Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Sunday, December 14, 2008
Browns under review


 
 AP Photo/Tony Dejak
 Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage remain on the hot seat in Cleveland.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

There is a large cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Cleveland Browns' organization.

That cloud involves the futures of Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Phil Savage and many of the team's top players. Last year at this time Cleveland (4-9) was considered a team on the rise. Now it is merely a sinking ship. Such is life in the NFL, where yesterday's darlings can quickly become today's disappointments.

As major changes loom, a national audience will get to see one of the final chapters of the 2008 Cleveland Browns on "Monday Night Football" (ESPN, 8:30 ET) when they travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles. Cleveland has lost three straight and mercifully ends its run of five prime-time games this season.

Following a 10-6 record in 2007, expectations were very high. As a result, Browns owner Randy Lerner recently said the entire organization is under review.

Here are some of the decisions facing Lerner and the Browns:

Keep or fire Crennel?

It's assumed that Crennel will not be back with the Browns next year, despite Lerner's assertion that he will wait until the end of the year to make a decision.

There have been reports of preliminary interest in former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and longtime head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Cleveland likely wants to go the route of searching for an experienced coach who is a proven winner, and Cowher and Schottenheimer are the biggest names available.

"Randy has said that he's going to wait until the end of the season to make any kind of determination," Crennel said of his situation last week. "I think that we're going to go through the season and then we're going to sit down and talk and see where that leads."

Although many of Cleveland's players are pulling for Crennel, his resume will not look good by the end of the season. He is 24-37 entering Monday's game against Philadelphia (7-5-1). Crennel also has struggled in areas such as game and clock management, and his defense, which is his specialty, has never been ranked higher than No. 16 in four seasons.

Keep or fire Savage?

Savage's circumstance is less predictable. Browns ownership has three choices: Keep Savage, fire him or ask him to take a lesser role with the organization.

The Browns were building from the ground up when Savage took over as GM in 2005. It took two years to gut the roster and bring in his own players, and last year's 10-win season was expected to be the beginning of a good run.

Savage has deemed 2008 an aberration. But in reality, Cleveland has only had one 10-win season since returning to the NFL in 1999. Savage shares the same record as his coach at 24-37, and a loss Monday would cement three double-digit losing seasons in four years. The draft record for Savage is decent.

Savage found a franchise left tackle (Joe Thomas) and potentially a franchise quarterback (Brady Quinn). But former first-round picks in receiver Braylon Edwards and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley have been inconsistent. Some high-priced free-agents, such as tackle Kevin Shaffer and receiver Donte Stallworth, haven't panned out, while the trade for defensive tackle Shaun Rogers did.

This is what makes Savage's situation a more thought-provoking decision for Lerner. Savage has added talent, but he's also proven he's still a young GM learning on the job. In addition to his misses, high-profile mistakes such as the handling of Kellen Winslow Jr.'s staph infection and his e-mail that included profanity to a fan doesn't help his case.

"I said on the radio ... that I am an open book," said Savage, who has four years left on his deal. "I can walk with my head held high. I think we have done a lot of positive things here."

What about player changes?

Whether it's Savage or someone else making the decisions, that person will have to hit the ground running this offseason.

Players such as Winslow and former starting quarterback Derek Anderson could be on the trading block. The Browns also have starters who are pending free agents in safety Sean Jones and linebackers Willie McGinest and Andra Davis. Edwards and kick returner Joshua Cribbs, both under contract, could seek new deals in the near future.

The past 365 days have provided a hard lesson for this franchise. Next time the nation sees the Browns, it could be a totally different team based on its shoddy performance this year.

"I think the lesson learned for a lot of our players is that every season is a new season," Savage said. "It doesn't matter what you did last year. It doesn't matter what you are planning on doing next year. It matters what you are doing today."