NFL Free Agency: An Ode to Former Cleveland Browns GM Phil Savage


The coolest thing Phil Savage ever did was can Charlie Frye after the Cleveland Browns’ 2007 season opener.

I attended that game against the Steelers and it was pure misery. Head coach Romeo Crennel held a quarterback derby that preseason and infamously announced he would “flip a coin” to decide who his starter would be against Pittsburgh that year. Frye won the toss and was promptly annihilated.

The Browns’ opening possession went three-and-out, and the Browns committed four penalties on the punt (that is not a joke either). The score was 17-0 after the first quarter and the game was over.

Savage’s Browns fans were distraught, and he answered them.  The next day he dumped Frye on the Seattle Seahawks, and Mike Holmgren of all people, for a sixth-round pick. It made me feel better, like the guys running the team actually cared about how fans felt.

But Phil Savage was crazy, and with that type of Savage move comes all the rest:

  • The relentless overpaying in free agency for Gary Baxter (miss), LeCharles Bentley (miss), Eric Steinbach (hit) and Donte’ Stallworth (miss).
  • The wild draft day blunders and gems, from passing on Haloti Ngata and trading up for Brady Quinn to finding Ahtyba Rubin in the sixth round.

From the fan-appeasing statement of trading your starting quarterback one game into the season to sending an “FU” email to a fan, or asking players to cover up a staph infection conspiracy – with the good Savage you also get the bad. Lots of bad.

Thankfully, this Browns regime is more collected.

Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert aren’t going to take wild swings to improve their team like Phil Savage did, because wild swings can lead to giant misses. Savage traded away his top three picks in the 2008 draft for Brady Quinn, Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers. The effects of that wild swing and miss are still being felt in Berea today.

The current regime also refuses to go out of their way to appease their fans. They talk about a belief in their system like it’s an ancient religion. They don’t seem to care that we have watched a 5-11 or 4-12 team for four straight years and they don’t care if that streak reaches five, either.

This is all agonizing for Browns fans, but remember, Phil Savage was crazy, and trading three first-round draft picks for Robert Griffin III is a Phil Savage move.

Signing Vincent Jackson and Pierre Garcon to combined contracts of $100 million is a Phil Savage move.

And, running a team based on the hot button reaction of the fans – especially Browns fans – is a Phil Savage move.

This is our first look at the opposite of Savage, an attempt to build a sustainable model no matter what we say about it. If Holmgren and Heckert can bring us a Steelers-esque ten-year run of AFC North domination, I’ll take a few more years of torture.

The future might not be now but at least it’s safe. At least it’s still possible.

We may have felt better the day Savage offed Frye, but wild moves like that are also what got us to where we are today.

So the next time you want to yell at Mike Holmgren for not even trying to sign a big-name free agent, or for not trading away the farm for a quarterback, think of Phil Savage.

We tried that and it didn’t work. Maybe the opposite will.

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