While the Browns' front office has kept a positive tone through an inactive free-agent signing period and the departures of Dave Wohlabaugh, Jamir Miller, Earl Holmes, Dwayne Rudd and Corey Fuller, there were some interesting words from president Carmen Policy this week.
In praising coach Butch Davis' patience during this time, Policy admitted that there could be some trying times for the team next season.
"I have to commend our head coach, because when the season was over his approach to defining the way the team would be in '03 was not can we get better, but we must do whatever must be done to get better.
"I honestly believe that he would rather risk being a bit worse than we were last year than staying with the status quo and being as good as we were in '02."
Those might not be the words fans want to hear after a 9-7 record and a playoff berth last season. However, they're words they better get used to as the Browns go through their first offseason of dealing with salary-cap issues since their return to the NFL in 1999.
Before Davis handed pink slips to the aforementioned five high-priced veterans to help the team get below the $75 million salary cap, he sat down with Policy to discuss the plan of attack. The consensus of opinion from those discussions was the importance of biting the bullet in free agency this year, regardless of how painful it will be to the organization and its fans.
The long-term benefits of such a plan will be brighter offseason days in the next two years, according to Policy. He recently projected that the Browns will be in better salary-cap shape next year than all of the 2002 playoff participants.
"When we sat down with the coach and we asked him, 'Are there free agents that you anticipate will be on the market that you coveted dearly' and basically his response was, 'I don't see the value there for the kind of money that will be required,' and he wasn't in the mood to go shopping for free agents in March of 2003.
"This organization put together a plan that enabled us to clean up some of our concerns from a salary-cap standpoint that would not hurt the team competitively, that would not get in the way of this coach's concept of how to make the team better, and would place us come 2004 and 2005 to not only have a healthy salary-cap situation, but also to be able to go out with a robust shopping attitude if in fact our coach felt there were free agents that would plug the key gaps to take our club to the next level."
When the next wave of free agents is put on the market on June 1, it's possible the Browns will have an interest in doing some last-minute shopping. Still, it's unlikely that the team will do much to add to the roster at that time.
"It's hard to project what group of players will be there," Davis said. "Every year there are probably between 25 and 50 players and you can kind of target and expect about half of those guys to probably be available and there are probably some that you didn't expect to be there.
"But I think it would be unwise on our organization's part to not look at every opportunity - free agency, draft or trades - to make our football team better. The whole concept is to move this organization closer to the Super Bowl. If someone is there in June, and we think he can help this football team, then we'll definitely look at it."
Despite the recent changes and critical words of some of the departed players (Fuller in particular), Policy paints an optimistic picture among players attending offseason workouts.
"It seems that over the past two months, the spirit on the first floor of this building has been wonderful - enthusiastic is an understatement. The players that are here are part of a concept of self-awareness and optimism that is such a key positive, critical indication of where they see us going as a team and an organization."