According to a report by CNN/SI's Don Banks, the Browns successfully resolved one off-season problem today with the signing of Dennis Northcutt to a 3-year, $9 million contract.
Northcutt's situation had been problematic ever since the team announced earlier this off-season that the wide receiver's agent had failed to send paperwork to the team that would have allowed Northcutt to enter free agency. The four-year veteran out of Arizona had been open about his desire to seek not only more money, but the opportunity to become a #1 or #2 receiver.
The Browns had made an offer to Northcutt in advance of his potential free agency, but later pulled the offer as Northcutt attempted to work a trade to the rival Baltimore Ravens. The Browns refused to send Northcutt to Baltimore, and continued to talk to the wide receiver.
In recent weeks, discussions between the receiver and the team appeared to pick up again, as Northcutt opened the door to returning. Last Thursday, Head Coach Butch Davis told reporters that he felt that Dennis "has a number in mind" and that a contract would be signed as soon as the team could get to that number. In an appearance yesterday on the Fox Network, Northcutt hinted strongly that he was interested in working things out and getting back onto the football field.
According to published reports, that number comes to about $9 million, including a $2.2 million signing bonus. Northcutt also gets a $2 million roster bonus next year, which will require the Browns to examine the value of Northcutt's services next off-season.
Northcutt has been a key component of the Browns offense and special teams since his breakout season in 2002. Winner of the BerniesInsiders.com Most Valuable Player award that year, as selected by visitors to this site, Northcutt was the team's leading receiver in 2003 and is also one of the league's most feared punt returners.
In Northcutt's absence, it had appeared that Frisman Jackson would step up as the #3 WR, and that CJ Jones would take over punt return duties. With today's signing, competition for jobs during this year's training camp will be even more intense.
UPDATE 7:18PM: The Browns have confirmed the report and have issued statements from both Butch Davis and Dennis Northcutt. They will be available to speak the press Monday at 11AM.
STATEMENT FROM CLEVELAND BROWNS HEAD COACH BUTCH DAVIS:
"I am very pleased that we have been able to resolve Dennis Northcutt's contract situation and have him return to the team. Dennis is a versatile player who is a threat to make great things happen every time he touches the ball on offense and as a punt returner. He led us in receptions and receiving yards last season, his presence makes us better on offense and on special teams, and he is a tremendous asset in the locker room, on the field and in the community. Randy Lerner was adamant that he wanted to move forward swiftly, resolve this situation, and concentrate on getting Jeff Garcia and this team as many elements in place as possible for a successful season. Randy and I agreed that it was essential to negotiate with a fresh perspective keeping in mind Dennis' potential contribution to this football team and hearing Dennis' eagerness to re-join his teammates. John Collins had a previous relationship with Jerome Stanley, re-initiated discussions with him, and with the support of Pete Garcia and Trip MacCracken accomplished a successful resolution to this matter. The coaching staff and team are excited about Dennis' return."
STATEMENT FROM DENNIS NORTHCUTT:
"Words cannot express how happy I am to get this matter behind me. The last three months have been very difficult, but all is well that ends well. The fans in Cleveland are so loyal and special, and I want everyone to know that I am proud to be a member of this franchise. I have a lot of respect for my coaches and teammates, and I can't wait to step on the field again this Monday."