When Carly Simon sang “these are the good old days” in her 1971 single 'Anticipation', she wasn’t channeling the modern-day Cleveland Browns. With one playoff game, two winning seasons and no division titles since coming back to the NFL as a 1999 expansion team, Browns fans could almost be nostalgic for the three years in the late 1990s when they didn’t have a team.
Now the old Browns, they had some great quarterbacks: Otto Graham played his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Frank Ryan won a championship while earning his PhD. Brian Sipe went from the taxi squad to the Pro Bowl — never mind that the taxi squad was a Cleveland Browns invention itself, a precursor to the modern-day development squad — and Bernie Kosar took the team to three AFC Championship games. Looking backward can’t be helped for a team that won three NFL Championships in the pre-Super Bowl era, but hasn’t had one Super Bowl appearance.
The Browns are the only NFL team that wears the name of its city on the front of their jersey. I suppose they feel it's helpful to remind the public that they’re associated with a big-league city, and therefore are a big-league team.
This season Cleveland has had no less than six players so far throw passes in the regular season. They opened the year with three different starting quarterbacks in the first three games. This is a team whose QBs try to do the nearly impossible, escape injury. With a revolving door of both coaches and quarterbacks, you can look around the league and see several former Browns QBs, some of them on the active list.
Ranking of every Browns starting QB since 1999:
26 Bruce Gradkowski
We begin with Bruce Gradkowski, who recorded a 1.0 passer rating in his only start with Cleveland, a shutout loss to Pittsburgh in the 2008 season finale when he completed five of 16 passes for 18 yards and two interceptions. For comparison, consider that when the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six interceptions in a game at Kansas City this season, he recorded an 18.2 rating. You could hardly blame Gradkowski for the Browns' effort as a team. It was their second straight shutout, and their sixth straight loss, a stretch in which they were held to 10 points or less in each game. But he was hardly a novice starter. He opened 11 games for Tampa Bay during his rookie season of 2006.
Gradkowski played at Toledo as a collegian, but he wasn’t exactly an Ohio guy. He grew up in Pittsburgh and fulfilled a lifelong dream to play for the Steelers when he joined the team in 2014. Gradkowski’s stop in Pittsburgh was his third with an AFC North team. In 2011 he led the Bengals to a season-opening win over the Browns when he thew a lead-changing touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
25 Spergon Wynn
The Browns took Spergon Wynn in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. He was the sixth QB taken. Tom Brady, also a sixth rounder, was the no. 7 QB taken. Brady has played in six Super Bowls. Wynn played in seven games with the Browns, all of them coming in his rookie season of 2000, his only year with the team. In his only start with the team he couldn’t muster much offense in a 48-0 loss to Jacksonville, going 5 of 16 for 17 yards. His NFL career lasted only two years.
After playing for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe, he spent the 2001 season with Minnesota. It was something of a homecoming for Wynn, who began his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota before transferring to Southwest Texas State. Wynn went on from there to play four years as a backup in the Canadian Football League.
24 Connor Shaw
Shaw started the only game he played for the Browns, the season finale in his rookie season of 2014. He was a respectable 14-of-28 for 177 yards in a 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It’s interesting how many inexperienced QBs make their first start in the final week of the season. The highlight of Shaw’s debut was a 49-yard completion after eluding pressure, a necessary trademark of all Clevealnd QBs. He was undrafted in 2014 following his career at South Carolina, where he was 27-5 as a starter, and was unbeaten at home.
Shaw missed the entire 2015 season due to an injury and was released by the Browns in the summer of 2016. He drew the interest of the New Orleans Saints, but a faux pas by the Saints tipped off the Chicago Bears, who utilized their right to claim him first. Instead of emailing the league office with their intention to claim Shaw, the Saints emailed all of the other NFL teams. The Bears had the right to claim him first by virtue of an inferior record for the 2015 season. Shaw suffered a broken leg in the preseason, which sounds about right. Even former Browns quarterbacks can’t escape injury this year.
