The rivalry between the Browns and Ravens lost a little pizzazz last year
when Art Modell sold all but a tiny portion of the team he moved from Cleveland
in 1996 to Steve Bisciotti, a likeable guy who had nothing to do with the move.
Phil Savage, the former Ravens director of player personnel and
now the Browns general manager, is doing his best to stoke the fires and get the
rivalry blazing again. That isn't the reason he signed cornerback Gary Baxter
away from the Ravens and tried to get running back Chester Taylor, at the time
an unrestricted free agent from the Ravens, but turning the rivalry up a notch
is a byproduct of his actions.
Ironically, where before it was Browns fans venting their disgust
with the Ravens for what Modell did, now it's the Ravens grousing about Savage.
Savage's offer to Taylor of $3 million for one year, including a
$1 million signing bonus, was matched Monday by the Ravens, who originally tried
to keep him on the cheap for $656,000. In other words, Savage forced the Ravens
to pay Taylor more than four times what they originally planned to pay him.
Brian Billick, the high-minded Ravens coach went into whine mode,
as though the $3 million were coming from his piggybank instead of Bisciotti's.
"It's unfortunate that Cleveland put us in a position - and it's
great for Chester because it means he's going to get a nice payday - but it's
not going to prevent us from doing anything further in free agency," Billick
said. "It doesn't carry any dead money or any constraints into next year. It
just kind of artificially pushes the cap up. Most teams choose not to do that.
"Chester is an important part of what we do. Because we do have the cap
room, there really wasn't much of a likelihood that we were going to let him
Then there's the Dilfer Factor. Billick, who is a branch off the
Bill Walsh tree in more ways than one - each is an excellent football coach, and
each is perfectly willing to admit it - really blew it by not keeping Dilfer
after the Ravens won the Super Bowl with Dilfer at quarterback for the last half
of the 2000 championship season.
Did Dilfer make anyone in Baltimore forget Johnny Unitas? Of
course not. And wasn't it the Ravens' defense that carried the team? Certainly.
But the defense remained strong after Billick said bye-bye to Dilfer, and the
Ravens have won only one playoff game since then.
When Savage realized Kelly Holcomb preferred the role of caddy to
that of the golfer needing to sink a 12-foot birdie putt to win the Masters, he
went after Dilfer, who for the last four years has been an excellent backup and
spot starter in Seattle. Including playoff games, Dilfer is 24-5 as a starter
over his last 29 starts.
“I am giddy about playing Baltimore twice a year," Dilfer said.
"The Baltimore thing was a very tough situation to swallow. I mean, put yourself
in my shoes. What does that do to your self esteem? But you know what? I got
more phone calls from players, coaches, owners and front office people after
that happened who absolutely couldn’t believe it. They went out of their way to
call me and tell me what a great job I did and how I was being wronged.
"When you find a lot of people that think I'm terrible and you
find a lot of people that think I 'm pretty darn good, but you don’t find many
people in the middle and I'm fine with that.
"In my career I have been asked to write a bunch of books and I keep telling
them I can only get through half the book because I feel like my best football
is ahead of me with my experience. I am flat out in the best shape I have been
in in years. I am mentally and physically prepared to play 24 games. I have a
lot to prove and I would rather do it on the football field than with my lips.”
How ironic it would be if it is the Ravens that contribute to the new Browns
finally becoming one of the elite teams in the league. Maybe BerniesInsiders.com
subscribers should send Billick a giant "Thank You!" card with each subscriber's
signature to show our appreciation if Dilfer and Baxter help the Browns reach