|ESPN.com: AFC North||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Thirteen-year veteran Joe Horn is in Atlanta waiting for a phone call and, perhaps, a little symmetry.
Before the 1996 NFL draft, a small-school receiver met with a young, up-and-comer from the Baltimore Ravens by the name of Phil Savage, who was the first scout willing to spend time and visit with Horn coming out of Itawamba Junior College.
|Doug Pensinger/Getty Images|
|Joe Horn is still looking for a team that could use his services.|
Four Pro Bowls and 603 receptions later, Horn says he's never forgotten that day working out for Savage in North Carolina.
"Actually, he didn't have to work me out," Horn said in a telephone interview with ESPN.com. "He came down there and I think my agent got in contact with him. Phil worked me out, shook my hand, and talked to me about the league and what I need to do to get to the NFL and stay in the league. I just appreciated him for giving me that opportunity."
A dozen years later, Savage is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns -- a team in need for a veteran third receiver to complement Pro Bowler Braylon Edwards and Donte' Stallworth.
Veteran receiver Joe Jurevicius, who was expected to be the No. 3 receiver, was put on the physically unable to perform list Tuesday after contracting a staph infection following minor knee surgery this offseason.
Also, a dozen years later, Horn is a free agent in search of a contending team. He recently asked for his release from the Atlanta Falcons and sees Cleveland as an attractive destination, where Savage is the boss in addition to a former pupil in Stallworth that Horn mentored as members of the New Orleans Saints.
Do we have a match?
Horn certainly thinks so.
"I would love to get with those young guys and help them win, because I know they are right at the next step of getting to the Super Bowl," Horn, 36, said. "I would love to be a part of Cleveland's organization and help them get to that next level."
But the stars do not always align in reality as they do on paper.
The Browns are in no rush to make any additions to their team, particularly with final cuts approaching that will reduce the roster from 75 players to 53 by Saturday.
Yet injuries and spotty play this preseason have exposed some holes where the Browns could be looking for help by the Sept. 7 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. In addition to receiver, Cleveland also lacks quality depth in the secondary and that may be the most pressing issue.
Receivers such as Travis Wilson, Steve Sanders and Syndric Steptoe provide strength in numbers, yet remain unproven. Cleveland also did well last season with former third receiver Tim Carter as a virtual non-factor in 2007 and the team has other options with versatile players on offense.
"Our third receiver caught eight passes last year," Savage said. "With a healthy [tight end Steve] Heiden, the expectation is that Braylon, Donte' and [tight end] Kellen [Winslow] would be our three 'receivers' with others in a support role. At least until Joe Jurevicius comes back."
Savage said in June that the Browns were "at their budget," but the team remains under the cap and has the ability to make another quality signing/trade or two, if needed.
So where does that leave Horn?
In addition to Cleveland, expected playoff contenders such as the Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars all currently lack healthy and/or proven receivers. Horn, who caught 64 passes the past two seasons, said he has "no doubt" that he can help a contending team right away.
"Am I shocked that another team hasn't scooped me up right now? I'm kind of shocked," Horn admitted. "I see where there's some needs where teams could use me to get to the next step. But that's just my personal opinion. If they don't feel that way, then I understand that, too."
Horn added that he's content if retirement and watching his kids play football turns out to be the next phase of his life. His money is properly invested and his desire to play football is only for competition and the love of the game.
But Horn continues to lift weights and workout in Atlanta regularly because, in the NFL, he remains just one injury or phone call away.
At the moment, it doesn't appear that call will come from an old, familiar face. But Horn still looks back fondly on the time Savage connected with him and wouldn't mind a chance to return the favor.
"Things went well for Phil," Horn said glowingly. "He's a general manager now. Obviously he did his homework...He made sure he got the job he wanted to have and I'm elated for him.
"I did some great things during my career, also. So I'm sure he still remembers that kid he worked out down there that made it."