23 Thad Lewis
Undrafted in 2010, Lewis originally signed with the then St. Louis Rams, but gained his first regular-season experience with Cleveland in 2012 when he started the season finale, a 24-10 loss at Pittsburgh. He was effective, and had the game tied 10-10 on a touchdown pass that capped the opening drive of the second half. He completed 22 of his 32 passes that day.
Lewis went on to start five games with Buffalo the following season and led the Bills to a pair of victories in their sweep of Miami, a team that finished two games ahead of Buffalo. He is currently on injured reserve with San Francisco, having sustained an ACL injury in preseason. Lewis followed coach Chip Kelly to the 49ers after spending 2015 in Philadelphia. As a collegian he played at Duke, where he was a four-year starter. In his senior year he delivered 20 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions.
22 Josh McCown
The older brother to Luke McCown, Josh came to the team later, in 2015, when he started eight games. He won only once for a 3-13 Cleveland team, a 33-30 overtime decision against Baltimore in which he threw 51 passes for 457 yards. It was the Browns' first victory at Baltimore since 2007, when they also won 33-30 in OT. He started in Week 2 of this season when he fractured his collarbone against the Ravens.
Cleveland represents the seventh stop in a career that began in 2002 when he was drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals. It was recently revealed on Twitter that McCown’s daughter outfitted several of her friends with McCown’s former jerseys, representing his various teams, on jersey day at her school. He led the NFL with a stingy 0.4 interception percentage in 2013 when started five games for Chicago. McCown began his collegiate career at Southern Methodist before transferring to Sam Houston State.
21 Robert Griffin III
RG3’s time in Cleveland may be limited to the 2016 season-opening loss against Philadelphia which ended, for him, with a possible season-ending shoulder injury. He came to the team after spending the 2015 season inactive with Washington. Griffin was famously the no. 2 pick of the 2012 draft, a pick that cost the Redskins plenty in a deal with the then St. Louis Rams. At the time they surrendered three first- and one second-round draft choices. The Rams parlayed the picks into six total by trading down. In a 2014 game between the teams, St. Louis sent out the six players acquired from the deal for the midfield coin toss.
Griffin III played at Baylor as a collegian and was the Heisman Trophy winner for 2011. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but the final weeks of that season saw the first in a series of injuries that have marred his pro career.
20 Ty Detmer
Detmer was the veteran backup when the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. He started two games that year, bookending the season. In the season opener, he completed only six passes in a 43-0 loss to Pittsburgh. In the finale, a 29-28 loss to Indianapolis, he had the Browns up 28-19 after three quarters. Detmer was the Heisman winner for 1990 when he led Brigham Young to a 10-1 record after 11 games. His precision, short passing didn’t project well for an NFL career. He was a ninth-round draft choice in 1992 and played infrequently during a career that culminated with Detroit in 2003. He only saw action in eight regular seasons during a career that spanned more than a decade. Detmer had 25 starts overall, the most coming in 1996 when he went 7-4 with Philadelphia, helping lead the team to the playoffs.
He was traded to the Lions and his first start with Detroit came at Cleveland Browns Stadium in 2001, a game won by the Browns.
19 Austin Davis
After making eight starts with the then St. Louis Rams in 2014, Davis joined the Browns in 2015 and opened two games, both resulting in defeats. He wasn’t exactly a cost-effective player, generating a combined 15 points in the two games while throwing 84 passes. Davis was more encouraging in his first appearance of the year, coming off the bench and making things interesting in a 33-27 loss against Baltimore when he completed seven of 10 for 77 yards and a game-tying touchdown.
He played at Southern Mississippi as a collegian and won the 2011 Burlsworth Trophy, given annually to the best FBS player to have begun his career as a walk-on. He not only walked on, he threw for over 3,000 yards as a freshman in 2008 when he had 23 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions. As a senior he led the Golden Eagles to a 12-2 record.
