Browns quarterback timeline: Every starting QB for Cleveland since 1999, from Tim Couch to Baker Mayfield
There are quarterback factories, and then there’s the factory of sadness. Somehow, the Browns manage to be both.
The Browns have been searching for an answer to the quarterback position since Bernie Kosar walked the streets of the ‘Land. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to find The Guy, but have come up empty at just about every turn.
Whether it was first-round picks Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, Tim Couch or Baker Mayfield, veteran passers or former first-round selections, there’s been no shortage of options for Cleveland.
This offseason, Cleveland brass thought they’d gotten an answer at the QB spot after trading for (and extending) Deshaun Watson. Watson’s legal issues, though, have cast some aspersions as to whether or not he’ll be that guy, too. Now, Watson is set to serve a six-game suspension to open the 2022 season.
With former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield gone, Watson’s standing with the league unclear and Jacoby Brissett seemingly in line to take QB1 snaps this training camp, here’s a look back at all Browns starting QBs since 1999, here’s a lengthy reminder of just how bad the Browns’ situation has been over the last two decades.
Browns starting quarterbacks timeline
Tim Couch (14 starts)
Couch was drafted No. 1 overall in 1999, the year the Browns came back into existence after a few years out of the league. He’d remain the starter for four years.
Ty Detmer (2 starts)
Detmer bookended the season, starting the first game in 1999 and the last game that same season, replacing an injured Couch.
Tim Couch (7 starts)
Doug Pederson (8 starts)
Spergon Wynn (1 start)
Doug Pederson replaced an injured Couch, who had a broken thumb. Pederson would himself go down with an injury, being replaced by Spergon Wynn for a start.
Tim Couch (16 starts)
All 16 starts in the 2001 season came courtesy of the former No. 1 overall pick. It would be the first and last time Couch would finish the season with all 16 starts under his belt.
Tim Couch (14 starts)
Kelly Holcomb (2 starts)
Holcomb would start the first two games of the season. Couch would start the remaining 14, but break his leg in the final game of the season, leading to Holcomb starting a playoff game vs. the Steelers.
Tim Couch (8 starts)
Kelly Holcomb (8 starts)
Holcomb would replace Couch as starter in 2003, leading to the end of the Couch era. Across 62 games, Couch would start 59, throwing 64 touchdowns to 67 interceptions between 1999 and 2003.
Jeff Garcia (10 starts)
Luke McCown (4 starts)
Kelly Holcomb (2 starts)
Garcia was signed to a four-year, $25 million deal, but would only play a single year with Cleveland. Garcia, of 49ers fame, replaced Holcomb as starter after the first two games of the season. It didn’t go well — the Browns finished 4-12.
Trent Dilfer (11 starts)
Charlie Frye (5 starts)
Finally, the Browns have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Dilfer was traded to the Browns during the offseason to mentor rookie passer Charlie Frye, who was selected in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Dilfer, though, had issues with offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, leading to Frye starting the last five games of the 2005 season. It would be Dilfer’s only year in Cleveland.
Charlie Frye (13 starts)
Derek Anderson (3 starts)
After a somewhat encouraging end to the 2005 season, Frye was named starter in 2006. He would miss three games with a wrist injury, opening the door for Derek Anderson’s NFL debut. Anderson was a sixth-round pick of the Ravens the season prior.
Derek Anderson (15 starts)
Charlie Frye (1 start)
Well, that didn’t take long: Just minutes into the first game of the 2007 season, Frye was benched and replaced by Derek Anderson. Frye was then traded to the Seahawks following the game for a sixth-round pick.
Anderson would take the reins and start 15 games for the Browns the remainder of the season. Rookie first-round pick Brady Quinn would see minimal action.
Derek Anderson (9 starts)
Brady Quinn (3 starts)
Ken Dorsey (3 starts)
Bruce Gradkowski (1 start)
This is where the fun (or pain) begins.
There are QB carousels and then there’s what happened with the 2008 Browns, starting four different passers during the season. A lot of that was due to injury: Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey and Derek Anderson all ended the season on IR. Before that, though, Anderson was benched in favor of Quinn, who was then benched in favor of Anderson. Quinn would then miss the remainder of the season with a finger injury. Soon after, Anderson would suffer an MCL injury and miss the season.
Dorsey, who would start three of the final four games, would suffer a concussion, leading to Bruce Gradkowski starting the final game of the 2008 season.
Brady Quinn (9 starts)
Derek Anderson (7 starts)
The carousel continued in 2009, this time under head coach Eric Mangini. Wishy-washy performances by both Quinn and Anderson led to a few depth chart shake-ups. Ultimately, Quinn would win the job but be placed on IR near the end of the season.
Colt McCoy (8 starts)
Jake Delhomme (4 starts)
Seneca Wallace (4 starts)
New year, new QBs for the Browns: Cleveland would draft McCoy, signing Delhomme and Wallace as well. But injuries to both veteran passers thrust McCoy into a starting role.
Colt McCoy (13 starts)
Seneca Wallace (3 starts)
With Delhomme out of the fold, McCoy got his next opportunity to start in 2011, playing just above backup level before a concussion ended his season. McCoy’s head injury might be the most notable thing to come from a Browns passer in the last 20 years, considering the controversy surrounding his re-entry into a Week 14 game. It was the first year of the NFL’s new concussion protocol, and some were skeptical over the Browns’ decision to allow him to re-enter the game.
