Chances are, you remember when Gardocki, responding to what he considered a cheap hit, lifted a singular discourteous digit towards the Steeler bench on live TV. If a player wants to get himself into the hearts of Browns fans, Gardocki's gesture (for which he was fined $5,000) is one certain way to do it.
But now, in one of the weirder stories of the 2004 off-season, ESPN.com is reporting that the Steelers have signed Gardocki to a five-year contract worth $6.5 million dollars. The contract is roughly equivalent to what Gardocki was making in 2003 with the Browns. What makes the deal strange is that the Steelers already have a punter, Josh Miller, under contract. Gardocki was believed to be of primary interest to the New England Patriots.
Gardocki has been a constant presence for the expansion Browns, having been signed as a free agent prior to the 1999 season. While in Cleveland, he set a Browns season record in 2000 with 108 punts, and extended his NFL-record streak of unblocked punts to 979 by the end of the 2003 season.
The 14-year veteran watched his five-year contract with the Browns run out at the end of the 2003 season. Although the Browns made various noises about re-signing Gardocki, and Butch Davis expressed his opinion that Gardocki has some good years left, the team did not elect to aggressively pursue the punter. The Browns have also shown interest in potential draft pick B.J. Sander from Ohio State, and earlier this year signed rookie punter Derrick Frost.