18 Ken Dorsey
Dorsey is one of those QBs with an impeccable college record that didn’t transfer well to the pros, most likely due to short-to-medium-range arm strength. He played at Miami as a collegian, where he led the team on a 34-game winning streak. That streak was snapped in his final game, a BCS Championship loss in overtime against Ohio State. The prior season he led the Hurricanes to the BCS title. But he was only a seventh-round draft choice by San Francisco in 2003.
By the time he got to Cleveland in 2006, he was 2-8 as an NFL starter. In his three seasons with the Browns, he failed to throw a single touchdown pass, and surrendered seven interceptions. All seven INTs came in 2008 when he made the only three starts of his years with the Browns. In the final performance of his career, he threw three picks in a 14-0 loss to Cincinnati. He was a backup in the Canadian Football League in 2010 with the Toronto Argonauts. Dorsey has gone on to be an assistant coach with the Carolina Panthers, where he has worked since 2013.
17 Luke McCown
McCown is best known as the backup quarterback featured in the Verizon ad last year. He began his career with Cleveland in 2004, his only season with the team. McCown started four of the five games he played for the Browns, but went 0-4. He earned an 80.1 rating in this first start, throwing for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns against New England. That’s right, his first start came against a team that was in the middle of a back-to-back Super Bowl run.
Cleveland was the first of five stops so far for McCown, who only eclipsed 1,000 yards in the 2007 season with Tampa Bay, which was the last time he has thrown a touchdown pass. His 608 yards with the Browns represent the only other time he has thrown for 500 yards. McCown played at Louisiana Tech as a collegian. During his years with the Bulldogs the team had a winning record only in his sophomore season, when he delivered 28 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions.
16 Cody Kessler
In this, his rookie season, Kessler, a third-round draft choice, was pressed into service as a starter as early as the third game when he threw for 244 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions against Miami. He came from the University of Southern California where he played for two head coaches and two interims during his years with the Trojans. It remains to be seen if that proves to be good preparation for life with the Browns, who have had eight coaches and one interim since the 1999 reboot.
As a senior, Kessler led USC to the Pac-12 Championship game where they were defeated by Stanford. He became teammates with his QB adversary of the Cardinal, Kevin Hogan, who was signed by Cleveland shortly before the start of the season. Kessler got off to a good start in Cleveland, throwing a touchdown pass in the first preseason game. He quickly validated the Browns for selecting him as the sixth of the draft.
15 Doug Pederson
The current Philadelphia Eagles coach carved out a 10-year playing career after going undrafted in 1991. He started eight games in 2000, his only season with the Browns, winning just one game. The only other season in which he started any games was the previous year with Philadelphia when he opened nine contests. Pederson had a hand in coaching history, when he came off the Miami bench in a 1993 game against the Eagles to help Don Shula record his record-setting 325th win. He played at Louisiana-Monroe as a collegian, which was Northeast Louisiana at the time.
In his year with the Browns he threw only two touchdown passes against eight interceptions. The Browns won only three games that year, despite a 2-1 record after the third week. Tim Couch started the first seven games before his season ended due to a broken thumb. Pederson, who had previously played for Green Bay, 1996-98, rejoined the team in 2001 and spent four more seasons with the Packers.
14 Seneca Wallace
Wallace came to Cleveland in 2010 after five seasons with Seattle, where he rushed more than 50 times, caught six passes and returned one punt. He also did a bit of snap-taking as well, starting 14 games at QB, and throwing 184 straight passes without an interception. That stretch included a span of six INT-free starts. You would think that an athletic type such as Wallace, might be a little careless, but that was not the case. He was acquired by the Browns when his former Seahawks coach, Mike Holmgren, was the team president.
