CLEVELAND -- Finding Bigfoot has been more productive than the Cleveland Browns' search for a franchise quarterback.
This flawed football quest drags on.
For nearly two decades, the Browns, once a standard of NFL excellence and now a league punching bag, have been running in circles as they try to find a quarterback to lead them from the darkness to relevance and respectability. Since the franchise's inglorious expansion return in 1999, they've started 26 quarterbacks, a roll call of names that haunt even the most loyal Cleveland fans holding out hope the team will one day get it right.
From Tim Couch to Trent Dilfer, from Derek Anderson to Cody Kessler, and let's not forget that year of fun with Johnny Manziel, QBs have cycled through Cleveland like tourists, with none sticking around for long.
It's been a running joke.
And until the Browns find that long-term answer at quarterback, they'll continue to be looked at as a laughingstock.
They'll have another chance to perhaps end this long pursuit in this week's NFL draft. With the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks, and four more selections in the first three rounds, the Browns are positioned to finally fix the most important position on the field.
This could be the year Cleveland fans have longed for, the one when the Browns find their Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. But as fate would have it, this year's QB class isn't highly regarded. Many draft experts feel there isn't a quarterback worth a first-round selection and that Cleveland should wait until 2018.
That's just so Browns, whose experiment with Robert Griffin III backfired last season, resulting in the latest QB confusion.
"We're going to keep searching," coach Hue Jackson said recently. "I think we all understand, no one's really claimed this position yet on our football team so we need to do everything we can to continue to add a player that we feel, as an organization, really good about, that can lead our football team and we'll continue to chase that."
The chase continues Thursday when the Browns try to find that elusive, essential piece. Or fumble again.
Here are some quarterback tidbits to chew on when the Browns go on the clock:
UP TOP: Cleveland seems locked in ON Texas A&M defensive stud Myles Garrett at No. 1, and while he's proficient at sacks, there are no three- or seven-step drops in his future. The Browns are impressed with North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, a former Ohio Mr. Football, despite his inexperience (only 13 college starts), but probably not enough to take him first. Landing Garrett and Trubisky would be a dream scenario, but Cleveland may have to trade up as the rebuilding Jets have sent out vibes they prefer Trubisky.
WHY NOT WATSON? Clemson's Deshaun Watson would seem to fit Jackson's profile of the ideal QB: mobile, dynamic, successful. The Browns, though, don't seem enthralled with Watson - not in the first round anyway - unless their silence is a smoke screen. There are other good options like Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, Texas A&M's Patrick Mahomes or California's Davis Webb, who may all be available after Round 1.
DRAFT DEBACLES: The Browns' track record drafting QBs - or any position - is abysmal over the past decade, which is why many Cleveland fans fear the team will mess up again. Since 2007, only OT Joe Thomas and CB Joe Haden have proven to be good choices. Eight other first-round picks are no longer on the roster.
Along with Couch, the No. 1 choice in '99, the Browns have used first-round picks on Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Manziel, who was Johnny Goofball in an orange helmet. Those mistakes shouldn't deter the Browns from selecting a QB early, but they are grim reminders that there are no givens.
WAITING GAME: Would waiting one more year be so bad? Draft experts point to the 2018 QB class, led by UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold, as being more talented than the 2017 group. That wouldn't preclude the Browns from taking a quarterback later in this draft, just not in the first round.
HOMETOWN HEROES: Trubisky is the latest in a long line of Ohio-born QBs tabbed as the Browns' next savior. Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brian Hoyer all grew up as Browns fans, but none was able to lead the turnaround. If Trubisky is picked, the pressure on him to be the team's leader and face of the franchise will be immense.
BYE-BYE BROCK?: The Browns made a shocking move in free agency, acquiring QB Brock Osweiler, his $16 million guaranteed contract and a 2018 second-round pick from Houston. Cleveland made it clear Osweiler was not part of the future, but he's still on the roster and could be part of a fall-back plan if the Browns don't get their desired quarterback.
General manager John Lynch and the 49ers have created the desired intrigue about what the club will do with the No. 2 overall pick in this week’s NFL draft.
The team remains “open for business,” in the words of Lynch, to trade the second pick. If the 49ers are unable to find a trade partner, the team can do any number of different ways with that pick. The first round of the draft is scheduled for Thursday evening.
After edge-rusher Myles Garrett, widely projected to go to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 1 overall pick, there does not seem to be much separating the next dozen prospects on the board at a number of different positions.
Now, there is buzz the 49ers could go with a quarterback – likely, Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina – with the No. 2 pick. That possibility gained steam Monday morning with a report from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, citing “several sources,” that the 49ers are “strongly considering” selecting a quarterback with the second pick.
One league source last week told NBC Sports Bay Area some around the league believe the 49ers would draft Trubisky or Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
“If the 49ers are waiting on Kirk Cousins, just remember that Trubisky is a better prospect now than Cousins was coming out of the 2012 draft,” the source said.
Cousins, who is set to play his second consecutive year as Washington’s franchise player, was a fourth-round selection under then-coach Mike Shanahan, New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was his father’s offensive coordinator when Washington drafted Cousins.
Lynch has been open in his scouting and praise of this year’s draft class. He has attended workouts of top quarterback prospects: Trubisky, Deshaun Watson (Clemson), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) and Davis Webb (Cal).
"I think most of this quarterback class should be later down the line, whether it's first round or second round,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said recently. ESPN’s Mel Kipier and Todd McShay had Trubisky as the first quarterback selected by the Browns at No. 12 overall.
“I think these guys are somewhat getting a bad rap,” Lynch said at the NFL scouting combine. “You turn on the film, and there’s a lot to like.”
The 49ers head into this week’s draft with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as the only two quarterbacks on the roster.
The 49ers have shown no interest in re-signing any of the top three quarterbacks on the team’s roster last season: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. Each of those players remains unsigned.