If the Browns defense can blitz opponents half as well as Phil Savage has blitzed the National Football League free agent market the 13 opponents on the Browns schedule are in for a long season.
Savage hit the ground running when he was hired Jan. 7 and he has not stopped. His first day on the job was spent with team owner Randy Lerner and team president John Collins interviewing Romeo Crennel, the man that would become head coach.
The latest Savage Salvo was to sign running back Chester Taylor to an offer sheet. Savage knows Taylor well, because Taylor played the last three seasons for the Baltimore Ravens - the team Savage worked for for nine years before taking the job with the Browns.
Taylor is a restricted free agent because he has been in the league only three years. That means the Ravens can keep the 5-11, 213-pound running back if they match the Browns offer, but it is a steep one. The Browns are willing to pay Taylor $2 million in salary and hand him a $1 million signing bonus. The Ravens have a week to decide what to do.
The Ravens like Taylor as a backup to Jamal Lewis, but they tendered him a low-ball offer of $656,000, which means the Browns would have to compensate the Ravens with a sixth-round choice if Baltimore does not match - a cheap price for the Browns to pay considering Taylor rushed for 714 yards as a sub last season with only two starts. In that regard, he is much like Lee Suggs, except Suggs began the season behind disinterested William Green, not Lewis.
The Ravens are in a pickle and will likely take until the deadline next Wednesday to decide what to do. They're going to look kind of silly matching - not that we'd mind - because they could have guaranteed Taylor returning by tendering him $1.43 million, as the Browns did with Andra Davis. A team signing Davis to an offer sheet would have had to fork over a first-round draft choice if the Browns did not match. Davis got no offers and signed his tender. No way would the Browns have risked losing a first-round pick by signing Taylor to an offer sheet. The reason they would have to give up a sixth-round choice is Taylor was a sixth-round pick (from Toledo) in 2002.
Savage's all-out attack in free agency has taken the pressure off reaching with the third pick in the draft. They do not have to take a quarterback because they traded for Trent Dilfer. They do not have to take a linebacker because they signed free agent Matt Stewart from the Falcons and re-signed two of their own, Ben Taylor and Davis.
Crennel wants to use a 3-4 defense and Savage gave him building blocks to do it with defensive tackle Jason Fisk and Stewart. Fisk, a 10-year veteran, will play nose tackle and Stewart outside linebacker. He can play inside, but prefers outside.
Are any of these guys marquee players? No, they are not. But what of it? As Savage himself says, if you break down the Patriots individually they aren't that great, but put them together as a team and you get three Super Bowl champions in the last four years.
Savage is trying to build the same sort of unit here - good, unselfish players who understand their role.
And it isn't just the additions Savage has made that have made the Browns better. When he dumps William Green it will be addition by subtraction. I disagree with their assessment of Gerard Warren in that regard, but obviously the Browns believe they are better off without him. Plus, Warren is going to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and I would rather have Dilfer than nothing by 2006 considering the Browns are not likely to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2005.
Certainly, Courtney Brown does not belong in the same category as Warren and Green. You will never find a better person than Brown. But what does that mean at 1 o'clock on a Sunday? What can Brown do for you from his normal spot on injured reserve? Nothing, obviously.
If Courtney weren't so nice no one would miss him. He has been a flop. A nice flop, but a flop. Savage has shown he is not afraid to cut from the past. Of course, that must be easier when it is someone else's past, but the early results are showing Savage is a take-charge GM.
From this perch, it's a welcome sight.