With Cleveland he opened seven games in his two seasons with the team, winning only once, a 23-20 win over Cincinnati in 2010. Wallace’s three starts in 2011 came in the final three games of the season as the team closed out the year with a six-game losing streak. He went on to to play one season with Green Bay in 2013. Wallace played at Iowa State as a collegian.
13 Jason Campbell
Just like his coach, Rob Chudzinski, Campbell’s only season with the Browns was the 2013 season. It was the next-to-last stop for Campbell, a first-round draft pick of Washington in 2005. He was something of a symbol of a season gone south. The 2013 Browns were 4-5 before the bye week and 4-12 overall. Six of Campbell’s eight starts came during the seven-game losing streak that closed out the season. Though he had only a 76.9 passer rating for the year he could be terrific at times. He recorded a 116.6 rating in his only win, against Baltimore, and bested that mark with a 116.8 rating in a 27-26 loss to New England. The win over the Ravens ended an 11-game losing streak in Cleveland’s “rivalry” with Baltimore, going back to 2008. He passed for over 2,000 yards in what was basically half a season of action.
Campbell did play in nine games, but attempted only four passes in the one game in which he came off the bench. He closed out his career the following season with Cincinnati.
12 Johnny Manziel
A first-round draft choice for 2012, Manziel was the third QB taken in the first round by the Browns over a six-year span. Like Brady Quinn (2007) and Brandon Weeden (2012) before him, he was taken 22nd overall. Manziel came from Texas A&M where he won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman. He turned pro after just two seasons. Though many college stars fall flat in the NFL, few do it with such spectacle as Manziel, who made more news off the field than on it.
Two years after his selection as a 19-year-old phenom, he was dropped by the Browns, and back at Texas A&M continuing life as a student. Though the Browns were shut out 30-0 by Cincinnati when Manziel made his first start, he did have his moments later on. He recorded a 372-yard passing performance at Pittsburgh during his second season, and closed out his time with Cleveland in a 17-13 loss at Kansas City, when he became the first QB in team history to rush for over 100 yards in a game.
11 Jake Delhomme
Cleveland wasn’t the last stop for Delhomme, but it was the last team for which he would start. He spent only the 2010 season with the Browns and opened four of the five games he played. Delhomme was 2-2 that year including a 24-23 win over Carolina, his previous team of seven seasons. He wasn’t particularly effective overall, with just two touchdown passes on the year against seven interceptions. Delhomme played at Louisiana Lafayette, then known as Southwestern Louisiana, as a collegian and was the only true freshman to start in Division-1 in 1993. He went undrafted in 1997 and didn’t play in a regular season game until 1999 with New Orleans.
Along the way he played in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals and Frankfurt Galaxy. Delhomme led Carolina to the Super Bowl in the 2003 season when he guided the Panthers to two road-game wins in the NFC playoffs. He led the league in yards per completion in 2008.
10 Jeff Garcia
Garcia came to Cleveland in 2004 after five seasons with San Francisco. He only had a one-year stay with the Browns, part of a five-year stretch in which he played for five different teams. Garcia was 3-7 as the Cleveland starter in a 4-12 season, with his top game coming in a win over Cincinnati in which he threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns. He went on to Detroit and led the Lions to a 13-10 win at Cleveland in 2005 when he ran for the game’s only scrimmage touchdown.
Garcia played at San Jose State as a collegian after transferring from Gavilan Junior College in Gilroy, California, where his father, Bob, was the head coach. He was undrafted in 1994 and played five seasons in Canada with the Calgary Stampeders. Garcia led Calgary to a championship in 1998 when he was the MVP of the Grey Cup. He closed out his NFL career with Philadelphia in 2009, and went on to play with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League in 2010.
