As noted here, there has been some speculation in the press that Couch would be let go when June 1st provided an opportunity for the Browns to spread the salary cap impact of his release over the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Early last week, however, Butch Davis flatly denied to reporters that the Browns were considering cutting Couch this week.
At present, it appears that the Browns have little motivation to release Couch outright. The team has enough cap room to keep him, and are concerned that he might wind up with the division rival Ravens. In addition, the team would like to receive some sort of compensation for Couch.
While no details have been revealed to the press, the Browns compensation for Couch has an outside possibility of being non-trivial, perhaps in the form of a mid-round draft choice or, as unlikely as it seems, even disgruntled Packer cornerback Mike McKenzie.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Packers remain interested in Couch, and have some urgency in that they would like to see him in a Packers uniform by the end of their mini-camp.
There is no indication that the Packer's urgency has yielded any progress, however. Couch's agent (Tom Condon) has not offered any comment on the progress of negotiations, and Packers representatives haven't painted a picture of an agreement as being likely within the next 24 hours.
Within this context, the only pressure for the Browns to release Couch in the short-term appears to be coming from the media.
Media analysis pushing the team to release Couch is usually predicated on the notion that the team's reputation as a player-friendly organization is suffering due to holding the team's #1 1999 draft choice here against his will.
The most extreme example of this sort of pressure came last evening from ESPN analyst Sean Salisbury, who again opined that the Browns are the "laughingstock of the NFL" for failing to release Couch. Salisbury did not provide any specific examples of teams who are enjoying a good chuckle at the Browns expense, although it can be assumed that the front offices of the Packers and Ravens are not necessarily amused by the Browns reticence to free up a player they desire.
While the NFL may, per Salisbury, be mirthfully wallowing in the Browns behavior, another person who is also likely not finding much amusement is Couch's agent, Tom Condon.
Condon and Couch themselves have perhaps provided the greatest barrier to a trade being completed with the Packers. The player and agent have insisted on a one-year contract on the basis that Couch does not want to spend two years backing up Brett Favre if the future Hall-of-Famer elects not to retire following the 2004 season. The Packers would prefer a two-year deal due to their need to compensate the Browns.
Frequently unspoken, but still present in the background, is the notion that Condon and Couch could gain financially by throwing up roadblocks to a deal with the Packers. If the Browns released Couch outright, the Kentucky grad and his agent would be free to barter with multiple teams and seek out the best possible deal.
So, we're left with a stalemate until someone blinks. Tim Couch's tenure with the Browns is ending, sadly, in a very public game of "chicken".
It hardly seems like a laughing matter.
The comments on ESPN don't help things. Not only do the views espoused ignore decisions made by Couch and Condon over the past month, they also seem to reflect the views of other NFL teams who have a stake in seeing the Browns get as little as possible.
Before we buy into what appears to be sloppy and one-sided, albeit controversial, analysis, we should keep in mind that the only entity likely to profit from the Browns keeping Couch on the roster are, in fact, the Browns themselves.
It's hardly shocking that others in NFL circles wouldn't appreciate the approach the team has taken. Perhaps, in this case, "laughingstock" is just another word for "annoyance".
If being a "laughingstock" is a way to gain some level of competitive advantage in the parity-infested NFL, then perhaps Butch Davis and the Browns should revel in the label.