RUMOR CENTRAL: TAYLOR ON THE BROWNS AND THE NFL

<b>Telling it like it is:</b> Browns looking to Phil one of their free agent's pockets. Has Wali's C-town fate been sealed? Plus, the ties that bind current and former members of the 'Skins.

Lost amidst the big names of the Browns' free agent world has been Phil Dawson, who is eligible for restricted free agency on March 1.
 
Dawson, who was rumored to be on shaky ground during training camp last year, is coming off a solid 2001 season, having hit on 23 of 25 field goal attempts and missing only one of his 30 extra point attempts.  Now, the three-year veteran is looking for something that all kickers in the up and down world of the NFL desperately seek.
 
Job security.
 
While no agreement between the two sides has been reached, there have been ongoing talks throughout this offseason between the organization and Dawson's agent, Vann McElroy.
 
Speaking from his office in Texas, McElroy told Bernie's Insiders that the Browns informed him he would receive a contract proposal in the middle of last week.  However, as of this morning, the agent had yet to receive the promised proposal and has not spoken to the club in the last few days. 
 
Despite that speed bump, McElroy is optimistic that a deal will be consummated at some point in the coming months.
 
"Cleveland's desire is to get a deal done, and our desire is to get a deal done as well," McElroy told The Insiders.
 
"From what they've expressed to me, their desire is to give Phil a fair contract and keep him in Cleveland for a long time.  And, just as important, that's what Phil wants as well.  Phil likes it there, he's comfortable with the coaching staff, and they have a good situation developing [in Cleveland]."
 
McElroy understands that the Browns have other pressing needs to take care of this offseason, including keeping McKenzie from hitting unrestricted free agency, but also made it perfectly clear that his client should be viewed as a priority as well.
 
"I don't think that's a fair characterization," McElroy said when asked if more pressing needs had caused Cleveland to place a deal for Dawson on the backburner.
 
"Butch Davis spoke of Phil as a Pro Bowl-caliber kicker, so we'd think that his contract would be one of their pressing needs...  Still, we're optimistic that something will get done at some point before the start of the season."
 
IT'S TRUE! IT'S TRUE!:  Numerous stories have been written on this site and other media outlets this offseason regarding Michael Westbrook and the possibility of the Redskins wide receiver making a move to Cleveland this offseason.
 
A good portion of the speculation regarding Westbrook centers on his relationship with current Browns receivers coach Terry Robiskie, who was a member of Washington's coaching staff during Westbrook's first three seasons in the NFL.
 
According to Westbrook's agent, Steve Zucker, the yarns written regarding the twosome's unlikely relationship are indeed factual in nature and perhaps go a little deeper than has been reported.  In fact, the ties that bind Westbrook and Robiskie could go a long way toward determining where the receiver lands once he hits free agency.
 
"I've seen the stories [regarding the relationship between the coach and the player], and sometimes I don't think they go far enough in explaining what [Robiskie] means to Michael," Zucker told The Insiders.
 
"I've known Michael since his college days at Colorado, and to this day he credits Terry with turning his career and his life around.  He had some problems in Washington early on his career, but Terry took him under his guidance and helped make him into the person he is now."
 
Even after Robiskie departed D.C. for a spot on Butch Davis' staff last offseason, Zucker said, the pair remained in constant contact via the telephone.  Even during this offseason, Westbrook regularly talks to the man he considers a mentor, big brother and surrogate father.
 
Sources tell The Insiders that Robiskie has been hard at work behind the walls of the Berea compound lobbying for his compadre' to be a part of the Browns' offseason plans.
 
Zucker confirmed that the Browns are already a part of Westbrook's personal offseason plans, stating that Cleveland will be at the top of Westbrook's wish list this offseason.  Of course, that's due mainly to -- you guessed it -- the relationship with Robiskie.
 
