RUMOR CENTRAL: TAYLOR ON THE BROWNS AND THE NFL

Telling it like it is: Could the Roaf, the Roaf, the Roaf be on fire in Cleveland? Also, free agency may begin earlier than anticipated in Cleveland.

In today's edition of the Times-Picayune, Saints offensive tackle Willie Roaf is quoted as saying that he will not play in New Orleans this season and would rather be released or traded.
 
Roaf told the paper that he would like to play for an AFC team that has its home games on natural grass.  He also wants to play for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
 
Could the Browns, in need of help all across the offensive line, be a potential destination?
 
According to Roaf's agent, Peter Schaffer, they certainly could.
 
"Do they have a chance to win?  I think they do, so Willie would be willing to look at someplace like [Cleveland]," Schaffer told Bernie's Insiders, citing the Patriots as a team that came out of nowhere to win a championship.
 
Schaffer has received permission from the Saints to shop his client to other teams.  So far, the agent has talked to "four or five" unnamed teams, although he conceded that the Browns are "not yet" one of those teams.
 
According to the agent, the Saints would take a $900,000 cap hit if they were to release or trade Roaf before June 1, which makes it highly likely that New Orleans will grant the tackle his wish and jettison him from the club.
 
Roaf is currently rehabbing his injured knee at the HealthSouth Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in New Orleans.  Contrary to published reports, Schaffer states, Roaf has been diligent in his rehab and he will be ready for the start of training camp in July.
 
Part of the uncertainty over the state of Roaf's health stems from the Pro Bowl tackle's desire to rehab his knee at HealthSouth and away from the supervision of the Saints' team doctors.
 
TE HELP:  While the official start of free agency is not until March 1, the Browns are likely to be major players in an early version of the FA sweepstakes.
 
The Insiders has learned that the Browns are seriously considering making a major push toward signing soon-to-be free agent tight end Ken Dilger, who will be released if he's not taken in the expansion draft.
 
Dilger's agent, Mark Bartlestein, told The Insiders that he has been informed by the Colts that his client will be released "immediately after the expansion draft if he's not taken."  He will then be eligible to sign with any team in the league.
 
Bartlestein said that "a lot" of teams have an interest in Dilger, but would not mention any of those clubs by name.  When asked specifically if the Browns had expressed an interest, Bartlestein offered that he "would not comment on specific teams."
 
BROWNS NOTES: Last offseason, head coach Butch Davis, hired on January 30, had far less time to prepare for the 2001 draft than his NFL counterparts.  Davis and his staff were not able to attend the Senior Bowl or the East-West Shrine game as both had already been played before his hiring.  This year, however, Davis and his coaches have availed themselves to all of the offseason activities crucial to determining a potential draftee's worth.  According to Davis, he and his staff have interviewed over 100 players eligible for the 2002 draft.  Last year at this time, they had interviewed none, Davis said. ... The Browns are optimistic about defensive end Keith McKenzie making a full recovery from a broken leg that ended his 2001 season prematurely, but have not quite yet reached a contract agreement with the potential free agent.  McKenzie began jogging last week despite the fact that he still has the screws in his leg, and is expected to be fully recovered by the end of April or the early part of May. The Browns are in ongoing talks with McKenzie's agent, Gary Uberstine, and are hopeful that they can strike a deal before the defensive lineman hits the open market.
 
NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS: If you are looking for a potential landing spot for Pittsburgh's soon-to-be free agent linebacker Earl Holmes, don't discount the talented 'backer landing in Buffalo.  Pittsburgh has made re-signing fellow LB Jason Gildon their top offseason priority and may not be willing to shell out big bucks to two players on the same unit.  The Bills are currently under the stewardship of general manager Tom Donahoe, who was the GM with the Steelers when Holmes was drafted in the fourth round of the 1996 draft.  Given the status of negotiations with current starting MLB Sam Cowart -- which have flat lined over the structure of the signing bonus -- the Bills may view Holmes as a cheaper and equally talented alternative in the middle. ... The Steelers should know no later than very early next week whether or not they will be searching for a new quarterbacks coach.  Current QB coach Tom Clements is in San Diego today to interview for the Chargers' vacant offensive coordinator position.  Clements is one of three candidates new head coach Marty Schottenheimer is seriously considering, with former Indiana head coach Cam Cameron and former San Diego State head coach Ted Tollner being the others.  Clements has been widely pursued this offseason, having turned down Jacksonville's offer to be their OC while being one of the finalists for the same job in Buffalo. ... Since snubbing general manager Rich McKay's hand-picked successor to Tony Dungy last week -- which opened yet another round of Tampa's "Pin The Tail On A Head Coach, Any Head Coach" -- the Bucs have yet to contact Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.  Mularkey was interviewed by the club and was viewed as a serious candidate after Bill Parcells snubbed the Bucs. ... The Ravens offseason, off-the-field problems of the past few years continued this past weekend as defensive end Michael McCrary was involved in an incident at a downtown Baltimore nightclub. According to the Baltimore Sun, McCrary, who may be released by the club before the start of the 2002 season, was struck in the face by a bottle, which later required four stitches to close the wound on his nose.  Fortunately for all involved, no one was stabbed and no one involved in the incident was seen wearing a white pimp lid or matching fur coat.
 
