Holmgren wants veteran presence of Delhomme to lead Browns
BEREA — Mike Holmgren knows Jake Delhomme is 35 years old and coming off the worst season of his career.
It’s his 92 starts, Pro Bowl season and Super Bowl appearance that appealed to the president of the Cleveland Browns.
“My own belief is this team needs an aging veteran,” Holmgren said. “They need a guy that is going to grab everybody by the throat and say, ’Follow me through that door.’ I don’t look at him as an aging veteran, I look at him as the leader I wanted.”
The Browns completed a two-year contract with Delhomme on Monday despite his eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions last season with the Carolina Panthers. He lost his starting job after 11 games and was unexpectedly released last week even though the Panthers still owe him $12 million for next season.
Delhomme took part in the Browns’ first day of voluntary offseason workouts on Monday.
“He called me first thing in the morning when he made the decision to sign,” Browns coach Eric Mangini said. “Better than coffee the way he felt. His excitement to be here, that rejuvenation, that passion that he’s had for so many years, it was fun to hear from a head coach’s perspective.”
Holmgren was still deciding whether to keep Brady Quinn when Delhomme became available, making the decision much easier. Quinn was traded Sunday to the Denver Broncos for fullback Peyton Hillis, a 2011 sixth-round draft pick and a conditional pick in 2012.
The Browns didn’t stop there, trading linebacker Kamerion Wimbley to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday for a third-round pick in April’s draft.
The move to sign Delhomme and trade Quinn, though, completed a whirlwind week for the Browns in which Holmgren made his biggest impact during his brief tenure in Cleveland. He was trying to avoid the dilemma that engulfed Mangini last year, when Mangini couldn’t decide between Quinn and Derek Anderson as his starting quarterback.
Now both are gone; Anderson was released last week. In their place are Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, acquired in a trade last week with Seattle. The Browns also have Brett Ratliff, who served as their third quarterback last season.
While Holmgren concedes that Quinn’s 12 starts with the Browns weren’t enough to make a fair assessment, he thought it was time to start over.
“I didn’t want to go into training camp with the type of uncertainty that they went into training camp with last year,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for the team.”
When Holmgren reviewed tapes of last season, he saw an offense that sputtered with both quarterbacks. Anderson and Quinn combined to complete about half their passes while throwing 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
“When your quarterbacks play the way they played, it’s pretty hard to win games in this league,” he said. “I just felt I wasn’t going to be doing my job if I didn’t attack that situation.”
In Delhomme, the Browns are getting a quarterback who led the Panthers to an NFC championship in 2003 and made the Pro Bowl in 2005. But he has also thrown 23 interceptions in his last 12 games, including five in a playoff game in 2008 and four more in last season’s opener.
Mangini was on the Patriots’ defensive staff when Delhomme nearly rallied the Panthers to a victory over New England in the 2004 Super Bowl. He threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in Carolina’s 32-29 loss to the Patriots.
“He’s a proven, consistent winner,” Mangini said. “I don’t think it’s uncommon for a guy to have a bad year. When you look at his body of work, I know what his touchdowns/interceptions ratio was, but there were a lot of good plays on that tape, too. Guys do go through bad years. He’s been very consistent in terms of his production and ability to win games.”
Holmgren made no promises to Delhomme that he will start, but it’s certainly the intention. That increases the chance Cleveland will draft a quarterback this year. Holmgren said he really likes Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, but admits Cleveland will have to trade up from its No. 7 position to select him. The Browns now have 12 picks in April’s draft.
“We have areas we have to address that are as crucial now as the quarterback,” Holmgren said. “This probably is the only year we’ll have all these draft picks, so we have to be wise.”
Mangini said the Browns were willing to trade Wimbley, who led the team with 6 1/2 sacks, because he liked the depth behind him at outside linebacker.
The trades leave Cleveland with just three first-round picks on its roster: center Alex Mack, left tackle Joe Thomas and tight end Benjamin Watson, recently signed as a free agent from New England.
The Browns have traded or released five former first-round picks over the last year: Quinn, Wimbley, tight end Kellen Winslow, and receivers Braylon Edwards and Donte’ Stallworth. All but Stallworth were drafted by Cleveland.
In return, the Browns have received nothing higher than a second-round pick.
“The idea of focusing in on where a player was chosen before I got here doesn’t hold a lot of weight with me,” Holmgren said. “I understand they were chosen for a reason, but maybe I look at things differently. You’re not going to get the same value most of the time as a first-round pick.”