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Cleveland rocks

The Browns' keen overhaul, free agency, 10 Things

Posted: Monday March 3, 2008 1:49AM; Updated: Monday March 3, 2008 12:38PM
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QB Derek Anderson flirted with free agency before re-signing with the Browns for three years and $24 million ($13M in guarantees).
QB Derek Anderson flirted with free agency before re-signing with the Browns for three years and $24 million ($13M in guarantees).
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At about 8:15 Saturday night, I asked Cleveland general manager Phil Savage (The Man Without A 2008 Draft) how he felt after completing one of the craziest 48 hours in free-agency history.

This offseason, Savage has locked up better-than-anyone-thought running back Jamal Lewis for three years, signed quarterback Derek Anderson for three years at a pricey $24 million in the early hours of free agency, sent a second-round pick to Green Bay for franchised defensive tackle Corey Williams, traded a third-round pick plus underrated cornerback Leigh Bodden to Detroit for defensive lineman Shaun Rogers and shocked general managers all over football by throwing a $35 million contract ($10 million guaranteed) at peripatetic wide receiver Donte' Stallworth, who will be wearing his fourth uniform in 27 months when he suits up with the Browns.

"We've worked hard at filling some holes,'' Savage said via the cell phone. "It's an unorthodox way of filling the holes; but at the end of the day, I think we answered an awful lot of questions we had about our team, and we put ourselves in position to be a pretty good team.''

But he didn't feel great about his answer, and I asked him to get back to me if anything else happened -- specifically if he got the last gem on his list: Tennessee defensive end Travis LaBoy. The Browns entered free agency thinking the right signings would help them play along the defensive front the way the Giants did in beating New England in Super Bowl XLII. They envisioned sending waves of rushers at Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger over the next few years.

The LaBoy deal, though, wasn't forthcoming Saturday night; and an hour or so later, Savage sent me a text message that read: "Relieved would be the word, I think. Our roster looks pretty good on paper -- QB, Jamal and DL were the priorities, and that's what we did. Thanks, Phil.''

***

After three days of free agency, I have one word for you. It's the same word I use every year for this weekend, when, say, a non-Pro Bowler coming off a two-sack season and an ACL surgery (Tommy Kelly, Oakland) gets a big contract because of free agency, as do a pair of pockmarked defensive tackles (Kris Jenkins, Jets; Shaun Rogers, Cleveland) from teams that start thinking such players are different than their former teams saw.

"Wow!"

But I'm not surprised, not when the 32 teams started free agency Friday morning with a combined $538 million in salary-cap room, and not in a league in which New York won the Super Bowl just 26 days earlier. The Giants won just seven weeks after they looked like every other just-OK team in football; and if they could beat the almighty Patriots just a few weeks after the Vikings and the Redskins had made New York look so incredibly flawed, then what's to keep perhaps 20 or so other teams from thinking they, too, could tinker with their lineup a little bit and win the Super Bowl next year?

I'll give you some first-weekend thoughts in a moment, as well as a rundown of why the Browns did what they did. But as I try to digest the first three days, I want to caution you about what this all means. A year from now, if you care to do so, look back on the first weekend of 2008 free agency and think: What was all the fuss about? Case in point, think back to last year. On the first weekend, the big stories were about:

• The 49ers rebuilding their secondary by signing cornerback Nate Clements and safety Michael Lewis. San Francisco went from a defense that allowed 3,571 passing yards in 2006 to one that allowed 3,643 in 2007. Not a great weekend.

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