9 Trent Dilfer
Cleveland was the next-to-last stop for Dilfer, who played one season with the team, in 2005. He started 11 games for the Browns and recorded four of the team’s six wins. Differ earned a 131.8 rating in a win over Green Bay when he threw for 336 and three touchdowns. He was traded to San Francisco in the deal that brought Ken Dorsey to Cleveland. Differ played at Fresno State as a collegian and was the No. 2 QB taken in the 1994 draft, No. 6 overall by Tampa Bay. When Indianapolis passed on Dilfer with the no. 5 pick they drew the criticism of draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., igniting the wrath of Colts GM Bill Tobin, who famously asked, “Who the hell is Mel Kiper?”
After six years with the Buccaneers, Dilfer went on to win a Super Bowl in his only season with Baltimore, 2000. Though he didn’t win MVP of the Super Bowl, he was chosen to go to Disney World.
8 Brady Quinn
At Notre Dame, Brady Quinn represented the throwing end of one of college football’s great passing combinations when he teamed up with Jeff Samardzija, who went on to baseball fame as a starting pitcher. It’s more than ironic that Samardzija would have the longer career on the strength of his arm. Quinn was a first-round pick in 2007, the first first-round QB taken by Cleveland since 1999. In three seasons, he won only three of his 12 starts and totaled just 10 touchdown passes. His career looked hopeful after his first start, a 34-30 loss to Denver in 2008, when he threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Quinn’s lone 300-yard game came in a 38-37 loss to Detroit in 2009 when threw for four touchdowns. Later that year he led the Browns to a 13-6 win over Pittsburgh, ending a 12-game losing streak against the Steelers, going back to the 2003 season. His time with the Browns ended in Kansas City when he passed for only 66 yards and had two interceptions. Quinn later surfaced with the Chiefs in 2012, and completed only 10 of 21 in a Chiefs’ loss at Cleveland that year.
7 Brandon Weeden
Weeden was the aging prospect who turned 29 during October of his rookie season. He was a first-round draft choice for 2012, the oldest first-rounder ever drafted. Weeden played minor league baseball after high school after being selected in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft by the New York Yankees. He spent five years in the minors as a pitcher and never made it to the majors. He began his collegiate football career to Oklahoma State in 2007 as a redshirt freshman. Weeden only played two seasons with the Browns, starting in 20 games and winning five.
His career got off to a rocky start as a Week 1 starter his rookie season when he threw four interceptions in a loss against Philadelphia. The team was 0-5 before he led the Browns to a 34-24 win against Cincinnati, snapping an 11-game losing streak going back to November of the previous season. In a 20-17 win at Oakland in December 2012, Weeden led the Browns to their first road-game victory since the early weeks of the 2011 season, snapping a 12-game losing streak on the road. He closed out his Cleveland career with a 370-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 32-28 loss against Jacksonville.
6 Colt McCoy
A Manning and O’Brien awards winner as the nation’s top quarterback in 2009 when he was a Texas senior, McCoy was drafted in the third round of 2010 by Cleveland after ending his collegiate career on a sour note. He left the BCS Championship game during his team’s first possession when he suffered a shoulder injury. McCoy played three seasons for the Browns and made all 21 of his starts during his first two seasons with the team. Life in Cleveland started out enthusiastically enough as he was a Week 1 starter who threw for 281 yards against Pittsburgh.
Another positive note: a 34-14 win over a New England team that went 14-2 that year. But after three seasons he moved on to San Francisco. In his time with Cleveland he threw 21 touchdown passes and surrendered 20 interceptions. A nearly 1-to-1 ratio isn’t the standard for a modern QB, let alone a former Heisman contender.
5 Charlie Frye
Drafted by Cleveland in the third round of 2005, Frye was the fourth QB taken in the draft. It was kind of the Browns year for QBs. Derek Anderson and Jason Campbell, who would later played for Cleveland, were drafted by Baltimore and Washington, respectively. In his three seasons with the Browns he started 19 of the 21 games he played, but won only six of the games that he opened. The worst part about his game was his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio: 17 TDs against 29 picks overall, and 10-to-17 in 2006 when he started 13 games. In 2007 he opened the season for Cleveland but was soon dealt to Seattle, becoming the first QB since the 1970 merger to start in Week 1 and be traded before Week 2. He did not play a game for the Seahawks that year, but made one start the following year.
