Levine: Draft is Glamorous, but Free Agency is Key

Les looks at the upcoming draft and the Browns free agent activities...

After much anticipation, the NFL college draft of 2005 is finally upon us.  While most observers think that Browns General Manager Phil Savage has done an outstanding job in acquiring talent already, and releasing lesser talent, the draft, and what follows after, is where he made the reputation which led him to his present job.

Hundreds of mock drafts are held around the country, and hours of sports programming are devoted to the draft, which in days gone by, was about the only way that a team could improve itself.  The whole concept of the draft, the worst team getting the first pick, with the reigning champion getting the last, was set up to allow the struggling teams to get better.

It is an outdated concept. The better managed team (salary-cap wise), the successful teams, and the teams located in a desirable geographical area still have a great advantage in recruiting veteran free agents, unless teams like Arizona, Detroit, Minnesota, and, yes, Cleveland, decide to overpay for them.  For the most part, the free agent pickups are known quantities, and teams already know what they are getting, rather than waiting a couple of years to find out if they have made the right choices.

While struggling teams can be lured into taking a top-flight Quarterback, with the intention of grooming him and getting value from him two or three years later, no free agent acquisition is ever made with the thought of getting value later, rather than sooner. 

In this day and age of the NFL, there is no time to wait. 

Check the list of playoff teams over the past five or six years, and you will see that there is always a turnover as far as new participants are concerned on a year-to-year basis.  A bad team usually cannot go from missing out on the playoffs to the Super Bowl the next year, but there are more than enough examples of teams who miss out and then get into the playoffs with room to spare the following season.

The bottom line is that the Browns have already added nine or ten free agents who  will make a greater impact on this year's team than anyone, other than the top pick, who will be selected over this coming weekend.  But history shows that GMs who don't succeed are generally graded on what they do in the draft, rather than how they do in the free agent market.

I don't think anyone really knows what Savage will do with the third pick on Saturday, and that probably includes himself.  Already San Francisco appears to have changed its mind about which quarterback they would like, as they are apparently trying to work out financial details with Utah's Alex Smith, even though the local kid, Aaron Rodgers, was thought to be their choice.

Phil hasn't asked me for advice, but here it is. 

With the additions on the offensive line, along with Running Back Reuben Droughns, and the return of Kellen Winslow, Jr., the Browns have a chance to be pretty good on offense.  Certainly the offense is way ahead of the defense at this point, and the defense, even under Romeo Crennel, is probably a year or two away from being in good shape. 

Rather than taking someone for the defense that wouldn't change that side of the ball significantly, I'd opt for Braylon Edwards or Mike Williams (I'd lean toward Williams), which would give the offense a variety of weapons. 

Even if Savage trades down a couple of notches (Tampa Bay wants a QB), Williams might still be available.  If, however, Williams is the guy he wants, I don't think I'd take the risk of losing him by trading down. 

Butch Davis was criticized last year for trading one space to secure Winslow, but if he was convinced that was the right guy, it was worth the risk. Trading down multiplies the possibilities of losing their man, which would not be worth it, even though almost anybody they wind up with in the top ten would be of immediate help.

‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio from 6-7pm with replays at 11pm.  E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com

The OBR Top Stories