The Placeholder Legacy

The Placeholder Legacy

Dave Kolonich evaluates Jake Delhomme's Cleveland legacy.

In case you didn't hear, Jake Delhomme just became a salary cap casualty.

An eternity ago, I wrote a mini-thesis on how Jake Delhomme was easily the best quarterback of the Browns' expansion era.

Granted, this assumption was based largely on Delhomme's prior experience with the Carolina Panthers, where the Breaux Bridge, Louisiana native enjoyed a relatively successful NFL career. And of course my words were sheltered within the hopes of last summer's mini-camp, when it seemed possible that Delhomme's Cajun drawl and quirky release could spark an offensive revival in Cleveland.

As it turned out, none of these lofty projections came to be realized, as Delhomme suffered through two lingering ankle injuries – lasting only parts of five games. When he did play, Delhomme displayed both the kind of bouncy determination made famous in Carolina, along with terrific bouts of erratic play.

By the time Delhomme was permanently shelved following a dismal 13-6 loss at Buffalo, all memories of what fans thought could of been were long extinguished.

Contrasted with the heightened expectations after the Browns' first preseason game of 2010, in which Delhomme helmed the Browns' first-string offense for a productive clip, such an exodus was nearly an afterthought.

Besides, the overall team identity that once could have been forged by Delhomme was now distributed among younger talent such as Peyton Hillis, Joe Haden and Colt McCoy.

However, Delhomme's contributions to the 2010 Browns could be considered invaluable – at least based on both league and team history.

The Myth of the Placeholder Quarterback

The last couple days of free agency have served as a brilliant reminder of just what the NFL is all about:

Pure excitement coupled with ultimately meaningless hyperbole.

In the span of some 36 hours, I have followed my Twitter feeds with a winking eye, as both fans and media have been killing themselves to "report" every suspicion of free agent activity. All the while, the majority of free agent properties around the league have been repackaged as pure gold.

And very, very little has actually happened.

Think about it what constitutes "news" – both Matt Hasselbeck and Tarvaris Jackson are being bandied about as the "veteran bridge" for various NFL teams. Hasselbeck is being celebrated for a fluke playoff run, despite throwing for 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season, while Jackson can claim some 341 yards of production.

Yet, these players – along with the likes of Matt Leinart, who couldn't beat out the laconic Derek Anderson a year ago – will find their value grossly inflated in the weeks leading up to the regular season.

But then again – just wait until October when a struggling team decides to play their first-round quarterback instead.

If history were paying attention, it would know that last season's Delhomme signing could eventually prove monumental.

Simply put, Delhomme was the last of the authentic "placeholder quarterbacks."

On one hand, Browns' Team President Mike Holmgren spent roughly seven million dollars of Randy Lerner's money to get four starts, seven interceptions and a too-early dose of McCoy. And while Holmgren probably desired more than this modest production, he did get close to his money's worth – at least based on recent history.

I'm not sure where the cliché comes from, but for well over a decade football talking heads have cited a mostly imaginary scenario where a rookie quarterback "sits and learns" from a veteran tutor. Despite anywhere from 3-5 high profile quarterbacks drafted each year, this situation hardly ever occurs. Regardless of the caliber of play exhibited by the veteran, the rookie is usually inserted as a starter within the first couple months of the season.

Just in the recent expansion annals of the Browns, both Tim Couch and Charlie Frye received extensive playing times in their first years, while McCoy did the same last season– albeit because of rampant ankle injuries. Anyway, with the slight exceptions of maybe Kerry Collins, Gus Frerotte and Brad Johnson in recent years, typically a veteran placeholder is cast aside as soon as any sparks of development are found elsewhere.

In fact, you have to go back to 2003 to find a classic example of a veteran keeping the seat warm for a rookie. During that season, Cincinnati's Jon Kitna led a Bengal resurgence to mediocrity while rookie Carson Palmer watched from the sidelines. However, a huge gap lies between 2003 and 2008 – when two rookies in Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan took their respective teams to the playoffs.

And with four new rookie quarterbacks taken in April's draft, look for this myth to repeat itself. As for Delhomme, perhaps his 2010 is the new standard. If an NFL franchise can get four starts out of a veteran – before turning over the team to a rookie – maybe that's good enough.

Speaking of which, since Delhomme is no longer a Brown, it's probably worth considering how his Cleveland legacy is defined.

My Argument Still Holds Up

Let's move past bad haircuts, interceptions, fumbles and sprained ankles.

Delhomme's contribution to the Browns was significant in that he never stood in the way of progress. Unlike other quarterbacks of Browns' expansion past, Delhomme never pouted, haggled for playing time, engaged in back-channel sniping or tried to call attention to himself.

In most respects, Delhomme was the anti-Trent Dilfer.

When he was healthy, he gave a full effort and when he was not, he appeared to help McCoy and Seneca Wallace become better professionals. In tutoring McCoy alone, Delhomme's instruction could be considered immeasurable.

And while his play was significantly disappointing in retrospect, it's worth stating that he couldn't have helped the whole of last year's team more than any other player.

So in terms of lowered expectations – which is precisely what we're dealing with in regards to the Browns' expansion era – I can safely say the following.

Over the last brutal decade, Delhomme is the only Browns' quarterback who didn't set the team back or break our hearts.

Simply put, he was never meant to do so.

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