Browns focused on winning, not building for future
Believing they're on the brink of something big, the Browns have sacrificed precious draft picks to acquire proven veterans. The approach likely will determine the fate of Cleveland's current regime, writes Pat Yasinskas.
It's early March, and Romeo Crennel is ticking off his haul from April's NFL draft."Brady Quinn is my first-round pick,'' the coach of the Cleveland Browns said Thursday. "Brady's going to be a good quarterback for the Browns for a long time to come. My second-round pick is Corey Williams. He played four years up in Green Bay, and he played very well. My third-round pick is Shaun Rogers. He's a tremendous talent, and he's very excited about being in Cleveland.''
The Real Deal?With Cleveland taking an aggressive approach to the offseason, experts and fans are calling the Browns a team on the rise, maybe even a Super Bowl contender. But that doesn't always mean much in March. A look back at two teams that were trendy Super Bowl contenders the previous two offseasons shows that the best-laid plans don't always work out: 2007 San Francisco 49ers: Signing defensive backs Nate Clements and Michael Lewis to big contracts and drafting linebacker Patrick Willis were supposed to put the 49ers over the top. They didn't. Other holes appeared on defense. Quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore battled injuries, and the 49ers finished 5-11. 2006 Carolina Panthers: Coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, it looked like all the Panthers needed was a complement to receiver Steve Smith. Their fans and the national media bought into the Super Bowl hype when the Panthers signed aging receiver Keyshawn Johnson. He produced decent numbers, but it didn't matter because the running game disappeared and the defense was vastly overrated.
-- Pat Yasinskas
With free agency only a week old, the Browns already are emerging as one of those trendy Super Bowl picks that, powered by a promising previous season and some offseason moves, seem to pop up every year. Talk of the Super Bowl is not what Crennel and Savage want to hear in March (think Carolina in 2006 and San Francisco in 2007).But they're not going to give the standard answer about how you don't win championships on paper because, ultimately, the Browns are shooting for the Super Bowl. "If there really are people mentioning it, the simple fact on the plus side of that ledger is that it shows how far we've come from where we were,'' Savage said. "In terms of expectations, it adds an element that's new for our team. It's a different pressure to play under. But I feel like our team is ready to take another step and won't shrivel up when it comes time to produce and perform, because guys can look to their left and look to their right and say, 'These guys are pretty good players.'" That's precisely what Savage and Crennel were looking to do when they decided to scrap their draft picks and take what can only be described as a win-now approach. That attitude might have developed because Savage and Crennel are entering their fourth season together, and the Browns were 6-10 and 4-12 in the first two seasons and haven't been to the playoffs in this era. "Would we have done something like this two or three years ago? Probably not,'' Savage said. "But now we can because we're in a different spot and it makes sense.'' It makes sense because the Browns might have been only a player away from the playoffs last season and the team might be only a few players away from giving Cleveland its first serious contender in years. So why not speed up the process? This year's Cleveland draft actually started last year. With the No. 3 overall pick, the Browns passed over Quinn and selected offensive tackle Joe Thomas. When Quinn unexpectedly slid past the 20th pick, the Browns jumped back up, trading last year's second-round pick and this year's first to Dallas to take the former Notre Dame quarterback at No. 22.
But the Browns' busy offseason didn't stop there. Even with Quinn waiting in the wings, they made it a point to sign quarterback Derek Anderson, who came out of nowhere to establish himself as the starter last year, to a contract that runs through 2010. That prevented Anderson from leaving as a restricted free agent, even though the Browns could have picked up first- and third-round picks if he had.
Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.