Derry: Out of Sight

Frank Derry comments on a conversation with Browns owner Randy Lerner about the team's 2005 prospects, plus thoughts on the continuing holdout of rookie wide receiver Braylon Edwards...

Braylon Edwards might be out of sight, but he's certainly not out of mind.

Some players like quarterback Trent Dilfer refuse to comment on Edwards, which is a stance last year's starting quarterback, Jeff Garcia, should have taken when asked about the holdout of 2004 No. 1 draft pick, Kellen Winslow.

Unfortunately, that started a string of unwanted commentary that eventually contributed to Garcia's departure after just one year.

Meanwhile, owner Randy Lerner had plenty to say when asked about Edwards not being in camp. But what he said wasn't a shot at Edwards, but rather the system in which the NFL works.

It's Lerner's opinion that a rookie salary structure should be adopted, something similar to the one used in the NBA, where a guy is going to get paid a set amount of money depending upon when he is selected.

"I think the NBA has it right," Lerner said on the fourth day of Training Camp and the fourth day of Edwards' holdout. "There are two solutions to the problem. The preferred solution is don't draft high anymore. The second solution is on a structural level. Clearly, you'd want a better system.

"The idea of paying somebody who hasn't done anything yet that kind of money doesn't make sense. You don't pay the guy or women who is fixing something at your house before you fix it. You pay them after they fix it."

Wow, an NFL owner who actually makes sense!

But Lerner isn't convinced his fellow owners feel strongly enough to do anything about the problem even if the NFL Players Association were to agree to such a structure.

"I haven't heard that much about restructuring the rookie compensation," he said. "I've heard a little bit of stuff recently … a little. I don't know that it will show up as a big piece."

In other words, when the NFL owners have their meetings, don't look for the rookie compensation issue to be too high on the agenda.

Most of the players who hold out aren't hurting themselves from a physical standpoint, but rather from a mental standpoint.

"Typically, with a skilled position, it's about mental development more than it's about physical development," Lerner said. "Mental development requires that you're here in the classroom learning.

"And if you're not here in the classroom learning, the odds of you being productive early in the season – if at all during the season – decline. Every day you miss, some part of the percentage of you having a successful season declines."

The longer the rookie holds out, the greater the value of the money paid that person declines.

In fact, Lerner does not believe any rookie, even if he gets to camp on time, ever really is worth the money he is paid. "It's very difficult to see how a single player getting paid that amount of money is going to contribute commensurate with what you're paying," he said.

Unfortunately, he knows he's fighting a losing battle when he calls for an overhaul in the system.

"They're not going to change the rule right now in regards to this one," he admitted.

At this point, the only real guideline by which the Browns can operate is the contract signed by the fifth overall selection, running back Cadillac Williams, who reportedly signed a deal worth $30 million over five years with a $13.115 guaranteed bonus.

Edwards is probably asking for significantly more because his agent, Lamont Smith, has mentioned several times that he thinks Edwards, who was selected No. 3 overall, was the best player in the draft.

Lerner knows that every day Edwards is missing, the chances of the team proving its critics wrong decreases.

Most publications around the country are convinced the Browns are headed for a last-place finish in the AFC North.

What is Lerner's reaction to such dire predictions? "It makes me sick to my stomach," he said.

Asked about his own expectations, Lerner said, "We should be well-prepared. Our playing should be the standard stuff that great teams have: four quarters of hard work. We'd like to have our late-in-the-season games be relevant."

He did mention two "P" words, but neither was "playoff."  Rather he mentioned "positives" and "patience."

Lerner says right now he is "looking around and latching onto the positives."

And he knows that patience will be necessary as head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage work to build the franchise from the ground up, but he realizes more than anybody that the franchise has definitely tested the patience of the fans.

"This town is now going through its third rebuilding process," he said. "That is asking a lot of people who support the team."

He knows that unless the foundation is built properly this time, the fans will have to undergo a fourth rebuilding process in the not-too-distant future. That's why his No. 1 concern this year isn't winning the Super Bowl. Although he won't come out and say it, Lerner knows that's pretty much an impossibility.

What he has grown to realize is that a Super Bowl crown will never be won unless the proper steps are taken.

"It takes time. We all know that," he said. "You frame a house. If you don't frame it right, it's never straight and the doors don't shut properly.

The fact the "hidden parts" of the team were never built properly has been evident far too often on the field.

One of those "hidden things" is the credibility that Savage has brought to the organization. "Phil has brought credibility to our player analysis and selection process," Lerner said. "With that comes enormous personal professional experience, a very professional demeanor and the ability to train those around him so that we departmentally start to develop in that direction."

Lerner also has been impressed with the "professional structure, poise and demeanor" that Crennel has brought to the team over the past seven months.

"He immediately lends a kind of healing component to our organization from the coaching perspective," Lerner says.

Unfortunately, until Braylon Edwards gets to camp, a big part of what Lerner, Savage and Crennel want to accomplish will have to wait.

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