CLEVELAND, Ohio – Remember when the Browns found a way to trade up and draft Brady Quinn in 2007?
“I thought it was more than an opportunity; it was destiny,” recalled Quinn.
Quinn was the kid from Dublin near Columbus who had a Browns poster on his wall. It was a picture of Cleveland Stadium with a headline proclaiming: WELCOME BRADY QUINN!
“I had that in my room from the time I was 5 years old,” said Quinn.
Some fans will recall watching the 2007 draft. Quinn remembered about eight players showing up in New York for the event, all of them expected to be selected near the top. And Quinn? There was a debate about him being the best or second-best quarterback, the other option being LSU’s JaMarcus Russell.
When Oakland opened the draft by grabbing Russell, Detroit had the next pick. The Lions went with Calvin Johnson, a future Hall of Fame receiver.
“The question you have to ask yourself if you’re a Detroit Lions fan is ‘Why not a quarterback? Why not Brady Quinn?’ ” said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper immediately after the selection was made.
The Browns were at No. 3. They had finished the 2006 season with 4-12 record. Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson were their starting quarterbacks. Quinn had set several passing records at Notre Dame. He was a great college player, period.
The Browns needed a quarterback. Quinn was rated among the top two in the draft. He also wanted to play for the Browns.
“I had a visit with them in Berea and it was awesome,” said Quinn. “I watched film and went over X’s and O’s with (offensive coordinator) Rob Chudzinski. Then I met (head coach) Romeo Crennel, and he was great. I was really excited about the Browns.”
Quinn’s highest praise was for general manager Phil Savage.
“He was one of the most genuine people I met during the draft process,” he remembered. “I kept thinking it would be great to play for the Browns – and I sensed they were sincerely interested in me.”
HOW DO YOU LIKE OUR HELMETS?
Quinn had reason to believe he’d be at least a top-10 pick. Most of the teams drafting high visited with him in person. But some of those meetings were … well … odd.
“I went to Oakland and met with (head coach) Lane Kiffin and then Mr. (Al) Davis,” said Quinn. “Lane told me, ‘We’d love to have you, but we’re taking the other guy.’”
Kiffin meant Russell. Al Davis was the legendary owner of the Raiders.
“He seemed most interested in looking at the different colors of silver they were using on the helmets,” said Quinn. “But it was cool to meet someone who was such a part of NFL history.”
Nonetheless, Quinn had to wonder, “Why am I here?”
He went to Detroit and met with the Lions’ staff. Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden traveled to the Notre Dame campus in South Bend to have dinner with Quinn, and they worked him out throwing to Bucs receivers Maurice Stovall and Michael Clayton.
The Bucs had finished 4-12. Their starting quarterback was Bruce Gradkowski. So they seemed a serious possibility to take him at No. 4.
CAN YOU TELL THE STORY?
Quinn also visited Washington, which had the No. 6 pick.
“I remember walking into the weight room and seeing Mark Brunell on the treadmill, staring at me,” said Quinn. Brunell was the team’s starter in 2006. Washington also had Jason Campbell. Neither was thrilled to spot their possible replacement.
Quinn talked to coach Joe Gibbs, offensive coordinator Al Saunders and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He enjoyed the conversations, but once again he was wondering, “Why am I here?” Then he met Washington owner Dan Snyder, and the Washington coaches urged Quinn to tell their boss why the quarterback decided to do the bench press drill at the NFL combine.
Quinn had been dealing with a minor injury and he didn’t throw at the combine. His agent Tom Condon and Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis told him not to lift weights at the event; to take it easy and get healthy for his upcoming pro day.
But a few NFL scouts at the combine convinced Quinn to do the bench press – which he did. He set an NFL combine record for quarterbacks by bench-pressing 225 pounds 24 times. He had more reps than star linebacker Patrick Willis, who had 22.
“Coach Weis let me have it in language that was, let’s say, very colorful,” said Quinn. “My agent also said I was wrong to do it, but he didn’t use the same language as Coach Weis.”
