JUDGE DREAD: You just knew this was coming. It was only a matter of when, not if.
In what has become an annual rite of rumor passage, Bernie's Insiders has learned that the Browns are one of several teams that have expressed an interest in trading for Saints running Ricky Williams.
(Insert sounds of Berea denials here.)
While the talks have been periphery at best thus far, there is no denying a continued interest by the organization in the talented but enigmatic back. Since passing on Williams in favor of Tim Couch in the 1999 draft, the Browns have been lurking in the bayou reeds, placing yearly feelers to the Saints organization in an attempt to gauge their interest in parting with the Texas product.
Up until this year, the Saints have felt no real need to part with Williams. That was, of course, until they spent a 2001 first-round pick on fellow RB Deuce McAllister.
According to a source close to McAllister, the rookie back was told, in a meeting attended by both general manager Randy Mueller and head coach Jim Haslett shortly after the conclusion of the regular season, that he "was their guy at the running back position" for 2002 and beyond. That message would seemingly leave Williams as the odd man out in the French Quarter, making him and his easily-digestible contract ripe for the trading.
The Saints, in stark contrast to their earlier stance, feel that any cap hit they would take for trading Williams -- anywhere between $5.2 and $5.5 million -- can be swallowed given the volatile nature of their RB depth chart.
As it stands now, the Saints are, according to one source, looking for a first-round draft pick in this year's draft, plus another pick -- either this year or next -- in the third or fourth round.
New Orleans would like to clear up this potentially explosive situation as soon as possible, but it could drag on right up until draft day if the Saints find enough teams willing to wheel and deal.
AS THE BISCUIT TURNS: If and when Marvin Lewis is hired by the Bucs to replace Bill Par... Tony Dungy, the move could be a potential disruption to the Browns' coaching staff.
Two sources close to Lewis told Bernie's Insiders that current Browns receivers coach Terry Robiskie will be at or near the top of Lewis' list of offensive coordinator candidates should he land the job.
However, the Bucs organization, as a stipulation should Lewis be hired, will have the final say on any of the offensive coaches the Ravens defensive coordinator would bring on board. In a move that drives home that point, the Bucs announced yesterday that they had hired Bill Muir as their offensive line coach, despite the fact that there is currently no head coach in Tampa.
The Bucs, specifically general manager Rich McKay, privately covet Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, whose contract expired after the Super Bowl. It will be up to Lewis, should he land the job, to convince the front office that Robiskie is "worthy" of the OC designation.
The Browns have already refused the Vikings permission to speak to Robiskie regarding their opening at coordinator, and it's uncertain at this time whether they would be willing to give that permission this time around.
WHAT IF: For those who sometimes questioned the play calling of first-year offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, here's some grist to grind in your hindsight mill.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Butch Davis, in his first few days as head coach of the Browns, offered former San Diego State University head coach Ted Tollner complete control of the offense and $500,000 a year to be his coordinator.
Tollner, at the time still the coach at SDSU, mulled over Davis' offer for a couple of days before ultimately deciding to stay at the collegiate level.
BACK IT UP: With rumors flying around South Florida that Miami has a more-than-passing interest in trading for Ricky Williams, it's a back closer to home that could whet the Dolphins' appetite.
The Jaguars are currently in the process of shopping the oft-injured Fred Taylor, perhaps for as little as a third-round draft pick. The Dolphins, in addition to their well-documented interest in Williams, have begun internal discussions on the possibility of making a deal for the University of Florida product, Bernie's Insiders has learned.
"Listen, Ricky's going to cost at least a one [first-round pick], and we're already without our second-round pick," a Dolphins source explained. "Ricky is certainly an attractive option, but he's not the only one we are looking at."
The news that the Dolphins have an interest is likely music to Taylor's ears. As reported in this space last week, Taylor would like to stay in Florida if he his eventually dealt due to his ties to the area and his aversion to cold-weather climes.
Of course, the Dolphins could make all of the trade talk a moot point by re-signing Lamar Smith, who can become an unrestricted free agent on March 1. That, however, seems unlikely at this juncture.
NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS: How do you think Drew Bledsoe would look in the gaudy orange and black stripes of the Cincinnati Bengals? Word out of the Queen City has it that trading for Bledsoe is more of a possibility with each passing day. The latest rumor has the Bengals willing to part with not only a draft pick or picks for the Patriots quarterback, but also one of their talented young linebackers -- Takeo Spikes or Brian Simmons. ... In addition to their expected roster upheaval du