Frankly Speaking: Post-Couch Era Drags On

<B>UPDATED 6/6/04</B><BR><BR> Long-time <I>Browns News-Illustrated</I> columnist Frank Derry takes a look at the Tim Couch situation following the Ravens signing of QB Kordell Stewart. How will the drama be resolved? Frank offers his thoughts...

He wants to be gone. The Cleveland Browns want him gone. His friends and family want him gone. His staunchest foes want him gone. The Green Bay Packers want him gone. The Baltimore Ravens want him gone.

Fact is, it's pretty hard to find anyone on this earth who wants to see Tim Couch's name associated with the Browns.

You won't find his nameplate in the locker room, nor his name on Butch Davis's Christmas card list.

And, yet, there is his name on the official roster … Tim Couch, quarterback, Cleveland Browns.

This is rapidly turning into the longest and most unusual post-anybody era in the history of Cleveland sports. In fact, the post-Couch era, make that the post-Couch wanted era, has lasted longer than many careers.

Three months and counting. Finally there is an end in sight, thanks in part to, of all people, former Browns nemesis Kordell Stewart. More on that later.

Several weeks ago, head coach Butch Davis said he would not be adverse to keeping Couch as the team's backup quarterback in 2004. I have to imagine Davis's nose grew a couple of inches … no, make that a couple of feet … after he stretched the truth to the fullest with that comment.

Davis wants Couch around about as much as he wants the black plague infecting his team … as much as he wants to see William Green start working part-time in a bar in the Flats … as much as wants Ron Wolf to be handed total control of the personnel … as much as he wants to see Carmen Policy give up stomping grapes and return to his full-time role as president of the team.

Do you get the point? Butch Davis wants nothing to do with the player selected No. 1 in the 1999 draft by the regime in charge prior to his arrival.

That became evident March 9, the day Davis outbid himself to sign former 49ers Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia to a four-year contract. Davis had been tricked into believing the Buccaneers were in heated competition with the Browns for Garcia.

Thus, the original two-year offer, was torn up and replaced by the four-year, $25 million offer.

Some people believe Garcia and his agents took Davis in more than just money. Many people on the left coast firmly believe Garcia's right arm isn't strong enough any more; that the reason the 49ers didn't resign him was that he is no longer a championship-quality quarterback capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl.

Butch Davis believes otherwise.

To him, Garcia is a vast improvement, both mentally and physically, over Couch, the quarterback he inherited when he became head coach following the 2000 season.

Make no mistake, Davis wants Couch gone. If the signing of Garcia wasn't proof enough, the team's refusal to allow Couch to work out at its Berea complex and the team's refusal to allow couch to learn the team's new offense by participating in the quarterback school is enough evidence to convict the Browns in any court.

And that's just where it might wind up because Couch, understandably, has filed a grievance against the Browns for prohibiting him from any activity at the team's complex.

Andrew Kessler,  an associate for IMG, the group representing Couch, has gone on record as stating that Couch would indeed be in camp and working out at the facility if the team would allow him to do so.

Instead, he is forced to work out on his own in South Florida (poor guy).

Here's the situation and how I see it working out:

Couch wants to be traded; the Browns want to trade Couch; Green Bay wants to trade for Couch; Couch wants to be traded to Green Bay and the Browns want to trade Couch to Green Bay.

Seems like Couch should be packing his bags and getting on the next private jet to Title Town, right?

Not so fast.

The Packers want the Browns to sign Couch to a new two-year contract before they agree to send a middle-round draft choice to the Browns.

Couch wants a one-year contract, thus allowing him to become a free agent after the 2004 season.

The Packers don't want to give up a draft pick for a guy who:

No. 1 – Can walk away after one year.

No. 2 – Might very well be a free agent within days or weeks.

The Browns, meanwhile, didn't want to make Couch an unrestricted free agent because arch-rival Baltimore was still looking for a backup quarterback and Couch would likely have filled that role quite nicely.

The Ravens lessened the likelihood of signing Couch by signing free agent Stewart. But the fact is, the Browns are very much behind the eight-ball.

No matter what Davis says, they aren't about to pay a guy a gazillion dollars (OK, maybe it's only about $7 million) to be the team's backup. Not only are the dollars prohibitive, but Couch's presence in the locker room would undoubtedly be a disruptive factor.

I'm convinced that getting a draft choice in return for Couch is the least of Davis's concerns. Remember, midway through the 2003 season, he was willing to give away Kevin Johnson for absolutely nothing just to get him out of the locker room.

There is no doubt that if Davis had held onto Johnson for a couple more months, the team would have certainly been able to trade him for at least a mid-round pick, which is exactly what Jacksonville, which signed Johnson as a free agent, did when it sent him to those hated Ravens.

You have to think that Davis's greatest fear was to see the tandem of Couch and Johnson, wearing those ugly Ravens colors, beating the Browns. Can you imagine the adrenalin that would be running through their veins when they played twice a year against the Browns?

Can you image the reaction of Browns fans world-wide if that were to happen. Can you imagine the temperature of the hot-seat Davis would be sitting on when owner Randy Lerner called him into his office on Monday morning.

You can imagine it, and so can Davis.

Thus, he probably watched ESPN at every opportunity to see if the Ravens had signed a quarterback.

Now that it has happened, Couch will be gone even if a draft pick isn't gotten in return.

If that doesn't happen, then King Butch will have to realize he can't always have his cake and eat it, too.

That by signing Garcia, it lessened the Browns' leverage in a possible Couch trade..

Just maybe, Davis should have thought about that before going against the wishes of Lal Heneghan, vice president, assistant director of football operations and general counsel.

Heneghan advised Davis not to offer a four-year contract to Garcia. Davis thought otherwise. The result is that Garcia is here, Heneghan, who was fired, is not and Couch soon won't be

The only difference between Heneghan and Couch is that the general public doesn't care about the fate of a front office guy who is well-respected around the league for his hard work.

All they care about is whether the team wins or loses on Sunday afternoon, not about the people behind he scenes.

But as Butch Davis might very well find out this year, those people are far more important than he seems to realize. And that the people he is dealing with on the pro level are just as smart, or smarter, than him.

The problem is, he might not realize it until he's back coaching on the college level, where dictatorships are a lot more successful than they are in the pros.

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