The coaches roared as Quinn told the story, which also amused Snyder.
“I think that was the only reason they brought me to Washington,” said Quinn.
THE SURPRISE PACKAGE
Quinn also met with Minnesota and Miami. Adding it up, he had visits with seven of the top nine teams picking in the NFL draft.
“I wouldn’t get past Miami at No. 9,” said Quinn. “I had a meeting with (head coach) Cam Cameron and (assistant) Terry Robiskie.”
In 2006, the Dolphins were 6-10. Their quarterback was Joey Harrington. They needed help at Quinn’s position. A few days before the draft, a package arrived at Weis’ Notre Dame football office.
“The Dolphins sent him bunch of stuff (hats, shirts, etc),” said Quinn. “Coach Weis called and told me about it. It seemed like Miami wanted me.”
THE LATE NIGHT CALL
The night before the draft, Savage called Tom Condon, Quinn’s agent.
“We really like Brady,” said Savage. “But if Joe Thomas is there, we are taking him at No. 3. I’m telling you this because I know how much Brady wants to be a Brown and I don’t want him to be disappointed.”
Condon called Quinn, repeating the message from Savage.
“I don’t know if this is a smoke screen or what,” said the agent. “I’ve never had a call like this the night before the draft. I wanted you to know about it.”
Because Quinn left Berea with such a positive impression of Savage, he believed the GM was telling the truth. Savage once told me the Browns had a vigorous internal debate about Thomas vs. Quinn at No. 3. Chudzinski pushed hard for Quinn.
Savage believed Thomas had a chance to be a great left tackle and couldn’t pass on that. In the back of his mind, he was considering ways to trade back into the first round and take Quinn if the quarterback slipped out of the top 10.
FINALLY, DRAFT DAY
Quinn brought several members of his Ohio family with him to the draft in New York.
“I know some guys stayed home,” he said. “But this was something great for our family. Some of them had never been to New York and would never go to New York again.”
Quinn wore a sharp suit. The crew from Columbus assumed their favorite player would soon have his name called. After all, he had set 36 school records and was a first- or second-team All-America selection for several media outlets.
Oakland took Russell. Detroit took Calvin Johnson, surprising draft guru Mel Kiper. The Browns kept their word and selected Thomas, who was fishing on Lake Michigan with family as their idea of a draft day party.
Other names were called: Gaines Adams, Levi Brown, LaRon Landry, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Anderson.
“It was Miami’s turn,” said Quinn. “I thought, ‘This was it,’ they were going to take me.”
During the draft, the cameras had focused on Quinn and his family, the discouragement bubbling up with each team calling out someone else’s name. At No. 9, Miami selected Ted Ginn Jr., the receiver from Glenville High and Ohio State.
“When that happened, I knew I was in trouble,” said Quinn. “Most teams coming after them didn’t need a quarterback.”
THE LONG WAIT
Soon, Quinn and his family were alone in the green room. All the other players in New York had been picked.
“After the top 10, I was hungry and I had to go to the bathroom,” said Quinn. “I finally got up and left.” Some of Quinn’s friends and family went out for food. They came back with Chipotle.
Commissioner Roger Goodell eventually took Quinn and his family out of the green room and away from the cameras.
“Playing at Notre Dame, I was used to being in the public eye,” said Quinn. “My family wasn’t. It was hard with the cameras on them. They didn’t sign up for this.”
As the hours passed by — as in four hours after the start of the draft — Quinn received a call from NFL Insider Jay Glazer.
“Baltimore is trying to trade up to 23 to get you,” Glazer said.
Quinn got excited. Baltimore. GM Ozzie Newsome, a former Brown. A good organization. Could play the Browns twice a year. Yes, Baltimore could be good. It would be fun to beat the Browns after they passed on him.
Quinn spent about 10 minutes on the phone talking to Newsome and others with the Ravens.
“I was ready to go to Baltimore,” said Quinn. Then the phone rang. It wasn’t Baltimore.
