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NFL free agency: Browns in the market for a starting quarterback

With 23 quarterbacks having started a game since the 1999 season, the Browns appear to be seeking a new signal caller.

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC North transformed into arguably the most formidable division in the league last season, as the North accounted for half of the AFC playoff participants, with the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens all earning a berth in postseason play.  The success of the three teams can partially be attributed to stable situations at the quarterback position, although each represents a different level of effectiveness.

The fourth member of the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns, have had no such consistency.  With 23 different signal callers suiting up since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, Cleveland's lack of success is a natural outcome.  The Browns, however, seemed to go into risk taking mode to find their franchise player, as they traded up to secure the drafting rights to a transcendent, yet controversial former Heisman winner; Johnny Manziel.

After a tumultuous season involving off-the-field issues and even more issues on the field, Manziel's future with the team is in doubt, a remarkable fall considering he's only entering his second season as a pro.  He recently checked himself into a rehabilitation facility to "fix" some issues with himself, leading to team to remain unsure about his immediate future as a Cleveland Brown.  Mike Pettine, coach of the Browns, recently visited his embattled young quarterback in rehab, saying he was doing better, but concluding it's "accurate" to suggest Cleveland will be in the market for a new quarterback this offseason, according to Darin Gantt of NBC Sports.

The team has reportedly shown interest in free agent QB Josh McCown as well as highly-touted draft prospect Marcus Mariota, who himself is coming off a Heisman winning season.  Pettine has also expressed interest in re-signing last season's opening day starter Brian Hoyer, who fell out of favor with the coaching staff late in the season before being benched in favor of Manziel.  Through necessity, it seems the Browns are right back where they started last season; unsure of the quarterback position and entering camp with a controversial quarterback competition set to unfold.

Either way, the team's unsuccessful quarterback experiments have lead them to occupy the proverbial AFC North basement in almost every season since their reentry into the NFL.  While teams like the Steelers and Ravens have won multiple Super Bowls in that time frame and the Bengals have been to the playoffs multiple times, the Browns remain stuck at the bottom.

The team has a patient, passionate fan base with a hardworking, blue-collar mentality, much like Pittsburgh, and they lack of success would be frustrating for any franchise, even one in a rival city.  Someday, the Browns will find their franchise quarterback; but it appears as if they might be waiting a while longer.