The Browns had a sweet season in 2007. Now general manager Phil Savage gets his just desserts.
His reward came Friday in the form of a three-year contract extension that will keep him with the club at least through 2012.
Savage has come full circle, having begun his NFL career as a Browns assistant coach in the early 1990s. But his second stint with the organization has proven far more noteworthy. Hired in 2005 to help turn around a team that had managed just one winning season since returning to Cleveland in 1999, Savage has done just that.
"People don't realize what a reclamation project it was," Savage told the assembled media Friday. "And I think in some ways I may have underestimated what state the Browns were really in. I feel we have certainly deconstructed the house and now we're reconstructing it and making it into the image we want it to be."
Savage can look in the mirror to find the man greatly responsible for that. He has been extremely aggressive and rather daring in his drive to transform the Browns into contenders.
Among his significant moves was drafting Braylon Edwards, who blossomed into a Pro Bowl receiver in 2007. But the maneuvering that proved most beneficial occurred last offseason, when he signed free agent guard Eric Steinbach to a long-term contract and selected tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick in the draft, thereby shoring up an offensive line that has struggled throughout the decade.
Savage then pulled off the shocker of the day, trading for the rights to take Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. He wasn't done tinkering at that position, jettisoning embattled Charlie Frye to Seattle after the first game of the season, which gave Derek Anderson an opportunity that he turned into 29 touchdown passes and a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team.
That opening week loss to Pittsburgh appeared to be the start of just another losing season for the Browns. Instead, it was the wakeup call. They won 10 of their last 15 games and were 7-0 at home the rest of the way.
"I feel like we've been through an awful lot," Savage said Friday. "We've worked very hard to transform the Browns into winners on and off the field and I think we've certainly made some strides in doing that. It's great to be able to continue putting the pieces together. We're excited about 2008.
"I think that (2007) draft seemed to put the Browns on the map. We took (Thomas) and he ends up going to the Pro Bowl. We drafted (Quinn) and had to do it in a dramatic way to get him here to Cleveland and (cornerback) Eric Wright in the second round. We moved up and took a chance on Eric and he responded with 13-14 starts. I think in totality that maybe last year's draft seemed to solidify that we might have some idea of what we're doing."
One reason for the continued enthusiasm is that Savage has put as much effort into improving his defense in 2008 as he did beefing up the offensive line in 2007. The additions through the trading of draft picks of Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers were intended to bolster a porous run defense and improve an inconsistent pass rush. The signing of free agent Donte Stallworth adds depth at wide receiver.
All of which puts a smile on the face of Browns coach Romeo Crennel, who signed an extension of his own that will run through 2011. Another reason for that smile is that he and Savage will now have a chance to take a good thing and make it great or (dare we think it?) Super.
"First of all, I'm happy for Phil," Crennel said. "His signing the extension gives us the opportunity to keep the program headed in the right direction. We'll keep working, keep going forward and I think this is a crucial year for us because the expectations are higher."
With higher expectations comes the threat of a letdown. But based on the results of Savage's moves over the past three years, there is a legitimate reason to be confident. They don't hand out those contract extensions to just anyone.