Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn may not see it now, but his backup status will be a good thing for his future. It means he'll have a little more time to develop. It means he'll have a little less pressure on his shoulders during a season when the Browns will try to mature into a playoff team. It also means he'll have a little better shot at becoming the Golden Boy quarterback that many Browns backers already figure him to be.
All Quinn needs to do is check the NFL landscape to see how valuable another season on the bench behind starter Derek Anderson -- who recently signed a three-year, $24 million contract -- could be for him. And this isn't another attempt to rehash the debate about playing a young quarterback early or sitting him down for a season. This is about what two years or more on the sidelines can do for a guy. The players who fall into that kind of good fortune, the ones with enough talent, seem to become far more productive when they get into the lineup these days.
Take last year, for example. Of the top 20 rated passers in the league, 10 of them didn't become full-time starters until at least two years had passed since their arrival in the NFL. There were also two other players (Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia and Arizona's Kurt Warner) who wound up playing in other leagues before proving they could prosper in this league. This isn't a coincidence, people. The reality is that succeeding as a quarterback in today's game has as much to do with settling down as it has to do with showcasing one's skill level.
Look at Jacksonville's David Garrard, who spent five seasons waiting for his chance as a full-time starter and then validated himself by throwing 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions last year. Dallas' Tony Romo is another example; he's a two-time Pro Bowler who spent three years on the sidelines in Dallas. There's also Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck (two years as a backup in Green Bay), San Diego's Philip Rivers (two years with the Chargers) and the promising Matt Schaub in Houston (three years as a backup in Atlanta).
These players received valuable educations during what seemed like endless waiting on the sidelines. As a result, their chances for success increased. "Brady probably won't have to wait as long as I did, but there are benefits to waiting a while," Garrard said. "It was better for me because I felt I needed time to engulf our system and learn what everybody was doing. I was able to get that through playing in the preseason, and I saw the game really slow down for me as each year went by. Over time, it got so easy for me that I knew I was ready for a bigger challenge than playing against [backups]."
Of course, Anderson also is proof of what ample time on the sidelines can do for a player. In three years, he went from the bottom of the depth chart with the Baltimore Ravens, the team that originally drafted him, to being named a Pro Bowl alternate for the Browns this past season. Anderson made that leap because he blossomed gradually and the Browns surrounded him with some Pro Bowl-caliber talent on offense. Without a strong supporting cast or the experience of holding a clipboard for that long, Anderson could've easily remained another middling unknown.
The bottom line here is that the more the Browns improve their team -- and they've already had a strong showing this offseason by acquiring players like defensive tackles Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers along with wide receiver Donte' Stallworth -- the better off Quinn will be if he gets the job. As Browns general manager Phil Savage said, "We've found out in Cleveland that it takes 22 [players] -- if not all 53 -- the coaching staff, and a good organization behind the team to really be successful."
What Quinn also needs is the time to develop a strategy to deal with all the responsibilities that come with his position. For example, Schaub spent part of his years in Atlanta preparing to be the face of a team, a role that includes constant media scrutiny, increased demands on a player's personal time and lofty expectations.
"The lessons I learned in Atlanta helped me have a plan in place once I got here," Schaub said. "I had a plan for how I wanted to go about my business [during the season] and prepare during the offseason. By sitting back and watching, I had a chance to develop my own routine."
It will be interesting to see how Quinn uses his current downtime to enhance his own game. Will he be more proficient in running the offense this spring and summer? Will he be more dynamic in practices and preseason games than Anderson, who will enter next season as the starter? Just as important is Quinn's ability to maintain the confidence that made him a first-round pick and Cleveland's quarterback of the future.
Garrard said the one thing he constantly fought in Jacksonville was the potential for doubt to creep into his mind while he waited for his shot. "[Former Jaguars quarterback] Mark Brunell used to always tell me to not let those demons get inside my head, the ones that tell you the organization is losing faith in you," Garrard said. "I know Brady Quinn probably doesn't have to think about that yet, but with the way Derek Anderson has played, it has to cross his mind."
So far, Quinn hasn't shown any inclination for self-doubt. His agent, Tom Condon, said the quarterback "is ready to compete for the job," and Quinn recently made similar comments to local reporters. The reality is that Quinn realizes he has to earn his way into being the Browns quarterback and that his pursuit of this goal might take longer than he anticipated. But when he looks back at his career, he shouldn't see this as a period of endless frustration. If anything, he should recognize this for what it will be: time well spent.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.