An offseason priority for the Browns will be to determine if soon-to-be free agent defensive end Keith McKenzie fits into their long-term plans and at what price.

An offseason priority for the Browns will be to find a way to retain the services of defensive end Keith McKenzie.

Butch Davis has gone on record as saying he wants McKenzie back. McKenzie has said that he wants to be part of what he thinks could be a good thing in future seasons.

If there's a problem in this equation, it might be the length of the contract McKenzie is hoping to land. After signing a two-year deal following the 1999 season, McKenzie has asked his agent to secure a four-year deal.

"I signed for two years so that they could see what I can do,' McKenzie said. "Now that they've seen what I can do, I'd like to get a longer contract."

With tackle Orpheus Roye in line for an escalation of his contract, it might be difficult for the Browns to bring back both Roye and McKenzie. It could come down to a simple matter of which player is more valuable.

If McKenzie is healthy, he seems to be the guy. He's good for eight sacks a season and a bunch of quarterback pressures. The defense missed McKenzie after he went down with a broken ankle in the seventh game of the season, against Chicago.

In some ways, McKenzie is as valuable as is Courtney Brown. While Brown has flashes of brilliance, McKenzie's non-stop motor allows him to create problems for offenses on a consistent basis.

NOT SURE: The offseason plans of Benjamin Gay don't seem crystal clear. He once said that he plans to remain in the Cleveland area to work on his physical conditioning, but after last week's game against Tennessee, Gay indicated that he isn't certain about what he'll do in the offseason. Gay noted that he has a young daughter to take care of, which has become a priority in his life.

It's doubtful that Gay will miss the offseason conditioning program. Unless you're a seasoned veteran with a long list of accomplishments on your side, no player should miss the most critical part of the offseason.

MIXED MESSAGES: It still seems to be a mystery exactly where Ross Verba will line up next season. A few weeks ago Davis said that it would be wise to check back with him next year on that decision. A couple of weeks later, Davis indicated that Verba is the left tackle of the future.

It would appear that Verba will be the left tackle, unless the draft or free agency produces someone better. There was a reason why the Green Bay Packers moved Verba inside to a guard spot in 2000. That might be his best position at this stage of his career.

DOWNCAST: Receiver Dennis Northcutt didn't have a pleased look on his face last week. Northcutt didn't play a single down on offense or on punt returns, despite being healthy for the Tennessee game.

Northcutt looks great in minicamps, but he loses something when the hitting starts for real. Andre King's improved play at the end can't be good news for Northcutt.

A HUNCH: Don't be surprised if the Browns pick a running back high in the draft. Davis likes James Jackson, but the rookie from Miami seems to be developing a reputation for a lack of durability. No one knows when, or if, Gay will ever be ready to step in as the featured back.

THANKS A LOT: Kevin Johnson has been challenged to get the most out of his talent since the day the Browns drafted him in 1999. The first person to get after Johnson was former coach Chris Palmer, who often joked with the media about the number of heart-to-heart talks he had with Johnson.

Johnson expressed appreciation for Palmer's belief in him when asked recently about his 1,000-yard receiving season this year. It was obvious from the look in Johnson's eyes that his comments were from the heart.

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH: While Jamir Miller is headed to he Pro Bowl, Johnson gets my vote as team MVP. He offense struggled most of the season. Where would it have been without Johnson's steady play?

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