Owl: The Fans' Draft

While some may say that there are other NFL fans as dedicated as Cleveland Browns loyalists, the relationship between the team and the fans remains unique. Just as the fans are largely responsible for the team's return, they can also take partial credit if the 2006 draft class turns out to be a success. The Owl explains why...

Through every free agent signing and every time I hear Phil Savage talk about the draft I say a silent thank you to Randy Lerner for listening to the fans on the final weekend of 2005.

That the fans helped save Savage's job four months ago there is no doubt. When it came to deciding whether the Browns would be better off with John Collins as team president or Savage as general manager, Lerner made the right decision by retaining Savage. We will be reminded of that again around 2:30 p.m. Saturday when the Browns are on the clock in the first round of the draft.

To be totally objective, we cannot really say at this point Savage engineered a great draft in 2005. Picking Braylon Edwards in the first round was not exactly finding a diamond in the rough. The rest of the draft class has to prove itself, including Charlie Frye, the third round pick who shows great promise but has to do more before we can say he was a great pick for the value.

But even with that, where would the Browns be so close to the draft today without Savage running the show? Can you just imagine what it would have been like to find someone to replace Savage?

What NFL guy would want to walk into a situation in which Savage was fired less than one year on the job after winning two more games than the team he and Coach Romeo Crennel inherited? They'd be lucky to get a good Fantasy League coach who uses the PlayStation game Madden on his resume.

But now that Savage is in complete control with no impediments wearing suits, he must deliver. Picking 12th won't be as easy as picking third was.

Savage has done everything right so far this offseason, beginning with signing LeCharles Bentley, Kevin Shaffer and Joe Jurevicius the first day of free agency. He got the punter the Browns needed in Dave Zastudil and he fortified the defense with Ted Washington and Willie McGinest.

Money is always the big attraction for free agents, so maybe someone else sitting in Savage's chair could have lured those players to Cleveland. But maybe not. One reason enthusiasm is so high is because Lerner put the good of the football team ahead of any business decisions Collins might have made.

Savage and Crennel trust each other. They think the same way when they evaluate the Browns and when they evaluate players the Browns could draft. They agree the primary need for their team is run defense and a pass rusher - though anyone in the OBR chat room at any given time could see that.

A couple weeks ago in my mock draft, I had the Browns taking Florida State defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and the Ravens taking Oregon nose tackle Haloti Ngata with the next pick. That was before Savage let it be known Ngata could play end for two years while Washington plays nose tackle.

A defensive line of 340-pound Ngata, 370-pound Washington and 320-pound Orpheus Roye is intriguing. I'd like to see Jamal Lewis try to run through that mass of humanity.

But if for some reason Savage passes on Ngata and takes Wimbley, or even if he takes Manny Lawson, the defensive end from North Carolina State, I'll be content because it is Savage making the decision. I would not feel as assured if someone else were making that choice.

Front-office people I speak to still talk about Bloody Friday - Dec. 30, 2005, the day Savage almost got the ax. Fan reaction opposing Savage being fired was so strong Lerner had to go the other way - which is in no way to suggest firing Savage was ever Lerner's idea. I hope that is very clear.

So on Saturday, when the Browns are on the clock and they make their pick, pat yourselves on the back, fans. In a very real sense, you will be playing a role in the selection.


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