2:45PM: According to a report published at 2PM by ESPN writer Chris Mortenson, the Browns may be on the verge of replacing general manager and senior vice president Phil Savage over "philosophical differences" in the area of cap management. Here is a link to the story:
Thank you to Gordon, Huddlegeeks, Adbkil, and Bob I. for the timely heads-up via the Tipline!
3:00PM: An NFL source, who will remain anonymous for the purposes of this article, has confirmed to BerniesInsiders.com (soon to be The Orange and Brown Report) that the story published by ESPN is accurate. Our source was not at liberty to discuss any supporting details, and was not able to confirm the timing of any announcement. BerniesInsiders.com has contacted team officials, who have not responded to telephone inquiries as of 3:05PM. We will update as more information comes available.
3:15PM: This is not directly pertinent to the truth of the story, but it could help Browns fans as you judge the breaking news. Media insiders are speculating that the Mortensen's story came from Atlanta. The ESPN reporter resides in Atlanta and has good sources in the Falcons organization. What we've been told...
3:45PM: Sources within the Browns organization have told BerniesInsiders.com that Savage has not been fired as of this moment and that "there are discussions" ongoing. Lane Adkins reports that he is "not sold" on the story of a firing today.
3:50PM: Casey Coleman told WTAM this afternoon that there are differences between the Browns and Savage in terms of who controls items such as contract negotiation and management of the salary cap. Savage was reportedly promised control in this area, and the team has others who would like to assume that responsibility. It has not been specified who (Lerner, Collins, etc) wants that responsibility.
4:15PM: The Browns have offered no official word on Savage's status. Phone calls have not been returned. We have been told from inside the team that "the ball is in (Phil) Savage's court". The team appears to want someone else to handle high-level issues such as contracts and negotiations. Jim Brown - who now works for the franchise but is not an official spokesman - appears to be saying as much on WTAM, so we're now hearing this perspective now coming out of the organization.
It has now been two hours since the story broke on ESPN, with no official word from the organization. At this point, media types are now saying that there has to be substance to the rumors since no official denial has been forthcoming.
4:40PM: Jim Brown has been discussing the situation on WTAM, with comforting words about how smoothly the organization is working inside, and that all Savage needs is some help. While this is going on, we're still being told that "it's expected" that Savage will be let go. Our source expects Savage to be gone no later than Monday.
5:10PM: The Browns announce that Leigh Bodden has been signed to a four-year contract extension.
5:30PM: The Browns attempt to contact Bernie's Insiders while in the midst of a radio program.
5:40PM: WTAM's Casey Coleman reports that Phil Savage has been fired and will be replaced by Falcons exec. Ray Anderson.
6:00PM: John Collins just told WTAM that Phil Savage "has not been fired" and "will not be fired". Collins adds that he just finished a meeting with Randy Lerner, Phil Savage and himself where they "renewed their vows". Collins pooh-poohed rumors of differences between the various participants.
Collins said that he felt the rumors may have started due to "internal discussions about how to improve the organization".
If should be pointed out that WTAM is a corporate partner of the team, and gets favorable treatment when it comes to news stories of this type. The flagship station's hosts tend to act occasionally as apologists for the club, and will allow team executives to provide their point of view in a relatively safe environment. Collins was not asked to deny whether the team had spoken with Ray Anderson of the Atlanta Falcons, and WTAM did not explain why their own sources told them that Savage was gone.
At the same time, it's confusing as to why so many sources (ESPN, WTAM, and our NFL source) all reported that Phil Savage was moving on. The team's business leader did say that the team was going to bring in a financial advisor, Mike Keenan, from the NFL who will not be responsible for the salary cap.
The appearance, at least to this follower of the team, is that the team pulled itself back from the brink after news started to break, or that some casual discussion of a move was leaked to reporters. While we have been happy to pour cold water on stories of internal chaos in the past, it's hard to buy into the notion that there was nothing of substance behind the reports.
The real story will come out over time, but there can be little doubt that "something" was going on inside of Berea. Whatever happened or did not happen, it will be difficult to look at the team's front office in quite the same way again.
We will continue to watch the story, and provide you with what we hear, with no spin, and nothing at stake but the truth.