Despite the fact that the market won't be officially open for business for another 49 days, the free agent jockeying-for-position has already commenced.
Earlier this week, oft-injured guard Tre' Johnson spoke to the Cleveland-area media and adamantly stated his desire to return to Cleveland for the 2002 season.
Yesterday, Johnson's agent, Greg Ray, spoke to Bernie's Insider and not only reiterated his client's wish to remain a Brown, but also shed a few rays of light on what it may take to keep the talented offensive lineman.
It took a one-year, $2 million contract -- $775,000 base salary, $425,000 signing bonus and $800,000 in playing-time incentives, which were not met -- to land Johnson late this past May.
This time around, however, in spite of yet another season-ending injury, Ray is looking for a longer and potentially more lucrative deal.
"I'm not sure that's the case and, quite frankly, that's not what we're looking for," Ray said when asked if he saw another one-year, incentive-laden deal in Johnson's future.
"Right now, we wouldn't take a one-year, vet-minimum deal with incentives from anybody, even Cleveland. That's not what we're looking to do, obviously. That's the last thing I would do this year. A one-year, pay-for-play deal is not our objective. This time around, we're going to be looking for a two- or three-year deal."
As it stands now, Ray and the Browns have yet to discuss Johnson's future in Cleveland, let alone contract numbers and structure.
And, from Ray's standpoint, he has no plans to speak to the front office in the very near future, rather allowing the organization to get through their hectic post-season schedule before negotiations begin in earnest.
"I'm going to give them their proper respect and their room to evaluate what their offseason needs are. If they still want him [after their evaluation of the direction of the team], I really think we can get something done," Ray said.
While Johnson's future in Cleveland may still be up in the air, Ray is confident that the quadriceps injury Johnson suffered on September 30 against Jacksonville will allow him to resume normal football activity shortly.
Ray spoke with the Browns' team physician, Dr. John Bergfeld, on Tuesday and was seemingly given a glowing report on Johnson's rehabilitation.
"Tre' is doing fine. The rehab is going very well. I spoke with Dr. Bergfeld [on Tuesday] and he said it's going very well, that he should be able to begin playing football again in 60 days," Ray said of a timetable that would allow Johnson to participate in most of the Browns' offseason programs if he were re-signed.
"Dr. Bergfeld hasn't sat down with management yet to discuss the exit exam, but he expects to do that in the next ten days. After that, the ball's in their court."
For now, the plan is to keep Johnson in Cleveland until January 18, then reevaluate his progress. If Bergfeld and trainer Mike Colello are pleased with the state of his rehab, he will be sent to a facility in Maryland to continue the work.
The only question is, will Johnson's next stop after that be Northeast Ohio once again, or a third NFL city in the last three years?
Only time, and Ray's willingness to strike a deal that covers the Browns in case of injury, will tell.
BROWNS NOTES: Head coach Butch Davis will have one less former Hurricane to choose from in the upcoming draft as junior defensive tackle William Joseph has decided to remain in Coral Gables for his senior season. Joseph told coach Larry Coker immediately following their Rose Bowl triumph that he would be returning to the university. However, the talented defensive lineman had waffled on that emphatic decision in recent days before ultimately deciding to stay in Miami for one more year of seasoning. "I have decided to stay at the University of Miami," Joseph told the Miami Herald. "I will receive my degree in Arts and Sciences in December, and I am looking forward to that. I am also looking forward to playing with the other linemen, and we will definitely be one of the best." ... As of early this morning, the Colts had yet to show any hint of interest nor had they contacted the Browns requesting permission to speak to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians regarding their vacant head-coaching position, a league source told The Insiders. There has been some speculation that Indianapolis would have an interest in hiring Arians, who spent 1998-2000 as the club's quarterbacks coach, to replace Jim Mora, who was fired earlier this week.
NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS: Injuries have ravaged the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens all season long, and that trend seems likely to continue into the playoffs. The most pressing issue for Baltimore right now is the health of guard Edwin Mulitalo, who has quietly put together a tremendous season for the Ravens' otherwise beleaguered offensive line. Mulitalo is listed as questionable on the team's injury report with a calf injury and could be replaced in the starting lineup by former Browns lineman Orlando Bobo. ... While the head-coaching position at the University of Florida ultimately went to Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook, there was one member of the Pittsburgh Steelers who had his eye on the opening. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who played tight end at the school, did not receive serious interest from his alma mater but would've jumped at the opportunity to coach the Gators. "I told Bill Cowher that Florida is the only college job I'd leave the Steelers for," Mularkey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
LEAGUE-WIDE BAUBLES: The Dolphins could be without rookie wide receiver and Cleveland native Chris Chambers for this Sunday's wildcard game against the Ravens. Chambers, who the Browns passed over in favor of Quincy Morgan in the April draft, has two sprained ankles and missed practice again yesterday due to the injuries. Chambers led Miami in receiving yardage (883) and touchdown catches (7), while his 48 receptions were third behind Orande Gadsden and James McKnight's 55. ... According to two Tennessee sources, Titans linebackers coach Gunther Cunningham has an interest in the Vikings' head-coaching vacancy and that interest could be reciprocated. That is, of course, if the Vikings don't do the expected and hire current offensive line coach Mike Tice as Dennis Green's replacement. Cunningham has several ties within the organization and would be a strong contender if the club goes in another direction. As of this early this morning, however, the Vikings had yet to contact the Titans requesting permission to speak to Cunningham. This could all be a moot point as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is reporting that Tice will be tabbed as the new coach as early as today. ... Titans quarterback Steve McNair will undergo surgery today on his throwing shoulder, a procedure that was scheduled to be performed last offseason until an infection prevented surgeons from repairing the damage. According to The Tennessean, McNair will resume throwing in six to eight weeks and, barring a setback in his rehab, will be able to participate in the club's May minicamp. ... It appears that the Lions will do everything in their power this offseason to rid themselves of erstwhile starting quarterback Charlie Batch. There is serious talk coming out of the Motor