By Bruce Hooley
Former Browns general manager Phil Savage is an interested observer in the courtship of Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, an unrestricted free agent due a huge payday after a stellar post-season.
Savage – now the executive director of the Senior Bowl and the color analyst on the University of Alabama’s radio network for football -- worked in the Ravens’ front office as Ozzie Newsome’s second-in-command before coming to Cleveland.
Savage also worked in Cleveland under Bill Belichick and Michael Lombardi in the late 1980s before moving with the team to Baltimore, helping to scout and draft many of the players that brought Baltimore its first Super Bowl triumph in 2000.
Newsome has said the Ravens won’t make the same salary cap mistakes it made back then by trying to keep its roster intact for another run at the NFL’s ultimate prize.
Savage, the Browns GM from 2005-08, visited with The Hooligans on ESPN 850 WKNR and gave his prediction of Flacco’s impending free agency outcome.
He also offered some advice to the Browns’ new regime on maximizing the assets it inherits.
The Browns’ salary cap flexibility has caused some noted NFL reporters like Mike Floria and Peter King to speculate that Cleveland could make things difficult for Baltimore to re-sign Flacco. How do you think it will shake out?
“There is absolutely no way, based on what has happened thus far, that Joe Flacco is leaving the city of Baltimore. He’s going to be a Raven for a long time. I think his agent, Joe Lenta, realizes the situation (Flacco) is in – that there’s probably no better fit for him in the NFL than with the Baltimore Ravens. I think there’s going to be a meeting of the minds and at some point they will get something done.”
How much does a team like the Browns concern itself with Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, the competition in the AFC North, and what those teams are likely to do with their veterans and in free agency?
“First and foremost, you have to worry about your own affairs. There is no question you have to be cognizant of what’s going on around you. Remember, Ozzie Newsome used to say, ‘How can this player help us beat Pittsburgh?’ …For the Browns, it’s a tough situation, because you’re in the toughest division in football. I don’t think there’s any disputing that.”
How does settling the quarterback issue simplify things for a front office?
“It gives you the latitude to make mistakes in other areas. If you have the right quarterback, you don’t have to be perfect at the other 21 spots.”
What’s your assessment of Brandon Weeden’s future in Cleveland?
“With Rob Chudzinski in as head coach and his style of offense, I can see Brandon Weeden fitting in with what they do. He’s a long-ball thrower. He’s a guy who has a nice arm. The struggle, as it’s been since the Browns returned, is the constant change. This change in philosophies, changing systems, it makes it difficult for any players to ever get their feet on the ground and master a system and master a method of playing.
“With the Steelers, you know what they are. With the Ravens, you know what they are. With the Browns, they’ve always tried to find an identity. But with so much change and turnover through the years, it’s been awfully difficult for the players to (buy) in, invest in a system and really know it backward and forward. That’s the key to winning in the NFL.”
What is the mindset of Lombardi and Joe Banner relative to Weeden or other high draft choices of the previous regime? Do they view them as significant investments they must work to develop because of the organizational cost in getting them? Or, is the slate clean with every player and no one gets a greater chance based upon where they were drafted?
“You can’t go into any building and say, ‘This is our guy,’ or, ‘Their guy,’ or whoever. You have to say, ‘This is the Cleveland Browns’ guy. We need him to perform and play as best as he can.’
“The question they have to answer is, ‘Is there another alternative that’s better going forward than Brandon Weeden? Or, are they going to try to develop him in Rob Chudzinski’s system and (with) Norv Turner (as offensive coordinator)?’
“Because the Browns have typically been playing catch-up, I think the mistake that’s been made is, ‘All bets are off; it’s a clean slate for the new regime.’ That all sounds good and rosy at the beginning. But while you’re trying to clean house and start over, those other teams are adding pieces to keep trying to continue to win. It puts you behind the eight-ball a little bit.
“Therefore, you really have to try to take full advantage of the resources you do have and the players that are left behind by a previous regime. You’ve got to try to make those players try to reach their potential under your system if that’s at all possible. Because if you go in trying to sweep the room clean and start over, it just puts you too far behind the competition in the rest of the division.”
To hear the rest of the Savage interview – including his comments on the hiring of Lombardi, Nick Saban’s secret to success at Alabama and what the Browns should have done differently to develop Brady Quinn, click here.
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