If there is one positive Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner can take away from his team’s yearly opening loss embarrassment it’s that the fans still care enough to get mad. Anger isn’t the enemy, indifference is. The problem is the Browns seem hell-bent on giving their fans ever more reason to be indifferent.
General manager Phil Savage told Sports Illustrated writer Peter King that his goal for the Browns this season is to be competitive. Consider it still a goal. More than anything else, what was particularly clear on Sunday is that the Browns are just not there yet. Not with those cornerbacks. Not with those linebackers. Not with those receivers. Not with that head coach.
In every way a team can get outclassed, that was the Browns’ fate on Sunday. In and of itself, that’s not a crime or a sin. But if those fans who attended the team’s opening practice at training camp this summer and chanted “Super Bowl” were serious, then such a result was as unexpected as John McCain selecting, essentially, the mayor of Whoville to be his running mate. It shouldn’t have been.
The most revealing and refreshing aspect of King’s chronicling of the Browns for Sports Illustrated is how clearly attuned Savage is to the team’s weaknesses, at least in terms of players. Savage clearly acknowledged the weaknesses in the secondary and the limited opportunities he had to fix it given the other holes that had to get fixed. In that respect, he’s underscoring a truism that is important for everyone to remember: in a league with a salary cap, extreme makeovers aren’t going to happen overnight. Remember, too, it was Savage who readily admitted that just a few short years ago, the team had but a handful of legitimate NFL players on the roster. Generally speaking, Savage’s glasses have clear lenses.
Thus has Savage gone about rebuilding the team from the inside out. He’s fixed the offensive and defensive lines. The skill positions have received a fair amount of attention as well. The last remaining pieces, like the leaky plumbing in a downstairs bathroom, are next. Unfortunately, it’s going to take another offseason to get to that project.
But where Savage is completely unrealistic is in his view of head coach Romeo Crennel. In fact, it’s Savage’s biggest blind spot. By giving Crennel a contract extension in January, Savage just reinforced the flaw in his own thinking.