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.
Savage obviously had free agency mapped out well. He signed guard
Joe Andruzzi on the first day, filling one gaping hole on the offensive line and
six days later landed Cosey Coleman.
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
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