KJ & HIS PACT: Following the 2002 season, wide receiver Kevin Johnson, coming off the first 1,000-yard receiving season of his career last season, can become an unrestricted free agent. With that in mind, the Browns have begun talks with the receiver's representatives on a contract extension, Bernie's Insiders has learned, even going so far as making an initial offer.
However, a source close to Johnson says, the offer is not nearly enough and the three-year veteran is looking for a more lucrative long-term deal that includes more upfront money.
While the source would not specify what type of money Johnson is looking for, it's thought that he will seek a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $8 to $10 million, while the Browns' have initially offered substantially less.
Once this news reaches Philadelphia, expect trade rumors to come out of the city regarding the Browns potentially trading Johnson to the Eagles. And, once you hear those, very quickly file in your mental wastebasket where they belong.
WESTBROOK HITTING THE ROAD?: Michael Westbrook may be saying all the right things, but actions sometimes are larger than words.
Westbrook, a free agent has stated that he is open to remaining in Washington, but desires the opportunity to hit the open market. Once he hits the open market on March 1st, a clear path has been laid for him to visit Cleveland.
Wanting to play somewhere that a team will throw the ball and let him be a playmaker, Washington appears to be the best location in the nation with Spurrier at the helm. The Insiders have been told that with former Washington coach Terry Robiskie on the Cleveland staff, the Browns immediately have become the frontrunner in obtaining the services of the talented wide receiver.
"Terry Robiskie is the most influential person in Michael's football career and is a key figure in his life," a source tells The Insiders. "Michael credits Robiskie for turning his life around and pushing him to be the player and man that he is. Without the guidance from Robiskie, Michael probably wouldn't be in the NFL any longer. The two have talked throughout the year and Michael would like to be with Robiskie again."
Incidently, the Browns just happen to be looking to add speed, size, and experience at the wide receiver position.
FLETCHER SIGHTING: Rumors circulated that Rams middle linebacker London Fletcher was in town this past week. Well, Fletcher was in town, as he is a Cleveland native and was spending some time at home.
IN OR OUT OF THE BUILDING?: The situation in Baltimore involving quarterback Elvis Grbac, already a tenuous one at best, could take a turn for the worse in the coming days.
Sources close to Grbac tell The Insiders that the Ravens have asked Grbac to take a pay cut, not a simple restructure as has been reported.
Grbac is due a $6 million option bonus on March 2, which, if exercised, would trigger the final three years of the deal signed last offseason. If, on March 2, the Ravens decide against exercising that option, the club is still obligated to pay the Cleveland native the entire $6 million.
Obviously, the Ravens will make a decision --either to release Grbac or convince his camp to take a pay cut -- before that date.
As of Friday, the Ravens had not submitted a formal proposal on the pay cut to Grbac's agents, although one is expected in the very near future.
Given his performance last season, Grbac would be amenable to a pay cut, but it's highly unlikely he would agree to anything drastic.
In a related note on Grbac if he's released, keep the Bengals in the back of your mind as a potential destination. Grbac was close to reaching an agreement with Cincinnati, but chose to turn down more money to sign with the defending Super Bowl champions.
The sources say that Grbac would definitely have a renewed interest in the Bengals if he's released, and the Bengals, who will look to add yet another QB this offseason, would likely reciprocate.
NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS: Punter Mitch Berger, released on Friday by the Vikings, may draw some interest from the Ravens now that he's on the free agent market. Berger's former special teams coach in Minnesota, Gary Zauner, is now on the staff in Baltimore. The Ravens' punter in 2001, Kyle Richardson, can become a free agent in the near future, although given Baltimore's cap situation it's uncertain whether or not they could afford Berger. ... Even if the Steelers lose linebacker Earl Holmes to free agency, it's unlikely they will have an interest in soon-to-be former Bills LB Sam Cowart. One player they might be interested in, if Holmes bolts for more money, is Rams LB London Fletcher.
FREE OR NOT?: The status of Saints guard Chris Naeole, which seems somewhat muddled at the moment, should come into focus in the coming days.
Mark Heligman, part of Naeole's representation team at SFX Sports in St. Louis, tells The Insiders that an unwritten agreement between their client and the Saints, reached last offseason, will allow the lineman to be an unrestricted free agent at some point before March 1. The wink-wink agreement came about after Naeole agreed to restructure his contract to help the Saints' 2001 salary cap.
Naeole is due a roster bonus of $2 million on March 1, which Heligman says the Saints have said they will not exercise. The agents have been told on at least two separate occasions that the roster bonus will not be picked up, so, barring a change in the organization's stance, Naeole will be a free agent shortly, most certainly within the next five days.
In addition to the roster bonus, Naeole is also scheduled to receive a base salary of $2 million and carry a cap figure of close to $5 million.
Naeole, taken in the first round of the 1997 draft by New Orleans following an All-American career at the University of Colorado, will be at or near the top of the free-agent guard class, vyi