The Browns released left guard Eric Steinbach on Wednesday because his agent and the club could not find common ground to reduce Steinbach's salary of $6 million, the agent, Jack Bertha, said.
Steinbach missed all last season recovering from surgery to remove a disc fragment from his spinal nerve. According to Bertha he is on pace for a full recovery and plans to play four more years. There is a possibility he could return to the Browns. He signed a seven-year contract in 2007 - the same year the Browns drafted left tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick overall - for $49.5 million.
"It has been a good ride in Cleveland and I hope it can continue," Steinbach said in a statement. "I'm proud to say that the offensive line has been a bright spot through the past few seasons. It has been a privilege to play for the city of Cleveland and its rich tradition. I will continue to work with the Browns through my agent in hopes of striking a deal that is practical and fair for both sides. In the meantime, I will explore other opportunities."
Jason Pinkston, a fifth-round draft pick from Pitt in 2011, started all 16 games at left guard last year. He is scheduled to make $465,000.
1. Right tackle: The tendon surgery performed on Tony Pashos last week was likely to keep him sidelined all of 2012 even before he was released. The two players who started for Pashos in the three games he missed were Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks. Cousins re-signed, while Hicks signed with Miami. Ideally the Browns will find a young veteran in free agency such as they did in 2007 when they signed Eric Steinbach to play left guard. Steinbach was entering his fifth season at the time.
2. Running back: Peyton Hillis left the Browns and signed a one-year contract with the Chiefs for $2.6 million. Now there is a hole in the backfield that probably means finding a starter in the draft. The three backs on the roster - Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya and Brandon Jacobs -- are reliable as backups but not carrying 280 times a season.
3. Wide receiver: Greg Little should improve in his second season and Jordan Norwood shows promise as a third receiver. But the Browns haven't had an impact receiver since Braylon Edwards and it is time to change that.
MEDICAL WATCHL: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: K Phil Dawson (tendered at $3.81 million).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS NEEDS
--P Brand Maynard did an excellent job filling in after the Browns lost two punters with injuries, but he won't be back because Reggie Hodges has recovered from an Achilles injury that wiped out his season in training camp.
--OL Steve Vallos has been a rarely used spare part for two years and won't be back.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Titus Brown (not tendered as ERFA) is a solid special teams player and capable backup, but he is coming off a knee injury. Re-signing him is not a high priority.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--WR Jordan Norwood came on strong at the end of the season. He definitely will be re-signed. General manager Tom Heckert really likes Norwood.
--OT Oniel Cousins: UFA; terms unknown.
--OG John Greco: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--CB Dimitri Patterson: UFA; $16M/3 yrs, $6M guaranteed.
--DL Brian Schaefering: ERFA; terms unknown.
--TE Alex Smith: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB D'Qwell Jackson: Potential UFA; $42.5M/5 yrs, $7M SB/$1.3M RB/$3.4M base guarantee '12/$3.6M base guarantee injury '13.
--S Mike Adams: UFA Broncos; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--T/G Artis Hicks: UFA Dolphins; $2M/1 yr.
--RB Peyton Hillis: UFA Chiefs: $2.6M/1 yr.
--P Richmond McGee (released).
--DE Jayme Mitchell (released).
--OT Tony Pashos (released/failed physical).
--OG Eric Steinbach (released).