Passan: Ready. Set. Spend.

Despite having a lot of money, Phil Savage doesn't have an easy job this off-season....

It's nice that the Browns have about $21 million worth of salary-cap room to work with as they set the stage for what they hope will be a big comeback.

It might be even more depending on whether the owners and players can agree on extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement. But unless Phil Savage spends that money wisely, the figure he works with means absolutely nothing.

It is essential - no, make that imperative - that Savage pulls the right strings and makes the correct decisions as he attempts to pull the Browns out of the National Football League dunghill.

The Browns general manager has been given carte blanche treatment by most of the fans when it comes to evaluating player personnel. It is all based on his performance over the years as Ozzie Newsome's right hand in Baltimore.

He received a free pass in 2005, as well he should have, even though a lot of his player acquisitions did not pan out. A tiny minority of fans, however, squirmed with some of his moves.

The contributions of veterans Jason Fisk, Matt Stewart, Orlando Ruff, Trent Dilfer, Kyle Richardson, Cosey Coleman, Joe Andruzzi and Ray Mickens left a lot to be desired. And his second-day selections in the college football lottery did nothing to enhance Savage's reputation as a draft guru.

It's the second day where the true draft geniuses separate from the pretenders. And picking the likes of David McMillan, Nick Speegle, Andrew Hoffman, Antonio Perkins and Jon Dunn might have satisfied the Savage sycophants, but very few others.

This year will be the litmus test for Savage because he has miles of wiggle room to spend Randy Lerner's money. We'll find out how persuasive he can be to lure a big-time player or three in free agency to a franchise that is not among the NFL's most enticing.

The Browns, whether they like it or not, have become a laughingstock in the NFL since their return in 1999. That's a handle they desperately want to shed.

The club's lowly reputation, rightly or wrongly, hampers its attempt to woo marquee players. It will be a difficult sell for Savage, who has to convince these players that the Browns' ascendancy to the upper tier of the NFL is just around the corner.

That's why it is incumbent for him to dispense Lerner's money wisely. It makes no sense to toss big bucks at players whose resumes are pockmarked with mediocrity. In other words, no more Jason Fisks or Trent Dilfers or Ray Mickenses for the Browns. Aim high. Shoot high.

Savage now knows his club's weaknesses and strengths. And there are many more of the former than the latter. His sights must be aimed higher than last year if he is to get the Browns off dead center. He has to be very selective as he begins the rebuild the team in his image.

There should be no hesitating. No cogitating. Be decisive.

So when the owners and players finally get together and resolve their greedy little squabble that has delayed the start of free agency, climb into the starting blocks and drive forward. Swiftly.

When the flag drops on free agency Thursday, Savage better be there with pen and contracts in hand. Be firm. Be fair. Be quick. Know what he wants to do. Then do it.

It's time. Ready, set, spend.



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