RUMOR CENTRAL: TAYLOR ON THE BROWNS AND THE NFL

Telling it like it is: Could Saints march into Browns backfield? Could Tuna help offseason MLB fishing trip? Do the Browns like Lance a lot?

DEUCE REDUX?: Two days ago, the Sunday Morning Massacre told you to stay tuned right here for much more on the Deuce McAllister saga. As always, we deliver.

As noted in this space, McAllister is none too happy with his situation in New Orleans. Taken in the first round of last year's draft, McAllister has played a less-than-substantial role in the New Orleans' offense, carrying the ball a mere 16 times (91 yards) and catching 15 passes for 166 yards while sitting behind the enigmatic Ricky Williams.

There's no better way to gauge that unhappiness than to delve into the club's season-ending loss to the 49ers.

While it was widely reported following the game that McAllister had been benched as the team's #2 tailback in favor of veteran Fred McAfee, Bernie's Insiders has learned that that was far from the case.

Sources close to McAllister tell The Insiders that, early in the fourth quarter of what was a 31-0 San Francisco lead, running backs coach Dave Atkins told McAllister to put on his helmet and replace Ricky Williams in the backfield. In a surprising out-of-character reaction, especially for those who know McAllister, the rookie back refused to enter the game.

Why would McAllister, who would rather shout a hearty "YES SIR!" than make waves, rebuff a coach's efforts to get him into the contest?

All signs point to his deteriorating relationship with Williams and his frustration over the lack of a substantive role with the Saints as the prime culprit.

During the week leading up to the 49ers game, Williams was late for three different team and position meetings. This is not inconsistent with Williams' season-long modus operandi, where his weekly missing-of-meetings have become a running joke inside the Saints' locker room. Additionally, McAllister felt snubbed by Williams during the earlier part of the season as the Dreaded-One refused to come out of games on numerous occasions despite the coaching staff's best efforts to get him out of the lineup.

Subsequent to our Sunday morning report, two New Orleans sources have confirmed to The Insiders that McAllister may request a trade, although it's uncertain whether or not the Saints will grant his request.

To illustrate just how convoluted the situation is in New Orleans, an additional source close to McAllister says the club is prepared to anoint Deuce as their #1 back and rid themselves of Williams.

What does all of this mean and why is it the lead item on a Browns website?

Cleveland attempted to trade-up for McAllister during last April's draft and, should he become available via the trading block, you can bet the Saints organization will place at least one call to Berea to gauge the Browns' interest. Whether the Browns would reciprocate that interest is another story, however.

Either way, look for one of the two Saints RBs to be available this offseason as Williams and McAllister simply cannot coexist together for another season.

BROWNS NOTES: How could the Tony Dungy-for-Bill Parcells swap benefit the Browns this offseason? It's widely known that The Tuna likes big, strong linebackers on his defenses, with speed far down on the list of attributes he finds desirable, Lawrence Taylor (no relation) notwithstanding. With middle linebackers that go 6-1, 238 -- Jamie Duncan -- and 5-11, 225 -- Nate Webster -- you could see Parcells allowing at least one of those two go if he decides to shift the direction of the defense to a style more in tune with his previous NFL stops. Duncan can become an unrestricted free agent in March and will be high on Cleveland's to-do list given his speed and ability to work sideline-to-sideline. Webster is an intriguing name as well. The Browns quietly pursued a trade with the Bucs before the trading deadline last year and would see that interest rekindle if changes from Hurricane Bill blow through Central Florida. ...  At least one eye in Berea will be trained on the safety situation in San Francisco, where Pro Bowl alternate Lance Schulters is eligible for UFA. While Cleveland privately feels that Schulters will be re-signed by the 49ers, Schulters' agent, Brian Levy, doesn't necessarily think so. Levy told The Insiders that he feels the 49ers cap situation will preclude them from paying his client what he feels he's worth. He added that the two sides have not spoken since the week before the San Francisco-Miami game on December 16 and no talks are planned. At 6-2, 207, one NFC scout says that Schulters "is one of the hardest hitters at any position in football and is an extremely sure tackler, especially adept at run support." The scout also rates him as not only the top FA strong-safety prospect, but also the top safety period.

WEEKLY MLB UPDATE: Developing situations in three NFL cities involving high-level middle linebackers could have an impact on the Browns' offseason free-agent plans.

In Buffalo, Philadelphia and New York, each club's starting MLB -- Sam Cowart, Jeremiah Trotter and Marvin Jones, respectively -- is eligible for unrestricted free agency on March 1.  All were thought to be untouchable and would definitely be re-signed or retained before they could hit the open market.

Those thoughts, however, could be wrong.

Cowart's agent, Gene Burrough, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that he and his client would be seeking a one-time signing bonus comparable to the one received by wide receiver Eric Moulds last year. Moulds was rewarded with a $12 million bonus as part of a long-term contract extension.

The Bills, however, are looking at a tiered bonus. Given Cowart's recent spate of injuries -- he missed most of the 2001 season with a torn Achilles tendon after missing the final four games of 2000 with an ankle injury -- Buffalo would like to protect themselves against another Cowart injury by splitting the signing bonus, with the linebacker receiving a portion upon signing, and the rest the following season.

 That "audition" does not sit well with Burrough.

"My tier would have him fully paid when they activate him," Burrough told the paper. "They want to fully pay him after a year of observation. That's not fair that he would have to audition."

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, The Sporting News is reporting that Trotter will not be back with the Eagles next season.

According to TSN, the Eagles feel that a replacement for Trotter is already in place in the person of Barry Gardner.

A source close to Trotter's agent, Jimmy Sexton, told The Insiders that the two sides have not held substantive talks since before the start of the 2001 season.

In New York, the Jets have an interesting decision to make in regard to Jones.

Jones has a stipulation in his contract that states he must be one of the top-five paid LBs in the NFL in 2002. Given the state of the Jets' salary cap -- they currently stand $17 million over the '02 figure -- it's questionable as to whether or not the Jets can afford to keep Jones' salary at such a lofty level.

According to one of Jones' agents, Jason Rosenhaus, "it's 50-50" as to whether Jones will return to New York next season.

WHAT CONCUSSION?: As is oft times the case in today's world of sports, the retirement of a future Hall of Famer may h


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