Frye closed out his playing career with Oakland in 2009. One of his three starts with the Raiders was a 23-9 loss at Cleveland, when threw three interceptions. As a collegian he played at Akron where he passed for over 11,000 career yards. He was a hot prospect after winning MVP of the Senior Bowl.
4 Kelly Holcomb
The only QB to start a postseason game for the Browns since the 1999 reboot, Holcomb threw for 439 yards and three touchdowns in the 36-33 loss at Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoffs for 2002. He came off the bench in the playoff-clinching season-finale win over Atlanta and threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that drew the Browns within one. Holcomb came to Cleveland in 2001 and saw his first regular-season action since his rookie year with Indianapolis in 1997. He played four years with Cleveland and was an eight-game starter in 2003. Holcomb played at Middle Tennessee State as a collegian. He closed out his time with the Browns in the 2004 season finale, when he led the team to a win at Houston, snapping a nine-game losing streak. Holcomb completed 20 of 29 passes in the game.
3 Derek Anderson
The only Browns QB since the reboot to be selected to a Pro Bowl. Anderson earned that honor in the 2007 season when the team went 10-6 but failed to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh, also at 10-6, took the AFC North Division title on the basis of a season sweep of the Browns; and 10-6 Tennessee took the second of two AFC wild cards on the basis of a better record against common opponents. He led the NFL in yards per completion that year. Anderson was drafted by Baltimore in the sixth round of 2005 but saw his first regular-season action in 2006 with Cleveland. He played four seasons with the Browns and nearly had a .500 record at 16-18.
His time with Cleveland hit a low point when the team lost 10 straight over parts of the 2008 and ’09 season. The losing streak came to an end in a 6-3 win over Buffalo despite that fact that Anderson completed only two passes in 17 attempts. He went on to play for Arizona in 2010 before joining Carolina, where he still plays. Anderson played at Oregon State as a collegian
2 Tim Couch
The cornerstone of the Browns reboot, Couch was the no. 1 overall selection of the 1999 NFL draft. He played five seasons with the team and started 59 of the 62 games he played, opening 25 more contests than any other Cleveland quarterback since. Couch was sacked more than any other quarterback his rookie season, but gave Browns fans some memorable moments like the Hail Mary at New Orleans that gave the expansion model their first victory. He recorded two road-game wins at Pittsburgh during his years with Cleveland, and remains the only Browns QB to win at Pittsburgh since the reboot. As a collegian, Couch played at Kentucky, where he threw over 500 passes in 1998 in the Air Raid offense, a shotgun formation. This made him an attractive prospect for a team with a brand new offensive line — a brand new everything.
But hindsight can’t overlook Donovan McNabb, who went no. 2 in the 1999 draft, and played eight more seasons than Couch, who was released by the Browns after the 2003 season. The end began with his broken leg in the 2002 season finale, putting an end, for him, to the Browns only playoff season since their return to the league.
1 Brian Hoyer
Hoyer did the nearly impossible, carving out a winning record in his two seasons with the Browns. He is the only QB to have a winning record with the Browns since they came back as an expansion. He was 10-6 as a starter during the 2013 and ’14 campaigns while the team went 3-13 without him in the lineup. After the bye week in 2014, Hoyer guided the team to five wins over a six-game span, culminating with Cleveland’s first victory at Cincinnati since 2008. He had six games that season in which he passed for 275 yards or more.
Hoyer went on to Houston in 2015 and recorded another winning record, going 5-4 for a 9-7 team, though he threw four interceptions in a playoff loss. He played at Michigan State as a collegian but went undrafted in 2009. He began his NFL career with New England and spent one season with Arizona, in 2012, where he made the first start of his career.