The Owl: One Step Too Far

Our columnists are asked to write what they think and let the chips fall where they may. They don't craft a piece to please everyone, or make some guy in a corner office happy. While the honeymoon with Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel continues, the Owl is willing to say that he feels that the Browns new brain trust may have tossed away one player too many in the last week.

Quicker than you can say "What light through yonder training facility breaks," head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage are breaking away from the Butch Davis era of the Browns.

The fact that not one player whose contract was up before free agency began was re-signed says Savage was not going to overpay for anyone that was part of a team that won nine games in two seasons. Good for him.

As free agency began Wednesday, the Browns and Kelly Holcomb were $2 million apart on a four-year contract. The Browns are counting on Holcomb to start, a sign of how bleak the situation is at quarterback.

Excuse the old cliché, but it is extremely appropriate; Holcomb has a snowball's chance in hell of lasting 16 games. We're talking about a guy who broke his leg on a quarterback sneak in 2003.

You can have William Green, too. Reportedly, the Browns were close to trading Green to the New York Giants. Of all of Butch's mistakes, drafting Green was the worst because Green had personal problems in college, and they followed him to Cleveland. He played with no heart last season, and that is the worst indictment possible for a football player.

So now we come to Gerard Warren, who was traded to the Denver Broncos Wednesday for a fourth-round draft choice. I know most fans are happy to see Warren go, and certainly he had his critics close to organization. Doug Dieken, who knows a lot more football than The Owl ever will, criticized Warren on the radio last year for stepping over Browns teammates to help up Ravens running back Jamal Lewis. That was a stupid thing to do – not what Dieken said. What Warren did was stupid.

But I would have given Warren one more year to prove himself, and here's why:

First off, what's a fourth-round draft choice? Ironically, the Browns have gotten more from the fourth round than the first round – cornerback Anthony Henry, linebacker Ben Taylor and running back Lee Suggs – but none of those players is a star, and none is likely to be starting for the Browns in 2005. Henry, in fact, appears headed to the Dallas Cowboys. Suggs might be the best running back the Browns have now, but they would rather have a 230-pound bull – a slimmer, faster Jerome Bettis if they could find one. And Taylor cannot stay healthy.

The bigger reason I would have kept Warren is he has the talent to dominate. He obviously did not show that talent consistently, otherwise this column would be about some other topic.

Warren was Davis' puppy. Davis drafted him over the objections of his assistant coaches who preferred Richard Seymour. Seymour was drafted by the Patriots and has made Super Bowls and Pro Bowls an extended part of his season.

One time Warren was late returning from Florida after a bye week. It should have been an automatic fine. Instead Davis let it pass. Teammates resented the preferential treatment. Warren seemed to get the idea cruise control was acceptable.

But that lifeline for Warren was cut off Nov. 30, and you saw what happened. To use one of one of Davis' pet phrases Warren "played like his hair was on fire" during the last five games when Terry Robiskie was head coach. Terry found the right buttons to push.

It says here Warren will wake up in Denver. He is in the last year of his contract, and that is always motivation for any player.

Another reason Warren will succeed is now he has to prove himself. He no longer is the big shot first-round draft choice. He isn't remembered as the star Florida Gator. He is remembered as the underachieving Brown. He is eager to erase the most recent memory.

Warren unfairly will be remembered for his 2001 arrest on possessing an unregistered weapon. The bigger crime – though not illegal - was partying in Pittsburgh with Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress. That never would have happened in the days when cornerback Ron Bolton was covering Lynn Swann.

That error was four years ago. Warren has grown up since then; at least he is more discreet.

Sweeping away Butch's mistakes is justifiable. I just wish Savage and Crennel weren't using so wide a broom.


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