Phil Savage the top candidate for Browns' vacancy

BALTIMORE -- Phil Savage has emerged as the leading candidate for the Cleveland Browns' general manager vacancy.

One day after a four-hour interview in Baltimore where he met with Browns owner Randy Lerner and team president John Collins, the Ravens' director of player personnel remains extremely interested in the Browns' top football decision-making job. And the Browns are quite enamored of him, according to several reports out of Cleveland. "Obviously, there's been a lot of talk about this Cleveland Browns situation and quite honestly I think it will be one way or the other in the next couple of days," Savage said during a chalk talk with fans Tuesday at ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor. "Obviously, they're not finished talking with me and I'm probably not finished talking with them. It's up in the air.

"I've kind of been down this road a few times, and you don't want to take anything for granted. I don't want to say that I'm leaving, staying or going because I really don't know at this point. If I were to go somewhere else, it would be because I really felt it was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up."

Unlike Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who was denied permission by majority owner Steve Bisciotti to interview with Cleveland, Savage has the Ravens' blessing.

"No question, Phil is well-suited for the job," Newsome said. "He has been ready for this opportunity for the past three or four years. He turned down other opportunities that weren't right for him. He sees this as a big challenge, and I'm sure he would enjoy being there."

Newsome would have, too. However, the Hall of Fame tight end who played for the original Browns from 1978 to 1990 is under contract for two more years. The Browns would have been forced to compensate Baltimore, most likely with draft choices, if Newsome had been allowed to depart. Newsome is designated as Baltimore's No. 1 football decision-maker.

"I'm happy where I am," Newsome said. "I'm part of the competition committee, so I understand. I'm under contract and in a very good situation." So is Savage.

He's in high demand, having had a hand in drafting 10 Pro Bowl selections in nine years, and ranks second in the Ravens' personnel department. After assistant coaching stints with Alabama, UCLA and the Browns, Savage was hired as an area scout then was promoted to national scout and director of college scouting. He was elevated to his current position prior to the 2003 NFL Draft.

On Savage's recommendation, the Ravens drafted likely future Hall of Fame selections in offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis with their first two draft picks prior to their inaugural season in 1996.

Over the years, Savage has turned down jobs with Philadelphia and Jacksonville, and pulled out of the Chicago Bears' GM search. He interviewed with the Miami Dolphins last year, but won't be a candidate to work under new coach Nick Saban because it's not a true GM position.

"The Ravens have been great about giving me an opportunity to look at these other things," Savage said. "They know that I've enjoyed being in Baltimore. They know I have a good position, as I do. I think this situation with the Browns has been smoother than years past.

"We've known for the past six weeks that they were going to be making a change, it's not something that just cropped up Monday. With Ozzie's relationship with the people in Cleveland, he's been able to keep a pulse of what's going on." The Browns have been denied permission to speak to Newsome, Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese, Philadelphia Eagles vice president of player personnel Tom Heckert and were turned down by Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Tim Ruskell and Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert.

The Browns did meet with Jacksonville Jaguars director of pro personnel Charles Bailey. The Browns have also wanted to interview New England Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, but haven't been granted permission by the Super Bowl champions.

Ideally, Savage would want to have a say in selecting the head coach.

The Browns are reportedly going to interview New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Pittsburgh Steelers assistant head coach Russ Grimm and interim coach Terry Robiskie.

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was mentioned as a candidate in one report, but he said there's noting going on with him yet. During his football discussion, Savage displayed footage of a few of the Pro Bowl selections he's recommended over the years.

He showed running back Jamal Lewis bulling ahead for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins and safety Ed Reed intercepting his ninth pass of the season to set a single-season NFL record for interception return yards.

"We came over from Cleveland on a wing and a prayer and got those first couple of picks right and the fans bought into and said, 'Hey, these guys know what they're doing,'" Savage said. "That's a huge factor in terms of the way people think about our team."

Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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