You had me at LeCharles.
To say the impact of the signings of the Browns thus far this off-season has been significant would be a gross understatement. Not since the influx of talent from the defunct USFL when the Browns plucked off refugees like Kevin Mack, Mike Johnson, Frank Minnifield, Dan Fike and Gerald McNeil have the Browns added starting talent in one off-season that was ready to immediately step in and make an impact.
By striking swiftly and adding LeCharles Bentley, Joe Jurevicius and Kevin Shaffer on the opening day of free agency, the Browns put themselves in the drivers seat to hopefully take big steps on the field in 2006.
I shudder to think that less than three months ago, then team president John Collins was poised to fire Savage. Where would the Browns be today? The stability a General Manager brings is immeasurable. I've said it before and it's worth saying it again, Browns fans don't have to be marketed. If the Browns put a championship team on the field, this city and its fans around the world will go crazy and all the merchandising will take care of itself.
Just think how die-hard Browns fans have been and there has been very little to cheer about since the late 1980's—nearly 20 years.
Now, obviously throwing a lot of money at free agents doesn't make a team instantly competitive. There's been numerous cases where owners went out and broke the bank trying to buy a Super Bowl. Just a couple of years ago, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder went on a spending spree bringing in big name free agents and it didn't work.
However, thus far, the Browns have added potentially six starters to their lineup. Here's a look at each player and who he replaced:
Bentley over either Jeff Faine, Cosey Coleman or Joe Andruzzi. Faine has ended the last three seasons on the injured reserve list and is coming off a biceps tear. He had a decent year according to the coaches, but tends to not be physical as evidenced by the Vikings' Pat Williams throwing him around like a rag doll. Coleman and Andruzzi both battled injuries last season, but Savage thinks Andruzzi will be much better after the rest of the off-season. Wherever the coaches decide to park the Bentley, will be a HUGE upgrade at the position.
Ted Washington over Jason Fisk. The Browns were so weak at stopping the rush last year and it all starts at the nose in the 3-4. Sure, Washington is a bit long in the tooth, but he is a major upgrade over Fisk—even at the age of 38. If he can tutor Ethan Kelly or whomever they might choose in the draft -- that will be a major bonus. Bentley said Washington was the toughest nose tackle he's went up against in the NFL. Obviously, the Browns feel it was a major upgrade over Fisk because they waived Fisk immediately, not even letting him compete for a backup job.
Willie McGinest over Kenard Lang or Matt Stewart. I like this move because McGinest, along with Washington brings the type of leadership the young Browns need. By the way, he can still rush the passer. Even though he's 34, he can pressure the quarterback better than anyone previously on the roster. I felt they could upgrade five of the front seven positions and they've done so already at two. It's tough to say who McGinest is replacing because neither Lang or Stewart did much in terms of rushing the passer at the outside linebacker spot.
Kevin Shaffer over L.J. Shleton. I wasn't overly impressed with Shelton. I don't think the Browns were either when they kept using words like "serviceable" and "adequate" to describe his play. Shaffer is much younger and hungrier than Shelton. Hopefully, the big contract won't change his work ethic and desire to be the best. He should be just coming into his prime and if he can develop into the player the Browns envision he could anchor down the slot for a long time.
Jurevicius over Antonio Bryant. I was a proponent of the Browns going after Jurevicius, as I was Bentley and Dave Zastudil. I did like Bryant and thought he could be a great third receiver if Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are playing at optimum levels. Bryant went over 1,000 yards receiving but he was inconsistent and wanted to be the No. 1 receiver, which he will be with the 49ers. However, Jurevicius has proven to be a winner and with 55 grabs last year, I think he'll be a great fit with the Browns.
Zastudil over Kyle Richardson. A major upgrade from the inconsistent Richardson. The Browns have not been solid at punter since they let Chris Gardocki get away. He's young and they hurt the Ravens, while helping themselves. Hopefully, the Ravens will sign Richardson.
Bob Hallen over Mike Pucillo. This is the only signee not projected to be a starter. However, I like the addition because we all know how many injuries the Browns have had since 1999 on the offensive line. I wanted the team to add quality depth and what I know of Hallen he will give them an upgrade over Pucillo or Dave Yovanovits as a backup center or guard.
To make the added veterans even more important is the fact that Romeo Crennel has shown his reluctance to play rookies as evidenced by refusing to start Edwards until the middle of the season when he was clearly the team's biggest threat at wide receiver.
The moves the Browns have made will not make everyone order Super Bowl tickets, but there's a buzz around Berea that hasn't been there in quite a while.