The off-season gains stream with this week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis, and the Browns have been already greasing the wheels for what may be a busy time.
Unresolved issues at the quarterback position, at running back, and questions about player contracts have caught the attention of team officials and fans alike early in this off-season.
Beginning in early March, the Browns' plans will start to be unveiled. The free agent player signing period will commence, as will the league player trading period. In the case of the Browns, expectations of players being released, contracts restructured, and rumors of players heading in and out of Cleveland will be prevalent.
There will no bigger story in Cleveland than that of the ongoing saga of Browns quarterback Tim Couch. From being the first-player selected by the team to his benching and late 2003 resurgence, Couch is on the minds of all fans of the Browns, as well as the men who write the players' checks.
While the team seeks a major contract restructuring for Couch, which would include a sizeable pay-cut, the Browns five-year veteran signal-caller from Kentucky could merely be biding his time. Couch has been viewed as a disappointment in many eyes, as the team pushes towards a lengthy negotiation process to significantly lower his base salary. Much of the lost salary could be made up with an incentive-laden deal the team will propose.
While Tim Couch says all the right things publicly, sources close to the team and player believe Couch is willing to re-do his contract, but will refuse a drastic pay-cut. Citing his good-soldier attitude and the lumps he has take for this franchise since their rebirth in 1999, Couch believes he is not the reason this team has not been overly successful.
The departure of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will improve a relationship with head coach Butch Davis that has been described as ‘trying' and ‘puzzling' to players in the locker room. It was Davis who openly stated he believed Couch was a quarterback that could lead the Browns to a championship, only to subsequently bench Couch and hand the starting job to Kelly Holcomb on a "gut feeling".
Under the direction of new offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, the team is expected to become more of a power-offensive team, which will rely on the strengths of the players and less on the gimmicks and gadgetry of Arians' tenure. From what we've been told by numerous players and current team personnel, Robiskie has openly noted his belief in Couch and believes the Browns new offensive philosophy will be more conducive to Couch's talents and intangibles.
All of this, however, will be a moot point if the team and Couch cannot agree on a new contract.
A restructured contract for Couch is certainly not a given - at least not in the way that Team President Carmen Policy would like us to believe with his latest posturing. We're likely to hear more of the same Tuesday in the organization's state of the team address.