INDIANAPOLIS: Browns coach Hue Jackson wants no part of immediately throwing a young quarterback into the fire again because rookies can melt too easily, especially at the sport’s most vital position.

Jackson said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine he doesn’t want to start a rookie quarterback right away next season, even in the likely event that the franchise drafts him first overall April 26.

“Would we have to [start a quarterback drafted at No. 1 overall right away]? I would hope not,” Jackson said at the Indiana Convention Center. “I would hope there’s other things. There are going to be other opportunities. We have free agency right upon us.”

So the importance of the veteran quarterback Jackson, new General Manager John Dorsey and the other Browns bigwigs plan to acquire cannot be overstated. They need someone who’s durable and capable of winning enough to keep a top pick at bay.

Jackson doesn’t even want to conduct a quarterback competition in training camp like he did last year. Second-round pick DeShone Kizer prevailed as the Week 1 starter and went 0-15 as a rookie for a team that went 0-16 after finishing 1-15 the previous season.

Now Jackson would prefer to know he has a veteran starter this spring.

“Everybody wants to do that,” he said. “There’s no question. You don’t want it to be a competition. You want to know who the quarterback is and move forward, but sometimes that doesn’t play out that way. We’ve had that happen like that, and here in Cleveland, too many times, let’s just be honest. We’re going to try to solve it.”

The legal negotiating period with the representatives of unrestricted free agents begins March 12. Teams can begin signing players and completing trades for them at 4 p.m. March 14.

Jackson hopes the Browns strike quickly by securing a veteran quarterback when free agency starts.

“If there’s somebody you really want, you’ve got to make sure you have the ability to put him on your team,” Jackson said. “Yes, I do [want to act swiftly].”

By now, you know the names of the candidates. Washington’s Kirk Cousins is the headliner, but he doesn’t seem like a realistic option for the Browns. Neither does New Orleans’ Drew Brees, who is expected to re-sign with the Saints.

Cincinnati’s AJ McCarron, Minnesota’s Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, the New York Jets’ Josh McCown and New Orleans’ Chase Daniel are set to hit the open market. Potential trade targets include Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor (coach Sean McDermott said Wednesday cutting him isn’t in the Bills’ plans) and Philadelphia’s Nick Foles.

McCarron is widely considered the favorite to land in Cleveland because Jackson spent two seasons with him in Cincinnati, covets him and pushed to trade for him in October. Although Jackson declined to comment specifically on McCarron, the coach discussed evaluating veteran QBs who haven’t played much. McCarron is 2-2 as an NFL starter, including 0-1 in the playoffs.

“You look at system, you look where they come from, who do they play for,” Jackson said. “I think there’s a lot of different, other variables that you can look at, and then obviously it’s projecting. Can a guy come in and play for you and do the things that you need him to do to help you win? I think you have to go through all of those different scenarios and play them all out to see what fits for you.”

Jackson explained the Browns are still working through which veteran quarterbacks they’ll pursue, knowing they’ll have competition and may not get their first choice despite being armed with more than $110 million in salary-cap space.

Hard sell for players

With a historically bad record of 1-31 the past two seasons, Jackson acknowledged it’ll be “hard” for the Browns to sell themselves to free agents, but they’re hoping the arrivals of Dorsey, his player personnel staff and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will help.

“It’s going to come from relationships that John has, relationships that I have, relationships that our other coaches have because some [free agents] are going to feel like they’re taking a chance [by signing with us],” Jackson said.

And some veteran quarterbacks might worry about joining a team that’s likely going to draft a QB at No. 1 overall.

“It’s a question I’m sure we’ll have to deal with, but at the same time, I think there’s only 32 of these [starting jobs], right?” Jackson said. “So if you have an opportunity to become a starter, why not take the position and don’t let it go? Just because you draft another quarterback doesn’t mean that the guy’s going to play. I think you got to make sure that if it’s the right fit for you, if it’s the right opportunity, you think it’s best, go do it.”

The rookie definitely wouldn’t start out of the gate if Jackson gets his way. Jackson and new Browns quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese were Bengals assistants in 2004 when Carson Palmer became their starting quarterback a year after the team drafted him first overall and kept him on the bench as a rookie.

“We haven’t made any decision about who’s going to be first, second [on the depth chart] or any of that,” Jackson said. “I think it’s too soon, but we’ll use all of our experience — John’s experience, my experience, Kenny Zampese’s, Todd Haley’s experience — to make the decision.”

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.