Finally, the Browns have done things right, at least in one respect.
Finally, they have put grunt before the glitz and glamour.
Finally, they have come to the realization that it doesn’t matter who the
starting quarterback is if the men in front of him can’t keep his uniform clean.
Finally, they have acknowledged what nearly every Browns fan has known since
1999 … that the team will have no chance to develop into a consistent winner
until the most fundamental and important area of the team, the offensive line,
Signing veteran guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman should prove to be two
giant steps in the right direction. Combine them with veteran tackles Ross Verba
and Ryan Tucker, along with center Jeff Faine, and you have the makings of a
strong line, possibly the best since the team returned in 1999.
Hopefully, the rebuilding won’t end there, however.
The above five might be good for starters, but depth is needed. The team
still must draft a young stud offensive tackle to groom for the future.
And there still is some question as to whether Faine, the team’s first-round
draft choice in 2003, is the answer at center. Rumor has it that some of the
decision-makers aren’t sold on his ability to be a dominating center. There also
has been talk of giving Melvin Fowler a chance to challenge Faine for the
Personally, I believe that if he is surrounded by quality talent, Faine will
surface and become the player everyone thought he would be after three
magnificent years at Notre Dame.I don’t feel the same about Fowler, a
third-round draft choice out of Maryland in 2002.
General manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel deserve plaudits for
recognizing the importance of building a strong line. Why it took until the
third head coach for this organization to realize this fact is beyond
Better late than never.
Previous decision-makers obviously believed the skill position players were
vital area of the team.
Sure, a new franchise wants to excite its fans by bringing in a glamour boy
to be the quarterback. And, quite frankly, I have no problem with that if you
then address the offensive line.
But the problem is, after picking Tim Couch No. 1 in 1999, they didn’t follow
up by taking an offensive lineman in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or
seventh rounds, despite having a plethora of extra picks. For some reason,
Dwight Clark and his people didn’t seem to realize an offense can’t be
productive without a solid offensive line.
The other thing I like about the new regime is that it didn’t immediately
make a big-name free agent quarterback of running back or wide receiver its
first priority when it came to spending big bucks.
Instead, on the same day the team allowed veteran Kelly Holomb to leave via
free agency, the Browns signed veteran cornerback Gary Baxter to a $30 million
contract. Is Baxter worth that kind of money? I don’t know. The reality of
matter is that probably no one is worth that much.
But Savage has a lot more first-hand knowledge of Baxter than most anyone
else, having been with him in Baltimore for the past few years. The departure
of Anthony Henry to the Cowboys made cornerback a priority. Again, plaudits go
out for filling a key hole on the defense.
But the new regime isn’t without fault.
I didn’t like reading the comment made by Holcomb about Savage and Crennel
after signing with the Bills. He indicated he wasn’t certain he could “trust”
the Browns’ decision-makers, thus leading to his taking less money to play for
Holcomb, who wanted to be No. 1, obviously knew the Browns were interested in
acquiring Dilfer from the Seahawks. He also knew that they weren’t going to
bring Dilfer in to be his caddy.
Thus, he packed his bags and shuffled off the Buffalo.
But the comment that was most disturbing came from free agent cornerback
Lewis Sanders, who was all set to sign with the Browns, but then made an
11th-hour switch to Dallas.
“I know I was taken advantage of,” Sanders said. “And the communication on
their end, I feel, wasn’t real professional.”
The Browns had made Sanders an offer, then backed away from the deal when
Baxter was signed.
Savage’s response: “All’s fair in love, war and free agency.”
That might be true, but those are things best said behind closed doors.
Savage also showed a bit of immaturity for taking the media to task for
playing up the departure of Holcomb over the arrival Baxter. He said there was
no comparison in the salaries of the two players and, as a $30 million man,
Baxter deserved the spotlight.
Maybe he was right. Maybe the media did make a much bigger deal out of
Holcomb leaving than was merited.
But Savage has to learn that you don’t make public your opinion of how the
media is doing its job. You don’t say things that will be heard and read by
Browns diehards everywhere. You don’t alienate the people with whom you are
going to have to work on an almost-daily basis.
A few years ago, then-director of football operations Dwight Clark was upset
about something the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Tony Grossi had written. To get his
message across, Clark went into the media room when no one was around and wrote
a note on the chalk board to Grossi, ripping him for the story.
Clark got his message across, but he lost a great deal of respect from
writers and broadcasters in the process. He should have confronted Grossi
one-on-one and stated his displeasure.
Likewise for Savage; confront the media that “overplayed” Holcomb’s departure
and point out why they were wrong. But don’t embarrass anyone in front of their
Hopefully, he will have learned a valuable lesson in how to handle the media.
And, hopefully, he will learn from his early mistakes in dealing with his
His signing of a couple of veteran offensive guards makes it much easier to
accept his early blunders.