Like most things in life, I can relate the current situation the Browns are in with Tim Couch to a game of No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em.
Butch Davis needs to push all his chips into the middle of the table. It's nothing but a stone cold bluff, but it's a bluff that he's unlikely to get called on.
Couch and his agent Tom Condon have no leverage at this card game. They're holding a two and a seven (non-suited), and the rest of the table has seen their hand. They have already turned down an offer from the Browns that has dwarfed anything offered to them on the open market, and there is a dearth of available starting jobs. Also complicating matters is the fact that Kurt Warner and Kerry Collins will become free agents on June 1st, which will further limit the options Couch has once those two former Super Bowl signal callers find new homes.
Also, the Browns have the cap room to absorb Couch's 7.6 million dollar salary for this year, as well as his 9.35 million dollar cap hit. That, coupled with the fact that Kelly Holcomb can't even throw a tantrum (let alone a football) after off-season shoulder surgery puts the Browns in a strong position where keeping Couch not only seems feasible, but almost even the right thing to do.
Of course, it's unlikely that we will see Couch in an orange helmet this season - despite a gimpy Holcomb and a still wet-behind-the-ears Luke McCown being our only viable options behind Jeff Garcia. At this point, there are just too many hard feelings, especially after the team evicted him from Berea a couple months back. But even in the unlikely scenario that would see Couch return, he'd still be auditioning for a deal elsewhere the following year, so becoming a locker room cancer would not be in his best interest.
There would be some benefits to releasing Couch on June 1st. The Browns would save an additional amount of money against the salary cap, which could be used to acquire another team's June 1st dirty laundry. They could again explore the possibility of a trade for Orlando Pace, and would be poised to strike if another Lawyer Milloy-type player was let go closer to the season. Also, it's clear that the team, and the fans for that matter, are eager to wash their hands of this whole soap opera so that we can finally move forward.
I understand all of this. But even if we are planning to reallocate those Couch dollars, why cut him any sooner than a day before we make a move? The Rams trade demands for Pace are unreasonable, and if the Browns were unwilling to pursue guys like Damien Woody, John Tait, and Todd Wade... what makes us think they're going to be willing to toss millions at a guy like Larry Allen?
The longer Butch bluffs that he is willing to keep Couch, the more eager Couch and Condon will be to meet the salary demands of a potential trade partner. At the same time, teams like San Francisco, Chicago, and Arizona will feel additional pressure to add a veteran alternative to the options they currently have at quarterback. Also, teams like Green Bay, the Giants, and Oakland are eager to add a veteran backup as soon as possible, knowing that veteran will need to learn a new system.
And to those worried that Baltimore or Pittsburgh will make a play for Tim, I say fret not. Both teams have made significant investments in young signal callers, and have veteran alternatives already there to bridge the gap.
Tim Couch is still just 27 years old and can be had for relative peanuts. He's shown flashes of the promise that made him the top overall selection in the 1999 Draft, while playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football for the past five years without the luxury of a running game.
There's no question in my mind that there are several teams that could use a guy like Couch. Even if it's a second day pick, it's important that the Browns get some return on their investment with him…especially after getting nothing for Kevin Johnson, and then watching Jacksonville pick him up and then deal him for a 4th round selection.
I think Butch Davis is playing this hand exactly as he should be. I see no reason for him to fold on June 1st and release Couch.