It's crunch time for Derek Anderson

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- If this were a heavyweight title fight, Derek Anderson would be significantly behind on all of the judges' scorecards.

And from this point on, Anderson needs to win every round that's left in the 2008 season.

The grand prize is the starting quarterback job for the Cleveland Browns.

The opponents are himself, NFL defenses, and who many fans in Northeast Ohio believe is a shiny knight waiting in the wings in backup and former first-round pick Brady Quinn.

After sputtering through four games and earning himself a short leash, it's make-or-break time for Anderson. He caught the NFL by surprise and earned his first Pro Bowl bid in 2007 with his 3,787 yards and 29 touchdown performance during his first full year as a starter.

But Anderson's first four starts this year have been anything but Pro Bowl-esque. He's passed for just 543 yards and has twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (three). Anderson's passer rating also is 49.9, which is the lowest of any quarterback in the league with at least two starts.

Now Anderson finds himself in a position where any start could be his last. His next opportunity to trade punches comes this week against the New York Giants in a nationally-televised game on "Monday Night Football."

"I'll just continue to prepare like I have every week," Anderson said Wednesday when asked about his status. "I'm going to go out there and have fun and make some plays."

Not all on Anderson

The Browns are off to a disappointing 1-3 start so it's easy to place the blame on the quarterback -- perhaps too easy.

But it is not Anderson's fault that receiver Braylon Edwards is among the league leader in drops. Edwards has at least six drops in four games. It's not Anderson's fault that receiver Donte' Stallworth, an important free-agent acquisition, has been out with a quad injury and missed every game this season.

Teammate Joe Jurevicius also got a staph infection this offseason following knee surgery and has yet to make it back in the lineup. Neither has offensive linemen Ryan Tucker (hip), who looks to return
Monday. Starting tailback Jamal Lewis also has played through hamstring and ankle ailments.

Key offensive cogs being injured or underperforming are some of the reasons why the coaching staff has stayed with Anderson up to this point.

"I felt like he gave us the best chance; that's why I stuck with him," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "I think in the fourth quarter [in a win] against Cincinnati it began to click. Hopefully that clicking will continue going."

Money at stake

There is a lot of money involved between these two players as it pertains to playing time.

Anderson signed a three-year, $24-million contract before the season with incentives that could increase the deal to $26 million. The Browns gave Anderson $7 million up front in a signing bonus and their immediate returns would look feeble if Cleveland permanently benched him five games into the season.

Meanwhile, Quinn is sitting on the bench as one of the lowest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL this year. After the 2007 NFL draft, he signed an incentive-laden deal that could pay him up to $30 million over five years as the No. 22 overall pick.

But through almost a year and a half of inactivity, Quinn has not met any of those incentives and the overall value of the contract continues to plummet. This year he is making the second-year minimum of $370,000. Quinn's salary would increase significantly to $1.693 million -- more than quadruple the original amount -- if Quinn plays 45 percent of the snaps this year.

It should only take Quinn eight starts to reach those playing-time incentives.

Futures at stake

Is Quinn the next great NFL quarterback? No one knows for sure.

But the Browns are trying to balance the futures of two young quarterbacks simultaneously, and it's a delicate act that will not go beyond this year.

For starters, Quinn will not sit idle for a third consecutive year. There is growing speculation in NFL circles that Quinn's representation would seek a trade if he doesn't get a fair chance to earn the starting job for Cleveland in 2009.

At the same time, Anderson's trade value has decreased after the slow start. In March, the Browns could have potentially landed a first- and third-round pick for Anderson when he was a restricted free agent. Now it appears Cleveland would be fortunate to land a mid-round pick unless Anderson lights it up during these final 12 games.

In addition, Anderson also is due a guaranteed roster bonus of $5 million in March 2009 that the Browns or any prospective trading partner will have to pay. That could also drive the trade value down.

But right now Anderson is under center this weekend against the Giants and in control of his own destiny. As the bell rings to fight his latest round Monday, it's time for the fourth-year quarterback to either step up or step aside.

"Sometimes the people that put you in these positions, you have to give them a chance to pull you out of these situations as well," Browns general manager Phil Savage said last week. "I think we have great confidence in D.A. I think the players in the locker room have confidence in D.A., and that's why we are in charge of putting the team out there and trying to run the team."