Only a few weeks ago Browns general manager Phil Savage was talking positively about the progress that has been made since he was hired Jan. 6 and Coach Romeo Crennel about a month later. He still feels that way, but he is stressing work done over the last six months might not manifest itself this autumn.
"I wish we could fast-forward through the season, so we could really zero in on what we're going to do next season," Savage said. "Right now, I'm thinking we would be better served to save some of our money for next year."
The subject of money and the salary cap came up when Savage was asked about pursuing free agent cornerback Ty Law, whom Crennel coached in New England. Savage and Crennel believe a healthy Law could help the Browns in 2005, but Savage would rather save money for next season, when once again they will have a chance to improve linebacker, the defensive line and left tackle through free agency.
The Browns won five games in 2003 and four last season. Despite all the changes, forecasts for 2005 are bleak. Reading between the lines, Savage is saying not to expect miracles.
"Have we found bottom yet?" Savage said rhetorically. "I'm not sure. But once we do, we're going to have both feet on the ground and push ourselves back up to the surface."
Savage seems willing to take a step backward with the hope of moving two or three steps ahead in 2006. He stuck his neck out by trading or releasing the best unit on the team when he dismantled the defensive line. But he figured Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Michael Myers and Ebenezer Ekuban probably weren't going to get any better, and if the Browns won only four games with them, how much worse could they be without them?
Safeties Robert Griffith and Earl Little are other examples of taking a wide broom to one area of the team. Sean Jones is a virtual rookie, having missed his first season with a knee injury, and Brodney Pool is a rookie. The Browns signed Brian Russell in free agency from the Vikings despite a down year in 2004.
All signs, especially on defense, point to 2005 as a year of growth for the Browns, which is the biggest reason they won't spend a lot of money on Law or Peter Boulware, the linebacker released May 9 by the Ravens.