one can sit in the cockpit of one of the NFL's most exciting offenses, which includes Pro Bowlers Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow and a stellar offensive line.

The chemist is Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, who decided this offseason that it was more important to keep both quarterbacks than accept draft picks to strengthen other positions.

The decision has drawn more ire than praise in Northeast Ohio. There is a saying that behind NBA star LeBron James, the backup quarterback is the most popular athlete in town, and without a doubt, Quinn is the people's choice in Cleveland.

Quinn's Golden Boy image screams franchise quarterback. He was a first-round pick, has a deep pedigree from Notre Dame and is one of their own, born in Columbus, Ohio, about 120 miles south. Quinn's jersey is the top seller in Cleveland, and he has yet to start a game.

It's a popularity contest Anderson will never win, not even with his 3,787 yards, 29 touchdowns and spot in the Pro Bowl this past season. He was even booed at home when returning from injury in the Browns' season finale, because it took Quinn off the field in his only action last season.

"Derek has played over 1,000 snaps, and there's still people that have doubts outside of our building," Savage said. "Brady's played 10 snaps, and people are convinced that he's the guy. It's really kind of illogical."

This type of experiment has been done before.

From 2004 to 2005, the San Diego Chargers delicately balanced their quarterback tandem of Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. Both were high draft picks and starting-caliber quarterbacks, but only one could see the field on Sundays.

Brees played well for the Chargers. In his last two seasons with them, he led the team to 21 victories and a 2004 playoff berth. But after sitting its first-round pick for two seasons, the organization had to choose between the two and went with Rivers. Brees in turn signed a long-term deal with the New Orleans Saints.

"All I know is we had talented quarterbacks and in time we addressed it," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said. "[The Browns] are in the exact same boat. They're pretty comfortable with the talent they have there right now, and they'll worry about next year next year."

Smith understands what Savage is going through because he faced similar pressure, but he believes the Browns made the right move in re-signing Anderson.

Quarterback injuries "can happen in a second," Smith says, and the Browns were able to protect themselves without making a long-term commitment. Anderson signed a three-year contract worth $24 million on Feb. 29.

"They rest will take care of itself," Smith said. "It could take care of itself through performance. It can take care of itself through injury. It can take care of itself through contract situations they might not be comfortable with."

Indeed, both contracts indicate Savage will have to split the two quarterbacks after this season.

Anderson is due a guaranteed roster bonus of $5 million in March 2009, and it's unlikely the Browns will pay it unless they are convinced he is the long-term solution. Meanwhile, the longer Anderson plays, the more money Quinn loses in his incentive-laden, five-year deal.

If Quinn doesn't see the field, he will be one of the NFL's lowest-paid quarterbacks this season. Cleveland is paying Quinn the second-year league minimum of $370,000 in 2008. His salary could increase to $1.693 million if he plays 45 percent of the snaps, but that's unlikely, unless Anderson falters or is injured.

Including all incentives, the maximum value of Quinn's deal was $30 million. But if Quinn continues at this pace without playing time, he will end up making just less than $8 million over five years -- a difference of $22 million. Quinn received most of his guaranteed money in March when the Browns paid him a $4.255 million option bonus.

"It's a great situation for the team," Savage said of having both quarterbacks. "It's not so hot for Brady Quinn, because only one of them can play at a time."

For now, Savage's influence has prevented Quinn and super-agent Tom Condon from demanding a trade. But rest assured, the player and his agent will not sit idle for a third straight year.

"Dr. Phil" has done an impressive job of massaging the egos of both quarterbacks and their representation.

Savage and the coaching staff convinced Anderson to re-sign with the Browns by giving him their backing to be their starter in 2008. Savage in turn has consoled Quinn and Condon that the team remains high on the second-year quarterback.

It's a diplomatic high-wire act that Savage walks every day in his own building.

Money eventually will end this chemistry experiment. But not until Savage and the Browns find out which quarterback is the right fit for their team.

James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com