The Westbrook camp has also informed the Redskins that they will not sign a contract with the club before the start of free agency due to the receiver's desire to test the free agent waters.  Westbrook has been told by the Redskins that they want him back, and would even submit a contract proposal to cement that desire, but the receiver has politely declined to engage in any contract negotiations with his current team until free agency opens.
 
BROWNS NOTES:  As opposed to the ongoing dialogue between the Browns and Phil Dawson, the situation involving Wali Rainer offers a strong clue as to the starting middle linebacker's future in Cleveland.  According to Rainer's agent, Brantley Evans, there has been no type of dialogue between him and the Browns since the conclusion of the 2001 season regarding the potential restricted free agent's contract.  Evans also told The Insiders that there are no talks planned for the near future. ... With negotiations between the Browns and Keith McKenzie at a virtual standstill, it would seem that some of the front office's attention would be focused on retaining fellow defensive end Greg Spires, who is also eligible for unrestricted free agency.  However, a source close to the Browns has told The Insiders that there has been only one conversation between the club and the representatives for Spires since the end of the season.  The source said they will likely be willing to allow Spires to test the open market, although they may contact his agent shortly before the start of free agency in order to do a "quick and cheap" deal.
 
SHARPE TONGUE:  As this space reported weeks ago, the Ravens have officially notified tight end Shannon Sharpe that he will be released in the coming days.
 
And, as is oft times the case with Sharpe, The Loquacious One isn't performing his best Mayflower impersonation and going quietly into Baltimore's night air.  Specifically, Sharpe blasted the organization for exposing linebacker Jamie Sharper and return specialist Jermaine Lewis in the expansion draft.
 
"I don't agree with them," Sharpe told the Baltimore Sun
 
"I don't care what Sharper's cap number is. When you have a player that young, with so many good years remaining, you pay him. Jermaine is about the same age, and when our offense stalled last season, he was the only one to give us a spark. He is the only player on the team who can turn the game around with one touch. But Ozzie Newsome was executive of the year and Brian Billick is able to write books. What do I know? That's why they make the big bucks."
 
While the Ravens would like to bring Sharpe back at a reduced rate, all signs point to the future Hall of Famer returning to the Rocky Mountains and ending his prolific career with the Broncos.
 
In fact, a source tells The Insiders, Sharpe is already telling friends that it's all but a done deal that he'll return to the Broncos.  The source adds that the TE will be looking for a two- or three-year deal that averages around $1.5 million per season, with only a modest signing bonus.
 
NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS:  After seeing the Texans pass him by in Monday's expansion draft, Troy Edwards will now find himself on the trading block.  The problem, though, will be finding a suitor for a player who has regressed since catching 61 passes as a rookie in 1999 and has a cap figure of just over $1.3 million.  If Edwards is traded or released before June 1, $1.6 million of his original $4 million signing bonus would accelerate onto this year's cap, with the Steelers recouping his base salary of $525,000.  The Steelers could also decide to keep Edwards for another season, utilizing the three-year veteran in the return game as well as their third or fourth receiver. ... The Steelers did receive a bit of good news in the past couple of days as they will likely retain the services of quarterbacks coach Tom Clements for at least another season.  Clements, along with Ted Tollner, were passed over for the Chargers' offensive coordinator position in favor of Cam Cameron.  Clements name could still surface in either Tampa Bay or Oakland, although that's highly unlikely at this point. ... Now that their return game has been weakened by the departure of Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens, considering their expansive salary cap woes, will look to strengthen that unit from the outside.  Lewis' backup on punt returns, cornerback Duane Starks, can become an unrestricted free agent on March 1.  Safety Corey Harris has returned kickoffs in the past, but is also eligible for unrestricted free agency.  Baltimore will look for a relatively cheap alternative via free agency, or expend a late-round pick on a replacement for the Pro Bowl return specialist.
 
