Phil Savage isn’t a genius.
His management of this past weekend’s NFL draft wasn’t
evidence of any particular brilliance.
It was simply common sense and patience.
But when judged against the bizarre and mind-boggling
absurdity of Butch Davis’ ham-fisted drafts, Savage looks like the NFL’s
version of Aristotle, Rousseau and Einstein all in one.
It’s all context, of course. Savage, who may very well be
an intellectual mastermind, simply did what any person with a shred of
level-headedness would have done: Draft the best players available for the
needs he has identified.
What? Doesn’t that clash? Aren’t there two schools
draft-day philosophy, namely the best-player-available camp vs.
The dichotomy is very real and very simple.
What draftniks refer to as “BPA” doesn’t necessarily mean
best overall. My take is that Savage identified best players for particular
needs. And then he drafted those players.
No rolling the bones. No consulting the I Ching.
No gut feelings. No Magic 8-Ball. No reaching for players no one’s heard of.
Just draft the best player for whatever position needs help. Which is all of
them in Cleveland.
But what about Braylon Edwards? Wide receiver wasn’t
generally perceived as a need for the Browns, right?
Take a closer look. What receivers on Cleveland’s roster
strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenders?
Certainly, Andre Davis, Antonio Bryant and Dennis Northcutt are serviceable players. They are adequate to fill roles, but none
have blossomed into upper-tier receivers. That may be because of factors
beyond their control, but the fact remains they are not considered among the
best in the league. They’re not game-breakers.
Now, they have a new role: Complement Edwards.
The rookie from Michigan has a blank professional resume,
but he certainly brings the most exciting draftee potential to the position in
Cleveland since Paul Warfield. He automatically commands respect from opposing
defenses based on being the No. 3 overall draft pick.
Rookie wide receivers, unlike, say, rookie offensive
lineman, often can make an impact quickly on a team. It’s not unreasonable to
believe Edwards will do just that. And if he does, that will quickly draw
attention from defenses -- freeing up the veteran receivers.
More importantly, Edwards draws attention away from
Kellen Winslow II.
Edwards may be flash, but it’s going to be Winslow that
propels the offense. It’s no secret coach Romeo Crennel wants a grinding
rushing game to form the backbone of the offense, but for it to work there has
to be an effective passing game.
With a journeyman quarterback under center, the team
isn’t likely planning to stretch the field often. Instead, the passing offense
can be expected to be a limited, high-percentage, conservative affair that
protects the ball while moving the chains.
A tight end with to-the-moon potential is the perfect
figure around which to build such an offense. And by adding a star wide
receiver, you’ve just made that tight end all the more valuable.
Butch Davis was able to emerge from his addled hillbilly
stupor long enough to draft Winslow last year, so we have him to thank for
some of the future success in Cleveland. But it’s Savage that’s going to be
the final architect.
Cleveland fans are notorious for very intense and very
brief honeymoons with new Browns administrations. As I’ve said before, the
“Jacobin sensibilities” of the Dawg Pound exert a powerful influence in
Cleveland, and it will be vital for Savage to elevate himself above the sound
Savage has preached from Day 1 that any eventual Super
Bowl will require several years of reconstruction through the draft and free
agency. The team that emerges to grasp the Lombardi Trophy will be a very
different one that slunk off the field at Houston last year. In fact, they’re
starting almost from scratch.
What Savage has been telling us is that 2005 is what 1999
should have been. This is again an expansion team, the one Cleveland should
have been able to build six years ago. It will have been built by men with
common sense and a plan.
The genius of Phil Savage isn’t draft-day cunning or
clever free-agent maneuvering.
It’s the staggering simplicity and forthright honesty.
Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes
the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. Donations to his
pending honeymoon can be made at www.thehoneymoon.com. Write him at
firstname.lastname@example.org. For other updates and libel, visit his blog at