There are little things that stick in the back of the mind. Little images and little remarks that cloud the picture.
There is the image, as reported here on BerniesInsiders.com, of Dennis Northcutt rubbing his fingers together when asked what it would take for him to return to the Browns in 2004. There is Butch Davis, answering a question late in a post-season news conference, making a seemingly dismissive remark about the inability to franchise Northcutt as a "punt returner".
Dennis Northcutt and Butch Davis appeared together Monday morning and essentially told us not to pay attention to those nagging memories. Northcutt was back in the fold, signed contract in hand, and Davis had his top offensive weapon over the last two years back in uniform. All was right on a sunny Monday morning in Berea.
"Obviously we're very, very excited and happy to have Dennis back", Davis told reporters, "It's pretty much been our coaching staff's position - probably for the better part of the last three, four, or five months - that our football team is dramatically better with Dennis Northcutt on our football team. All the things he can do offensively... the things that he can do for our punt return and special teams, have clearly been stated, and we've seen it, and we expect Dennis' career to continue to improve and take off in future years."
Northcutt was in a forgive-and-forget mood as well, crediting his meeting with Davis in Los Angeles as a key point in keeping things together. "We were honest with each other", Northcutt related, "I knew exactly how the coach and the organization felt".
The turning point in the negotiations came late last week, as the Browns "turned the heat up" and tried to bring the negotiations to a conclusion prior to the end of the team's "Quarterback School" work-outs, which run through early June. Both parties said they felt it was important for Northcutt to get in sync with the team's new offensive coordinator and quarterback.
The Browns wide receiver, for his part, feels like he's ready to step back in and kept himself in condition. "I'm a guy that believes in hard work. I believe hard work pays off. You have to be in shape. The biggest thing is that I knew I was going to play football, and I knew I had to stay ready. I wanted to be in good shape to where, when I came in, the coaches would feel good about 'OK, he didn't slack off' ".
Regardless of what had been said (or not said) in the past, few would disagree with Davis' assessment that the Browns are a much more potent club with Northcutt available. As a player with the speed and agility to turn a short pass into a long gain, Northcutt's skills are an excellent complement to Jeff Garcia's strengths. The threat of Northcutt returning punts for the Browns has a major impact on special teams play and offers the potential to give Garcia and crew the occasional short field.
Whether or not Northcutt would get the opportunity to catch passes as a starter was less clear. The wide receiver dismissed questions about whether or not he feels he should start by saying that he was simply there to work hard. Davis mentioned the potential of Northcutt going after a starting role, but was less clear when asked how his role might change. "Well, I don't think that it's going to change", Davis stated, before offering "It's probably going to grow."
Both Northcutt and Davis talked optimistically about the potential for
Northcutt to thrive in the team's offense, with Northcutt talking about how
Garcia "gets the ball out quick". Davis offered that "I think that we've got a
quarterback now that has got a lot of weapons at his disposal. It's going to
make it very difficult for defenses to focus in on one particular guy."
For today, that was enough. The head coach and the receiver waved at the storm clouds of the recent months, and hoped they would dissipate for the next three years.
THE LONG HAND OF LERNER: It became clear as reporters spoke to Northcutt and his agent, Jerome Stanley, that Randy Lerner played a key role in bringing Northcutt back to Berea. "It was an ownership decision", Stanley told reporters, indicating that the progress in negotiations clearly indicated that Lerner has given the front office marching orders to try to get things resolved.
One name not mentioned by Butch Davis, who credited a "fresh perspective"
from front office execs John Collins and Trip McCracken, was
recently fired salary cap expert Lal Heneghan. It was reported in local papers
over the weekend that Heneghan laid the groundwork for Northcutt's return, and
the exec was also mentioned by Northcutt's agent, Jerome Stanley.
STANDING BY HIS MAN: Dennis Northcutt again relayed his support for agent Jerome Stanley, who he continued to trust even after a wrench had been thrown into his free agent plans. "That was just my personal thing.", Northcutt said about his decision, "I believe in the person, I believe that he made a mistake... the mistake was done, I believe in him. He wasn't a person who had a reputation of messing up, and I followed him very closely, and I just think he made a mistake, and I wasn't going to fire him off of a mistake."