Passan: Action-Packed Off-Season

Passan: Action-Packed Off-Season

Rich takes a look at an active week for the Browns, and even agrees with Les on something! Two articles written by different analysts at the same time - which agree on the "most underestimated" free agent acquisition. Here's Rich's Rant, moved to Friday due to all the off-season news...

Never let it be said that Phil Savage isn't a man of action. He makes James Bond look like an amateur.

In one week, this dervish has whirled the Browns with a slew of moves that has created more excitement than this franchise has seen since its return in 1999.

That's what six seasons of mediocre football did to the starving Browns Nation. Six years of Carmen Policy, Dwight Clark, Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Pete Garcia can be mind-numbing.

The Browns needed more than a tinkering. Much more. They needed a facelift, an overhaul. So Savage donned surgical mask and gown, grabbed a scalpel and operated. Calling Dr. Phil.

The neophyte general manager, acting like anything but, brought his hammer down swiftly and decisively. As soon as the free-agency bell rang, he was out of the gate faster than a shark in tuna-infested waters.

If he continues at this warp-speed pace, most of the players who defined the Davis era should disappear by the end of the upcoming season.

Savage is clearly a man of his word. He said the offensive line would be addressed. The addition of Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman certainly can't hurt. But the underachieving Coleman triggers a concern or three.

Andruzzi brings a winning attitude, an attribute that has been missing for far too long. That can't be stressed enough.

Adding Gary Baxter is a sideways move, He's no worse than Anthony Henry, who was obscenely overpaid by Dallas. He's also no better.

Statistics are the true barometer of success for cornerbacks. And Baxter's one interception last season has to cause some apprehension.

True, opponents picked on him more than fellow cornerback Chris McAlister at Baltimore. But one would think Baxter could come up with a lot more than one measly pick all season.

Baxter is a safety who thinks he's a corner. He's got the size of a safety, hits like a safety and unfortunately, covers like a safety.

Here's hoping Romeo Crennel and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham can crawl into Baxter's head and convince him he can help his new team better inside.

Savage's best signing thus far sneaked in under the radar. Kyle Richardson's role as the Browns' new punter cannot be underestimated.

If a team considers field position important, it mandates a good situational punter. It needs a guy who can pin a team against its goal line, one who deftly and consistently drops punts inside the 20-yard line.

Derrick Frost's punting performance last season epitomized the Browns' season. Shaky and inconsistent.

One never knew whether Frost would boom a 60-yarder or bust one six yards from his end zone. His boom-or-bust season put the defense in hole after hole.

A good punter makes a huge difference in the flow of a game. Creating a long field for the opponent is a must. And Richardson, while not a boomer, can paint a sideline. Directional punting has become a lost art, but Richardson's palate remains colorful.

A puzzler was Savage's way-too-quick answer to Kelly Holcomb's surprising departure. What he sees in Trent Dilfer is a mystery. Signing him to a four-year contract furrows eyebrows.

No question Dilfer radiates confidence. That's his greatest asset. There isn't a negative bone in that body. Coming out of Fresno State 11 years ago, his braggadocio knew no boundaries.

Even when flat on his back in his six seasons in Tampa Bay – and that was far more often than he expected – his confidence level never fell. His leadership qualities far outweighed his talent.

Throughout his career, Dilfer has been a pilfer machine. Interceptions define him. He has balanced his 95 career touchdown passes with 105 picks and 55% accuracy.

He can stretch a field with his strong arm, but that's not what the Browns need. What's required is the kind of performance he gave Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001.

If you recall, Ravens coach Brian Billick used a four-tiered prescription to win: A strong running game, a great defense, solid special teams and a quarterback who keeps mistakes at a minimum.

And that's exactly what Dilfer gave him. After taking over for Tony Banks midway through the 2000 season, Dilfer avoided the errors that had plagued his career until then.

But that was for just one season. Billick cut Dilfer the following season. Kind of makes you wonder why.

What the Browns don't need is a mistake-ridden quarterback like Tim Couch or Holcomb or Jeff Garcia. Dilfer, if he plays within himself and keeps his mistakes at a minimum, will flourish here. But that's a huge if.

Judging from the overreaction of the fans, Dilfer will be the best Browns quarterback since Bernie Kosar. No he won't. He's not that talented. He is limited in what he can do. For starters, he is less mobile than Couch. That should raise a few flags.

That's why it's difficult to fathom what Savage was thinking when he traded a fourth-round pick – way too high – for Dilfer and then extended his contract. He can't be serious if he thinks his new quarterback can duplicate his Super Bowl year.

When judging Savage's ability to scout quarterbacks, consider that the Ravens drafted Chris Redman and Kyle Boller when he was Ozzie Newsome's right-hand man. That's all you need to know.

Savage now needs to add more than Baxter to the defense. If the Browns switch to a 3-4, the focus must be placed on obtaining quality linebackers. Without question, they are the lifeline of such a scheme.

So, the first week of free agency is history. And I find it somewhat surprising that so many fans believe the Browns are on their way. A lot of posts in the last week have used the P word for next season. Slow down.

Just because a lot of marginally talented malcontents are gone or soon will be does not necessarily stamp the Browns a contender. Yes, a lot of new faces will help. And yes, certain areas of weakness have been upgraded.

But the distance this team must travel to get where most of you want is greater than you think. Changing faces does not necessarily guarantee immediate success.

An amalgam of solid coaching, smart players and a shrewd front office usually constitutes a winning combination. Just look at the New England Patriots for proof.

Can the Browns do it? Of course. But that will depend heavily on the performance of Savage. So far, with one notable exception, so good.

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