Steven King

Browns Need To Learn From Their Past And Stay At No. 6

Created on Apr. 22, 2013 4:43 PM EST

Former Cleveland Browns GM Phil Savage still gets criticism well over four years after he was fired.

Some of it is justified – you can’t lose your cool and use an obscenity to tell off a fan in a text, an act that was the final straw for then-Browns owner Randy Lerner in dismissing him -- but at the same time, much of it isn’t.

For instance, it was Savage who made arguably the two best first-round picks the Browns have had in the NFL Draft in the expansion era.

Ironically, both came at No. 3 overall.

In 2005 – Savage’s first draft after being hired away from the Baltimore Ravens – the Browns took Michigan WR Braylon Edwards.

Edwards, of course, had his issues with commitment and focus and lasted only 4½ seasons. But people forget that he had 238 career receptions – one of the higher totals in franchise history – for 28 touchdowns, which is seventh-most by a Brown. Had he stayed longer, he might be among the top three Browns career receivers in both catches and touchdowns.

Along with that, Edwards had the greatest season ever by a Browns pass catcher in 2007 with 80 receptions (sixth-most) for 1,289 yards (a franchise record) and 16 touchdowns (also a team mark).

Savage did even better – much better, in fact – in 2007 by selecting Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas, who may be the best player at that position in the game right now. He’s been to the Pro Bowl in each of his six seasons and may someday become the Browns’ 17th member in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

You could also make the case – and you’d be right – that Thomas is one of the best first-round draft choices in team history, period, going all the way back to the original franchise’s 50-year existence from 1946-95. Considering that Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Paul Warfield and Ozzie Newsome were tabbed in the first round (along with Clay Matthews, Gary Collins and Mike Pruitt), that’s saying something.

We point out all of this because in both instances, Savage resisted the temptation to trade down out of that No. 3 slot so as to acquire more draft picks and fill additional holes on the rebuilding team. He stood his ground and took what he thought were top-level talents.

As indicated, that philosophy worked out pretty well. In 2007, with Edwards and Thomas making key contributions on one of the most prolific offenses in team history, the Browns just barely missed the playoffs and finished 10-6 – their best record since 1994.

Now the Browns are at that point again. They have the No. 6 overall selection Thursday night as the draft begins, and there is considerable speculation that instead of staying there and making the pick of what should be one of the best players available, they’ll trade down so as to acquire more draft choices and fill additional holes on the rebuilding team.

Trading down in the first round is exactly what the Browns did – four times, in fact -- in that disastrous 2009 draft run by Eric Mangini. Cleveland, with former GM Tom Heckert at the controls, traded down again in the first round in 2011 and, last year, actually traded up a spot to make sure they got Trent Richardson. (It should be pointed out, however, Richardson had one of the best rookie seasons by a running back in club history.)

The Browns, who have had five straight losing seasons, don’t need a group of good players to get things turned around. They need an impactful player – the likes of which are usually most readily available at the top of the draft and can make the players around him markedly better.

Browns CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi are being paid a lot of money to make the tough decisions. They need to keep the pick, take a deep breath and select a big-time player at No. 6.

Savage did that twice in a span of three drafts and made excellent choices. With Thomas, he may well have made a Hall of Fame choice.

There’s no reason the Browns can’t do that again – if they really want to.

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