On Sunday Bill Livingston, columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wrote an column imploring the Browns organization and Browns fans to be clear minded when approaching the topic of Derek Anderson, who is set to become a free agent after this season. Livingston lays out a list of reasons why it would be reckless to sign Anderson to a long-term contract extension and then argues that the Browns should offer him a one-year contract for $2.5 million.
This makes sense. Such a contract would give the Browns ample protection against losing Anderson. The team could still match any offer Anderson received and if they didn’t match the offer then they’d be compensated with the first-round and third-round draft picks of the team that does sign him. This is a heavy bounty for any NFL team to pay, especially for a quarterback with only a year of NFL experience, which is why such huge signings rarely take place. Simply put, if the Browns want to keep Anderson around for one more season without doing serious damage to their salary cap then they’ll likely be able to do so. The $2.5 million contract offer is the best way to do that. Barring something completely unforeseen, this is what will happen.
My issue with Livingston’s column is that it fails spectacularly to address the interests of any faction of Browns fans. It takes an extraordinary effort to swing and miss that spectacularly. Let’s dive in to how he accomplished such a feat.
Livingston’s column begins with a simplistic view of Anderson’s performances so far this season, which serves as the basis for his argument that it would be reckless to sign him to a big contract. For example, Livingston writes:
“Most of Anderson’s big games have come against the league’s dregs. His two monster games were against Miami (now 0-10) and St. Louis (now 2-8). Cincinnati provided his third big quarterback rating game.”
Simply put, that Anderson’s best games came against his worst opponents is the dumbest rationale for anything ever. I do not know what this is supposed to prove. Were I playing small forward for the Knicks and assigned to guard LeBron James I would hope he’d have his best game against me. But that he had his best game against me wouldn’t prove anything about his ability as a player, and it certainly wouldn’t provide any evidence against the position that he’s an elite NBA player worthy of a monster contract extension. (1) (2)
Furthermore, in addition to the simplistic view of quarterback performance Livingston also invokes the unfounded view of quarterback performance, citing Anderson’s “two straight unimpressive performances” against the Steelers and Ravens.
When you consider that the Steelers and Ravens lay claim to the NFL’s first and sixth best defenses it is worth placing Anderson’s performances against each in context. After all, that’s what Livingston does when considering his games against weaker competition. So in context how does Anderson stack up?
Against the Steelers Anderson had a below-average QB Score per play (.46). It’s probably fair to say that this was an unimpressive performance, even if the game came on the road. No arguing with Livingston here. On the whole Anderson did indeed fail to impress against the Steelers.
Against the Ravens, however, Anderson had an above-average QB Score per play (2.59). Only a cynical ignoramus would think that playing above average against an elite defense in a division game on the road would constitute an unimpressive performance.
True, Anderson didn’t put up All Pro numbers against those two teams. But hardly anyone puts up All Pro numbers against these teams. Most quarterbacks put up undeniably terrible numbers in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Anderson falls somewhere in between, and he’s an awful lot closer to the positive end of the spectrum than the negative.
Now, I agree that the prudent thing for the Browns to do is offer Anderson a one-year deal. I don’t think anyone who knows anything about football would disagree. Which is precisely one failing of the column. This column is not serving the needs of interested Browns fans. When you’re the lead sports columnist for the largest newspaper in a region filled with rabid Browns fans, this is probably not the best way to go about things. In this regard he’s preaching to the choir. It’s the column equivalent of the straw man. He mailed it in.
Newsflash, Livy: LeBron James is good at basketball. There, I wrote your next column.
The column he wrote about Anderson best serves people who are only casual fans of football — namely, the people who think locking up Anderson to a six year deal right now is the best option for the Browns. However, if he really meant for this column to be aimed at casual Browns fans then he’s doing them a huge disservice by relying upon simplistic, unfounded views for evaluating a quarterback. He’s misinforming the people. He’s keeping the wool pulled over their eyes. Here’s a guy with an audience of thousands and the opportunity to affect people’s appreciation of sports for the better and yet he does no such thing. In fact, he reinforces bad habits and the same irrational Sports Talk Radio views that make so much of the mainstream sports media difficult to stomach anymore.
In one column Livingston fails the interested fans and fails the casual fans. He fails twice over, which, as I said, is a pretty spectacular feat. Failing on one level isn’t too difficult but failing on all levels really takes some effort. Failing on all levels is also the sign of a bad column.
Which is why I called it idiotic.
fn 1: Please dear god let the Cavs sign LBJ to a monster contract extension.
fn 2: Moreover, in a column imploring Browns fans to think about Anderson with a clear head — the implication being that we’re wonderstruck by inflated statistics earned against inferior competition — there is something incredibly weak about using a straw man Livingston to set up his argument. It’s a pompous move that’s completely full of bluster, like when a senile man on the streets says that unless you stop wearing red the devil will get you.