MOTOR CITY TURMOIL:  Now that the Lions have publicly declared their intentions to rid themselves of quarterback Charlie Batch, the rumor machine in Detroit has warped into overdrive as to what exactly Matt Millen & Company will do at the QB position.
 
First and foremost on their QB To-Do list is re-ignite trade talks with the Jaguars about Mark Brunell.
 
Last offseason at this time, the Lions, along with the Chiefs and Seahawks, were in serious dialogue with the Jaguars regarding Brunell, who had not yet struck a deal on a restructured contract.
 
Detroit nearly reached an agreement on a trade with Jacksonville that would've sent Batch, at least one other player, and draft picks in exchange for Brunell.  Those talks came to a halt after the Jaguars and Brunell broke the impasse on contract talks and reached an agreement on a restructured contract that saved the club millions in cap space.
 
As reported in this space numerous times, the Jaguars are considering pulling the trigger on a deal involving Brunell.  Brunell himself, upset over losing best friend and left offensive tackle Tony Boselli, has quietly intimated that he would not be opposed to any trade that would send him away from Jacksonville and out from underneath Tom Coughlin's iron fist.
 
One veteran available on the trading block the Lions are not expected to make a run at is Drew Bledsoe. The club views the 29-year-old Patriots QB as too immobile to run head coach Marty Mornhinweg's version of the West Coast Offense.
 
The draft, specifically the first round, is another avenue the Lions will pursue to solve their quarterbacking problem.  Millen is thought to be extremely high on Oregon's Joey Harrington, although Mornhinweg doesn't share the same lofty thoughts as his boss.
 
LEAGUE-WIDE BAUBLES:  The agents for two unnamed members of the Packers have confirmed to The Insiders that Jaguars wide receiver Keenan McCardell is being heavily recruited by the players -- specifically at the Pro Bowl -- and would be amenable to playing in Green Bay.  McCardell will likely be released by Jacksonville if he's not taken by Houston in the expansion draft, making him an unrestricted free agent and free to sign anywhere. ... If and when the Browns pursue Ken Dilger in free agency, they have one less team interested in his services to worry about.  The Dolphins have stated publicly that they have no interest in Dilger, who will be released by the Colts if he's not one of the Texans' expansion draft selections. ... Running back Antowain Smith can expect to receive a multi-year offer from the Patriots that includes a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $3 million, The Insiders has learned.  One factor keeping Smith's price down is his age: he'll turn 30 in the middle of March.  New England is leery of giving Smith a huge signing bonus to a RB who will be in his mid-30's by the end of the deal, even though he only has 1,047 carries in his five seasons in the NFL.  The two sides have begun discussions on a new deal for the potential unrestricted free agent, although hard numbers have yet to be flung across the negotiating table. ... While Texans general manager Charlie Casserly has emphatically stated that his club will not take anyone over the age of 30 in their upcoming expansion draft, the word we're hearing is offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is pushing hard for the selection of Lions running back James Stewart.  Palmer thought highly of Stewart, who will turn 31 in late December, while serving as the Browns head coach and was the ringleader behind his pursuit in free agency during the 2000 offseason. ... The Broncos could have an interesting decision to make this offseason regarding their crowded running back position.  Olandis Gary, who missed the last month and a half of the 2001 season with a broken leg, is eligible for restricted free agency, which means other teams can offer a contract to the third-year back but the Broncos have the right to match.  Given the situation at tailback, and given Gary's refusal to sign a long-term contract extension last offseason, the Broncos must decide how to tender the back if they want to keep him, or how to tender him if they want another team to take him off their hands and get a draft pick in return.  A high tender offer would likely dissuade other teams interested in Gary as they would be forced to give up a first-round pick for a back coming off a broken leg.  Additionally, if the Broncos were to tender him high and no one bit, they could be facing a situation where they are paying their #3 back close to $2 million.  That being said, expect Denver's tender offer to cost any team that signed Gary a third-round pick. ... The Dolphins are not likely to bring back both Brian Walker and Brock Marion for the 2002 season, The Insiders has learned.  Both safeties are slated to become unrestricted free agents on March 1 and there may not be room for both contracts on the roster.  Walker will likely command more money on the open market than Marion, making it highly possible that the Dolphins will re-sign the latter as the club is somewhat hamstrung by the salary cap. ... It seems to be only a matter of when, not if, the Patriots sign kicker Adam Vinatieri to a long-term contract.  Any deal Vinatieri signs will make him one of the three highest paid kickers in the league.  Special teams were crucial in New England's run to the Lombardi and the club is putting their money where their specialists are, having just inked punter Ken Walter to a multi-million dollar deal. ... John Hufnagel, who served as the Browns quarterbacks coach in 1999 and 2000, could find himself in the same position with the Jaguars.  The 50-year-old Hufnagel was part of the coaching purge in Indianapolis after spending one season with the Colts as their QB coach.  Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin is said to think very highly of Hufnagel, who could potentially serve as a buffer a la Chris Palmer between Coughlin and quarterback Mark Brunell.  That, of course, is assuming that Brunell is still with the club in 2002.

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