On Tuesday, Browns General Manager Phil Savage sat down with a group of media members to discuss the upcoming Indianapolis combine as well as the free agency period, which supposedly will begin a week from Friday. I had a very strange feeling during the hour-long meeting. I actually felt that somebody from the Browns organization had some things to say and I didn't need an interpreter to tell me what was said. That has rarely been the case over the past seven years since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999.
Savage clearly pointed out the three most important needs that need to be addressed in the upcoming draft and free agent period, although they weren't much of a surprise to anyone. The most important need to fill is the pass rush. The Browns finished 32nd (out of 32) in the league in sacks. Sacks don't tell the whole story, though. Almost as important as sacks is the amount of `hurries' and QB (legal) hits, and the Browns didn't do that very well, either.
Number two on the GM's list would be the acquisition of a veteran receiver. The offensive wish list, however, includes the return of full health to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, Jr. I know that the Browns are publicly saying that they have an agreement with Antonio Bryant's agent to let the wide receiver test the market, but if they really wanted him back they would make every effort to sign him before he hits the open market. My feeling is that Bryant is not the ideal complementary third man along with Winslow and Edwards, according to the Browns. Dennis Northcutt, however, would be a fine fourth receiver.
Finally Savage said that the offensive line, in general, needs to be improved. I think he meant that he is happy with what is there now, when healthy, but more depth is needed. In addition, he would like some younger players ready to take over in the near future.
The most encouraging part of the discussion was that he, Savage, and coach Romeo Crennel are aware that just because a player is taken through the draft or free agency it doesn't mean that the problem is solved. It is possible that a free agent may be signed or a player may drafted at the same positions that were previously addressed. It is obvious they know that there just aren't enough good players here, and that there is strength in numbers. They also know that there are no guarantees with the player that gets picked first, but taking two players at the same position gives them more of a chance to get it right.
Savage has been consistent in his approach to the draft, although he is obviously more confident in his staff now than he was last year. As of now, the staff has a list of 184 potential draft picks, and will whittle it down to between 120-150 by draft day, by now particular order of position players. Savage knows that if other teams do the same thing, that will mean around 200 players are on somebody's list. As a result, the difference between a good draft and a bad draft might come about because of the difference in evaluation of the 4th through 7th round picks, which will come from the different evaluation in the top 120-200 players.
Don't overlook the value of having the entire coaching and scouting staffs together for the second year in a row. At this point a year ago, Crennel's staff wasn't totally in place, and Savage went to the Senior Bowl with almost total strangers on the scouting staff. Most observers wouldn't have thought the entire coaching staff would return for Romeo's second year for a variety of reasons. Terry Robiskie was `forced' on Crennel as a wide receiver coach after serving as the interim head coach after Butch Davis `was relieved of his duties'. There were reports that there could have been problems between the two, but if there were they have been worked out. Half of the staff had no professional coaching experience before coming here, and a couple others were not employed at this time a year ago. Despite the odds were against all of the coaches working well, apparently that is the case.
Another encouraging note sounded by Savage was that he and Crennel were not fooled by a couple of close losses. While a 6-10 record is the report card for this team, the evaluation of the players would not have been upgraded with another win here or there. There were, in fact, a couple of losses that couldn't have turned around with a play here or a play there, but the same could be said for some of the wins. Ultimately, while it is a hard sell to the team's ticket buyers, the Browns record in 2005 didn't matter much when it was all said and done. The wins and losses will matter more this year, and even more in 2007. Those are the important years in the evaluation of Savage and Crennel---not last year.
|Les Levine is the host of 'More Sports & Les Levine', which can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio. He is also the lead Sunday columnist in the Lake County News-Herald and Lorain Journal. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or www.leslevine.com|