Derry: Savage's First Moves Smart, But...

Long-time Browns writer and analyst Frank Derry takes a look at the Phil Savage's first moves as a General Manager. While Frank likes the direction the team has taken, he also has some early concerns. Must-reading for Browns fans tracking the early progress of the team's new brain trust...

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, is addressed.

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 starting job.

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 comprehension.

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 Buffalo.

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 peers.

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 players.

His signing of a couple of veteran offensive guards makes it much easier to accept his early blunders.

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