Monday, March 3, 2008

Browns Gear Up for Super Bowl Run

Browns General Manager Phil Savage has thrown down the gauntlet, declaring that the team's goal in 2008 is not just to make the playoffs but to get to the Super Bowl, a lofty ambition for a franchise that has never played in a Super Bowl and has not even won a playoff game since the 1994 season. During the early part of last season, I was skeptical that Savage and Coach Romeo Crennel would be able to turn the Browns into a winning program but the Browns showed a lot of promise in 2007, narrowly missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record. They sent six players to the Pro Bowl, proving that the Browns are no longer bereft of top shelf talent.

Savage's first big decision of this offseason was whether or not to sign free agent Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson. Although there was a lot of speculation that the Browns would get rid of Anderson in exchange for multiple draft picks and make second year man Brady Quinn the starter, Savage chose to sign Anderson to a three year deal. I really do not understand why so many Browns fans wanted the Browns to get rid of Anderson. Yes, Anderson threw some costly interceptions down the stretch but when is the last time that the Browns had a Pro Bowl quarterback? Would you believe that it was 1988 (Bernie Kosar)? It makes no sense to quickly give up on an obviously talented player who has not even had one full season as a starter. Look back at the careers of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks like Brett Favre, John Elway and Terry Bradshaw. They made some ill advised throws early in their careers, too. I'm not saying that Anderson will ever be as good as those guys but the point is that it takes quarterbacks time to mature. Anderson has the required physical tools to be a very good NFL quarterback and with experience he will learn to cut down on his mistakes. Also, while Quinn certainly looked good during the preseason there is a big difference between exhibition games and real games. I do think that Quinn will be a good NFL quarterback but there is nothing wrong with having two good quarterbacks on your roster. That did not work out too badly for San Francisco back in the day. For a long time the Browns did not have a single quarterback who could play, so what is the rush to get rid of the best one that the team has had in two decades?

Savage also re-signed running back Jamal Lewis, who had the first 200 yard game by a Browns running back since 1975 and whose 1304 rushing yards last season rank seventh best in franchise history, trailing only six efforts by Jim Brown. With his star passer and star runner securely back in the fold, Savage turned his attention to upgrading other positions on the roster. He signed free agent wide receiver Donte Stallworth, traded a second round draft pick to Green Bay for defensive tackle Corey Williams and traded cornerback Leigh Bodden plus a third round draft pick to Detroit for defensive lineman Shaun Rogers.

Stallworth should add another dimension to an already potent offense but the additions of Williams and Rogers could be even more significant. NFL games are won in the trenches. While Anderson, Lewis and Pro Bowlers Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards are the "skill" players who got the headlines from the Browns' offense, a major reason for the Browns' improvement on that side of the ball is that Savage upgraded the offensive line. In order to get to the next level, the Browns must similarly upgrade the defensive line. After all, the New York Giants toppled the unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl largely on the strength of their great defensive line. The Browns need to get better at stopping the run and they also need to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If Williams and Rogers are able to do those things and the Browns' offensive players remain healthy and productive then Cleveland will be very, very good next season.

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