Brandon Weeden (15 starts)
Thaddeus Lewis (1 start)
Drafting a 28-year-old quarterback is so definitively Browns.
A second-round MLB Draft pick by the Yankees in 2002, Weeden spent years in the minors before enrolling at Oklahoma State to play football and becoming the Browns’ first-round pick in 2012.
Weeden would start the majority of the season, missing only the final game of the year with a shoulder injury. In his place, journeyman Thaddeus Lewis would start, making his only start with the Browns.
Jason Campbell (8 starts)
Brandon Weeden (5 starts)
Brian Hoyer (3 starts)
Injuries to Weeden and backup Brian Hoyer led to former first-round pick Jason Campbell making the majority of the starts in 2013. It wasn’t just injury, though: Weeden’s poor performance cast doubts over whether or not he’d be Cleveland’s passer of the future. As it turns out, he wasn’t: He was released following the 2013 season after just two years with the team.
Brian Hoyer (13 starts)
Johnny Manziel (2 starts)
Connor Shaw (1 start)
Another year, another first-round quarterback: The Browns selected sparkplug Johnny Manziel in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, with “Johnny Football” becoming “Johnny Cleveland.”
But, he had one of Cleveland’s own in the way: Brian Hoyer made 13 starts in 2013, keeping Manziel on the bench for the majority of the season. Manziel would play just two games, landing on IR to end the season with a hamstring injury.
Making an appearance in the season finale was undrafted free agent QB Connor Shaw. It was the only action Shaw ever had in the NFL.
Josh McCown (8 starts)
Johnny Manziel (6 starts)
Austin Davis (2 starts)
Another year of injuries to the Browns starters led to more shuffling: Josh McCown, named the team’s starter, would take a majority of the games during the season, with Manziel taking spot starts and ultimately being named starter.
The 2015 season would be Manziel’s last in brown and orange, and the team released him following the season. Manziel would never play another snap in the NFL.
Austin Davis would also make starts ahead of Manziel in 2015, including the season finale.
Cody Kessler (8 starts)
Robert Griffin III (5 starts)
Josh McCown (3 starts)
The Browns kept up their tradition of finding former first-round picks to start for them, turning to ex-Washington first-rounder Robert Griffin III after the failed tenure of Johnny Manziel.
RGIII would start all five games he would play in, missing a chunk of the season while on IR with a shoulder injury. Cody Kessler, a third-round pick out of USC, would see game time after backup Josh McCown was injured.
The Browns would end up with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
DeShone Kizer (15 starts)
Kevin Hogan (1 start)
Another quarterback room makeover for the Browns resulted in winning one less game in 2017 than they did in 2016. They finished 1-15 in 2017.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame product and rookie passer DeShone Kizer has to wear the massive label of going 0-15, with Stanford passer Kevin Hogan starting a single game mid-season.
The winless Browns would hold the No. 1 overall pick for the second consecutive season. There was finally, maybe, possibly, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Baker Mayfield (13 starts)
Tyrod Taylor (3 starts)
Baker Mayfield was taken No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft. The heralded 2018 draft class, which featured Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson was led by Baker Mayfield going No. 1 overall.
Veteran passer Tyrod Taylor would get the initial nod as the team’s starter, playing the first three games of the season. He was injured in the Week 4 matchup vs. the Jets, leading to Mayfield getting his first action of his career. He would lead the Browns to a comeback win, and end Cleveland’s 19-game winless streak.
Mayfield would remain the starter for the rest of the season.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Baker Mayfield (16 starts)
“Quarterback continuity” aren’t two words that Browns fans are familiar with, even to this day. But for more than one season, Mayfield was the guy at quarterback.
Under Freddie Kitchens, though, the Browns went 6-10, leading to Kitchens’ firing after the season.
Baker Mayfield (16 starts)
This time, under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, Mayfield seemed to be on the ascent. He started all 16 games, throwing 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions, helping lead Cleveland to an 11-5 record and a playoff victory over division rival Pittsburgh.
Things were looking up. Until…
Baker Mayfield (14 starts)
Case Keenum (2 starts)
Nick Mullens (1 start)
Mayfield battled through several injuries in 2021, but would only miss a handful of games as a starter. A pair of shoulder injuries on his non-throwing arm and a foot ailment derailed his season, but he’d still start 14 games.
Veteran starter and backup Case Keenum would take the reins for Mayfield in a matchup vs. the Broncos and the final game of the season. Nick Mullens would also make a spot start, replacing both Mayfield and Keenum, who landed on the COVID list.
Through it all, Cleveland struggled to an 8-9 record in the wake of various injuries to skill-position players and an uneven year from Mayfield himself. Then, they traded him to Carolina.
With training camps open across the NFL, the Browns will have to make due without Deshaun Watson for a number of games this season. That could lead to Jacoby Brissett to start: He’d be the 35th starting quarterback for Cleveland since 1999.
But if history tells us anything, you should probably expect QBs No. 36, 37 and 38 to make their appearances this year, too.