Commentary

Savage has Browns headed in right direction

Since taking over the Cleveland Browns franchise, Phil Savage has shown expertise that could bring Cleveland back to the NFL's top tier teams, writes former GM Floyd Reese.

Originally Published: March 7, 2008
By Floyd Reese | ESPN.com

I recently wrote an article discussing the top talent evaluators in the league. Since then, I have received numerous e-mails questioning some of the choices. It seems the key issue was the lack of young decision-makers. So I wanted to tout a young general manager who has recently made some very good decisions:

Phil Savage of the Cleveland Browns.

Savage, 42, is bright, dedicated and, more importantly, he has been exposed to all areas of personnel. Since taking over a struggling yet proud Browns franchise, he has shown expertise that could potentially bring Cleveland back to the NFL's top-tier teams.

[+] EnlargePhil Savage
Jamie Mullen/US PresswireComing off a 10-6 season, Browns GM Phil Savage made two bold trades this month, leaving the team with just one pick in the draft.
Just as the NFL produces rookie sensations who disappear into mediocrity, the same holds true for coaches and general managers. The reason players such as Brett Favre, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and decision-makers such as Bill Polian, Bill Belichick and Ozzie Newsome are among the NFL elite is because they have proven themselves over time. Just as a great quarterback must have an equally impressive offensive line, a great decision-maker must have really good scouts and directors. For the process to work, the support system must be as good as the decision-maker, but still the bottom line is, the guy throwing the ball or making the call must be very good.

Drafts

In his three years of drafting, Savage has proven his ability to identify top picks. Three of his four first-round selections -- offensive tackle Joe Thomas, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and wide receiver Braylon Edwards -- appear to be star-caliber players. The jury is still out on quarterback Brady Quinn. Savage has shown the ability to continue his first-day success with picks such as defensive back Eric Wright and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. His second-day picks are not in the same league, which is normal, but even still include linebacker Leon Williams and fullback Lawrence Vickers.

Savage on ESPN Radio

On Mike & Mike, Phil Savage discussed Derek Anderson's new contract, Brady Quinn's future, and their recent free agent signings.

They went from no QBs last year to two this season. It's a good problem. Quinn is aware and will be a big part of the team's future, Savage says. Listen Insider

More Browns coverage: • Green: Class of AFC North Insider
• Yasinskas: Future is now

Trades

Trades might be the most difficult decision to make as a general manager. But Savage has the confidence and expertise to pull the trigger. In 2007, he traded his '07 second-round pick and '08 first-round pick to move up to select Quinn. This year, he all but sacrificed the remaining 2008 draft class to solidify the defensive line with the acquisitions of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams.

Because Savage has had success in his first few drafts, I find it unusual that he would trade away almost his entire draft class for free agents. We all know unrestricted free agency is a gamble, and a couple of his recent signings can be seen in that way as well. In my mind, there are really only two reasons to risk an entire year's draft:

1. You feel like it is impossible to fill your needs through the draft either because of your draft position or the depth of the draft.

2. You're making an attempt to move your franchise to the next level. In the football world, this is a high-risk, high-reward proposition.

Only time will tell if these choices were good ones, but I applaud the commitment and courage it takes to make such decisions.

Free Agency

As a franchise matures, it becomes imperative to employ mature players to fill a roster. This is a primary rule of free agency -- sign your own players first. You know your guys, and even if you feel like you are overpaying them, you will, on average, pay more for another team's discards or problems. Savage has shown an understanding of both areas. First, he wrestled quarterback Derek Anderson, a practice-squad player, from Baltimore. Following Anderson's Pro Bowl season, Savage's first order of business was to re-sign him to a three-year contract. Next, he ventured into the unrestricted free-agent world to help his quarterback and completed his wide receiver corps by adding Donte' Stallworth. All of this and we still have yet to mention what may be one of the greatest college free-agent signings in the Browns history: returner/wide receiver Joshua Cribbs. The free-agency period is nowhere near complete, and I am sure Savage will continue being active and accurate.

Head coach

In what may seem like a side note, Savage added yet another essential element. He stepped out and signed head coach Romeo Crennel to a long-term extension. This allows the group of players added to the roster the luxury of playing for the coach and general manager who hand selected them.

Stability

When building a team, the cumulative effort of all the aspects above is stability. Stability occurs when you have quality players in place and decision-makers locked up over time. The single most important element to this process is ownership. Ownership must pay the tab for the draft choices, free agents and administrators. Without the support of Randy Lerner, none of this is possible. When you add up all of the elements necessary to be a contender, including ownership, coaching, players and decision-makers, Browns fans must be elated.

Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes to ESPN.com.

Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes frequently to ESPN.com.