With about two minutes left before the 22nd pick was to be made, Quinn’s phone rang. The incoming call had a 216 area code.
“Cleveland,” thought Quinn.
It was Ryan Seelbach, a member of the front office. He said Cleveland had made a deal with Dallas for the 22nd pick, and Quinn was now a Brown.
“I was grabbing my jacket and someone was putting a Browns cap on my head,” said Quinn. “They were leading me out to the stage. I felt like I was watching myself in a movie, hovering over everything.”
The Browns traded their second-round pick in 2007 and a first-rounder in 2008 to the Cowboys for the 22nd pick and a chance to draft Quinn.
“I kept thinking about how I wanted to play for the Browns and it looked like it wouldn’t happen – then it did,” said Quinn. “It felt like destiny. It felt like my life had prepared me for this.”
Savage was overjoyed with the picks of Joe Thomas and Quinn.
“This will probably be the day that defines the Browns’ turnaround, if indeed it does happen,” Savage said. “If we are going to do it, this is one of those stepping-stone days.”
Savage talked about how he had been trying to trade up to draft Quinn starting at No. 12, and how he never believed the quarterback would drop to 22.
Maybe … just maybe … the Browns had found their quarterback.
THE HALLEY’S COMET SEASON
Quinn missed the start of training camp because of a brief holdout, but the Browns had already decided they’d open the 2007 season with Anderson or Frye. They didn’t want to rush Quinn, but they believed that at some point, the rookie would take over.
Frye started the opener. He was benched late in the second quarter in favor of Anderson. Then Anderson had a career year, leading the Browns to a 10-6 record. Quinn threw only eight passes that season.
Anderson was a good quarterback for a winning team in Cleveland. That winning season was like a comet streaking across the sky – here and gone. In 2008, Anderson started, then was benched. Then Quinn took over. He got hurt. Anderson came back. He got hurt. The Browns went through four quarterbacks.
They finished 4-12 in 2008. Savage and the coaching staff were fired.
THE HARSH NFL REALITY
In the rearview mirror of life, Quinn was overrated coming out of Notre Dame. But Savage and some others believe he could have been a solid starter in the right system.
“A quarterback needs a sponsor, someone who can get the organization to believe in him,” said Savage. “After I was fired, Brady lost that.”
Eric Mangini became coach in 2009. He didn’t like Anderson or Quinn. He kept switching quarterbacks. Quinn also suffered some more injuries. Then he was traded to Denver. By 2010, Quinn had gone from promising prospect to a guy trying to keep a job as a backup.
“In 2008, I got a chance to play, but broke my right index finger and had two pins put in,” said Quinn. “I tried to play with it, but I could hardly grip the ball.”
The reason Denver traded for Quinn was coach Josh McDaniels liked him. But 12 games into the 2010 season, McDaniels was fired. Quinn later went to Kansas City and started eight games in 2012 for a bad team. He had two major concussions and a significant back surgery. He bounced from New England to the Jets to Miami before retiring in 2014. He started 20 games in his seven-year career.
“Stability is so important,” said Quinn. “It’s hard for any quarterback when you keep changing coaches and systems. Baker (Mayfield) just went through that, and it’s why I think you’ll see him play even better this year for the Browns. Continuity means so much.”
What if he had ended up with Baltimore, a winning and stable organization?
“I think about that once in a while,” said Quinn. “I saw what Joe (Flacco) did there. Maybe it would have been different for me.”
Quinn has reinvented himself with Fox Sports doing NFL and college games. He also does talk radio. He’s a natural in the media.
“I remember calling five NFL games in 2014 right after Miami let me go,” he said. “I enjoyed it, but kept thinking I should be down there – playing. I missed it. But I’m grateful I got to play. I’m still a Browns fan, I was really excited to see what they did last season.”
“I follow them closely,” he said. “This is the best roster they’ve had since they came back in 1999. They really have a chance to be special this season.”
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