LEAGUE-WIDE BAUBLES:  The Dolphins will renew contract talks today with defensive tackle Tim Bowens, whose $8.75 million cap figure for 2002 led to him being exposed in the expansion draft.  Previous negotiations on a restructured contract have gotten nowhere, but Bowen's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has repeatedly been quoted as saying that his client wants to stay in South Florida and will be amenable to a "reasonable" restructure.  The translation?  Don't expect the Bowen's camp to be agreeable to anything that contains the words "pay" and "cut".  If an agreement is not reached by March 1, the Dolphins, who currently stand $17 million over the cap, will be forced to release the talented tackle.  The club would save $8 million -- $7 million in base salary and another $1 million for a roster bonus due at the beginning of March -- if he were cut. ... Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown, who two years ago signed a five-year, $12.5 million contract that included a $2.5 million signing bonus, will ask the club to extend his contract at some point this offseason.  Brown has a modicum of leverage in this situation as he's coming off a 101-catch season. ... Despite the $17 million salary cap lifeline tossed to them by the U.S.S. Texans on Monday, the Jaguars are still expected to release several players in the coming days, including wide receiver Keenan McCardell.  Guard Zach Wiegert, who drew interest from the Browns during the 2000 offseason, is another Jaguar expected to receive walking papers in the near future. ... The Jets are currently in the process of reworking the contract of nickel corner Ray Mickens, who will likely be a starter this coming season after Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman were taken by the Texans in the expansion draft.  Mickens is due a roster bonus of $2 million on March 1, which the Jets will not pay but the corner is willing to give up in exchange for long-term security.  Another possibility to replace the tandem of Glenn and Coleman is current Bears CB Walt Harris, who is the big, physical type of player at the position that head coach Herman Edwards craves and will be heavily pursued by the club.  Additionally, Harris' agent, Brian Levy, has a very, very good relationship with the Jets, which will go a long way toward Harris landing in the Big Apple. ... The Bucs saved themselves yet another round of embarrassment by finally prying Jon Gruden out from the clutches of Raiders owner Al Davis.  The word this space is hearing is that Mariucci had decided to decline Tampa's offer to become both the head coach and general manager.  Opinion columnists across the country are flying their keyboards at half-staff after seeing another week's worth of barbs and diatribes go by the wayside following the unexpected culmination of the trade.  Oh well, at least they still have the French as fodder. ... The Giants are heavily leaning toward releasing starting linebacker Jessie Armstead, The Insiders has learned.  Negotiations on a restructured deal remain at a standstill and there are no new talks scheduled for the near future.  Armstead is upset over being placed on expansion list, which makes working out a new deal much more difficult.  The Giants, who are currently $10 million over the cap, would save $1.6 million by releasing him before June 1. ... 
 
EXPANSION LEFTOVERS:  The Texans have all but settled on quarterback David Carr as the overall #1 pick of the 2002 draft and will look to add an experienced, veteran starter to run the offense for two years so the organization can slowly work Carr into the NFL game.  Which, of course, leads us to the following: why in the name of Steve Walsh was Danny Wuerffel selected in the expansion draft?  Simply put, there are two scenarios developing which directly involve Wuerffel.  The first centers on the veteran staying with the club and assuming a position akin to Randall Cunningham in Baltimore this past season. Second-year QB Chris Redman was technically #2 on the depth chart, although Cunningham was the first off the bench to replace an injured Elvis Grbac.  Such a move by Houston would allow the younger QB more practice reps throughout the season and facilitate his acclimation to the pro game.  In this case, Wuerffel would play the role of Cunningham, while Carr would do his best Redman impersonation.  The second scenario involves a trade with the Redskins, with Washington shipping a very late-round draft pick to Houston in order to reunite Wuerffel with new head coach Steve Spurrier. ... Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was lobbying right until the end for the Texans to take Lions running back James Stewart.  Ultimately, Stewart's age, cap number and injury history led to the former Browns head coach being overruled. ... The Seahawks were more than mildly surprised when the Texans selected return specialist Charlie Rogers a mere seven picks after taking Jermaine Lewis.  Houston's plan, though, is to assimilate Lewis into one of their starting receivers slots in addition to sharing return duties with Rogers.

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