Calling shots for new team, Savage seeks same, old magic

Browns GM aims to repeat success he had with Ravens

Nfl Draft

April 22, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Preparation meets opportunity tomorrow when Phil Savage, armed with the third pick in the NFL draft and the authority to move it, finally steps out on his own as general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

The course Savage sets in his first Browns draft not only will shape the next five years in Cleveland, but directly affect the long-term success of the team he leaves behind.

For the past nine drafts, Savage huddled in the Ravens' war room with general manager Ozzie Newsome. Together, they selected 10 players who eventually went to the Pro Bowl.

This weekend, Savage will call the shots in Cleveland in the bid to resurrect a fallen Browns franchise and close the gap on Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati in the AFC North.

At least he's on familiar ground.

"That's good and bad," he said. "This is like when you're a Little League baseball player and grow up with the same kids, and from the time you're 8 until 14, you're pretty good. But once all your buddies figure out you can't hit the inside fastball, that's all you get.

"The good side is having been in this division, playing against Pittsburgh, seeing what Marvin [Lewis] is doing in Cincinnati, and knowing the Ravens. It's going to take a yeoman effort to get the Browns to the point first of all where they compete on a weekly basis, and secondly where we're expecting to win on a weekly basis."

Fourteen years after he launched an NFL career in scouting, Savage inherits a 4-12 team that was ravaged by poor personnel decisions since its return to the NFL in 1999.

Nearly four months into the job, he already has changed the face of the team with a series of moves he described as "meat and potatoes."

He solved a crisis in the interior offensive line by adding veteran guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman in free agency. He tapped into his Baltimore pipeline by signing free-agent cornerback Gary Baxter and trading for former Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer.

Along the way, he dumped high-priced busts of the Browns' previous regimes.

In January, Savage took the job of senior vice president and general manager with authority to pick the team's 53-man roster over head coach Romeo Crennel.

In February, the Browns cut quarterback Jeff Garcia and strong safety Robert Griffith. In March, they cut defensive end Courtney Brown (first pick in the 2000 draft), and traded defensive tackles Gerard Warren (third pick in 2001) and Michael Myers and defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban in separate deals. This month, they cut free safety Earl Little.

Perhaps the next to go is running back William Green, the team's first-round pick in 2002.

Savage has been quick to remove the mistakes of the Browns' past, whether from the Carmen Policy or Butch Davis eras. In the past six regular seasons, the Browns have gone 30-66 and not drafted a player who made it to the Pro Bowl.

"We don't really care where a guy was drafted because we don't have the accountability for what was done in the past," Savage said. "All we have accountability for is what is done today, tomorrow and next week."

Savage got a fourth-round pick for Warren and sent it to the Seattle Seahawks for Dilfer, who guided the Ravens in their Super Bowl championship season of 2000.

The arrival of Dilfer alleviates the need of drafting a quarterback with the third pick and stabilizes a position that has been in flux since the Browns took Tim Couch with the first pick in the 1999 draft.

Dilfer and Cleveland seem the right match at the right time.

"I think he's an ideal transitional quarterback; that's the word his agent used to me," Savage said. "I think Trent has something to prove. He is 33 years old and still has a fire about football and still feels like there's something else out there for his career.

"It gives him a chance to close out his career the way he'd like. ... If Trent plays well, it's his job."

Dilfer was attractive for another reason.

"From an intangible standpoint, this place [Cleveland] was devoid of quality leadership, character or real substance," Savage said. "I just thought knowing Trent and the way he is, knowing what he's been through over the years on and off the field, I thought he could fill a void there, whether as the starter, second team or third team."

Savage's next decision will be his biggest on the job so far. Should he sit at No. 3 and take a player who has a chance to be an impact player or deal the pick to get more value?

So far, he isn't saying.

"Is one blue-chip player equivalent to trading back and getting several more picks?" he asked. "That is something that has been weighing in our minds for the last several months now."

If the first two picks go for quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (California) and Alex Smith (Utah), the Browns would get some competitive offers for the chance to draft wide receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan, or possibly running back Ronnie Brown of Auburn.

Here's another clue. Savage isn't thinking about hitting a home run in the draft, so much as setting a tone.

"We want to continue with what we did in free agency," he said. "We wanted to build on this team with the right kind of guys. We have a long way to go, and this is just another step. I think we are going to have a very good draft."

NFL DRAFT

Tomorrow - Sunday

TV: ESPN, ESPN2

Ravens' first three picks: 22nd, 53rd, 84th

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