Exclusive: Savage Winter

Bernie's Insiders provides more details and background on the Browns' front office turmoil. In this exclusive report, we provide a new perspective on the reported conflict between Phil Savage and John Collins, along with feedback on how the situation is being perceived around the NFL.


While the Browns finished their season with a win to improve two games on their 2004 effort, many observers felt the more important story was continuing to unfold behind the scenes.

Since 2PM on Friday, when ESPN's Chris Mortensen posted an article saying that the Cleveland Browns were expected to fire head football executive Phil Savage, information and spin from both Collins and Savage camps has continued to flow to the media.

BerniesInsiders.com has continued to talk to NFL insiders who have painted a picture of management mistakes, with none of the key people involved emerging without blemishes.

What we have been told is that the new Browns organization is hobbled by lack of experience, with Savage appearing to be unprepared to deal with NFL-level agents and reporting to a Team President whose lack of knowledge about football made him ill-prepared to help or recognize problems.

Prior to coming on board as the team's top football executive, Phil Savage had gained a reputation as a super-scout, whose keen eye for talent helped the Ravens build a Super Bowl champion four years after a move from Cleveland decimated their front office.

Savage was heavily recruited for executive positions by several NFL clubs, such as Jacksonville, but found himself getting his best opportunity from Cleveland, which would allow him final say in all football matters. Bernie's Insiders has learned, for example, that the only key football area not explicitly stated as being Savage's responsibility per his contract is in the area of salary cap management.

Not once since the story broke on Friday has BerniesInsiders.com spoken with a source who has questioned Savage's ability to spot football talent. In addition, Trip McCracken's performance as the team's salary cap expert is not considered to be a source of the team's problems.


NFL agents who have dealt with Savage since his appointment earlier this year point their fingers at the GM's inexperience with contract negotiation as the key problem.

"Savage was green", one agent told Scout.com, "It was obvious that he had never negotiated a contract before. He would say things like 'I think we're paying too much' without examples (of similar players), which is typical in the industry".

League insiders have questioned the interviewing process used to select Savage, suggesting to Bernie's Insiders that the Browns relied too heavily on recommendations from NFL executives, including those from the Baltimore Ravens. Some around the league contend that the Browns should have done a better job in the interview process. If they had, it's suggested, Lerner and Collins would have quickly discovered that Savage had some shortcomings.

Part of the issue, we have been told, is that the Browns did not have a seasoned football executive involved in the decision, and have Savage reporting to a Team President whose expertise doesn't extend to football decision-making.

"For Collins to be able to recognize the problem (with Savage's inexperience) indicates that the problems were pretty severe", we were told.


Contract negotiation is not Savage's only issue, as the new football GM has also had to live with suggestions from at least one Browns coach that he has not provided adequate talent.

In particular, BerniesInsiders.com has been told that one Browns' coach has let it be known that he doesn't think Savage has done a good enough job on the offensive side of the ball. Whether the coach has made that complaint known to Collins isn't clear.

One NFL insider suggests that the coach has a point.

"The offensive line will have to be overhauled", we were told after the Browns 20-16 win over the Ravens. "Andruzzi is on his last legs, and Crennel hasn't exactly given a vote of confidence to Cosey Coleman. L.J. Shelton was a tape job".


John Collins is now suffering from an image problem with fans, with the Team President painted as opportunistic and manipulative in Internet editorials and the rumor column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

According to a league source with knowledge of the situation, the Browns would no longer fire Savage, as going back on Collins' statements on Friday afternoon would be a "complete embarrassment". If the team's top football man leaves, it would be through a resignation or via a contract buy-out.

At present, none of the team's key executives are escaping from this situation unscathed. Savage's learning curve has been exposed, while Collins suffers from image issues and, along with team owner Randy Lerner, the impression that a very public management failure has occurred on his watch.

Just as the Cleveland Browns came back from a deficit to beat the Baltimore Ravens to close out their season, the team's new owner and management team have to come back from this snarl to head into their second year together. No source we have spoken to since Friday is willing to say with any certainty that the same management team will still be in place one month from now.


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