RUMOR CENTRAL: TAYLOR ON THE BROWNS AND THE NFL

Telling it like it is: Browns finally ful-Phil contract promise... Bernie's Insiders makes yet another trek on the Ricky frontier, plus Orpheus has a stance shift and an update on one of the expansion designees.

Nearly two weeks after promising a contract proposal, the Browns have made good on their word to kicker Phil Dawson, Bernie's Insiders has learned.
 
While a Browns source refused to release the terms of the initial offer, they did say that it was "more than fair" to both the organization and the kicker.
 
Dawson's agent, Vann McElroy, would not speak to whether or not their camp had received an offer, but did allow that the two sides "are in the midst of trying to work out a deal."
 
McElroy spoke to the Browns on Monday after receiving the first contract offer, the source said.  According to McElroy, a follow-up conversation was held yesterday, and he expects talks to continue right up until the start of the Indianapolis Combine and after if no deal can be reached beforehand.
 
"I don't know [if an agreement will be reached before the start of free agency], but we're hopeful.  The desire is there on both sides for Phil to remain with the Browns, but we just have to make sure the numbers are right," McElroy said.
 
McElroy added that the Browns have tendered the three-year veteran a restricted free agent offer, but would not divulge any specifics.
 
DAILY RICKY AFFIRMATION:  While the Browns have been in contact with the Saints over the last several weeks regarding Ricky Williams, they have yet to make a concrete trade offer for the running back.
 
That, however, could be about to change, The Insiders has learned.
 
According to a source close to the Browns, the organization is busy planning their course of attack on the Williams front and may be prepared to make a formal proposal to the Saints within the next seven to ten days, possibly at the Combine this weekend.
 
While numerous types of compensation have been discussed, the focus seems to be on a tack that would include their second-rounder this year and an additional pick next year, with that likely being a third- or fourth-rounder. Nothing regarding compensation has been determined, but all signs point to the Browns leaning toward the above scenario.
 
The Browns are also shying away from offering a first-round pick in either the 2002 or 2003 draft, but have not completely ruled out that possibility.
 
On another front in the Great Ricky Frontier, The Insiders has learned the identity of the third "mystery" team that may have an interest in obtaining Williams.
 
Two league sources have confirmed that the Texans have been involved in internal discussions regarding Williams and may join the Browns and the Dolphins in the bidding in the days leading up to the draft.  Houston could be viewed as a legitimate threat to both Cleveland and Miami as they are well stocked with additional draft picks as part of their expansion agreement with the NFL and may make some waves regarding Williams.
 
BOY OH ROYE:  Whispers continue to make their way out of Berea that defensive tackle Orpheus Roye will be a player that the Browns would target for a restructure.  With a cap figure of $5 million, and a base salary of $3.6 million, that would only make sense.
 
However, exactly a month ago, Roye's agent, Phil Williams, told The Insiders that a restructure is "not going to happen. We're just not going to do it."
 
Since then, though, that stance has softened.
 
"If they came to us, and needed to create some [cap] space, we would be open to working with them.  Orpheus feels there is something special going on in Cleveland and wants to be a part of it," Williams told The Insiders yesterday, adding, "but as far as taking a pay cut, that's something we absolutely wouldn't consider."
 
As of yesterday, Williams said, the Browns had not yet contacted him or his client regarding any type of restructure.
 
BRANT BYTES:  Despite the fact that Brant Boyer was taken back from the Browns expansion list shortly after the start of the Texans' draft, reports in some Cleveland newspapers continue to insist that Boyer could become a March 1 release. 
 
If that is indeed the case, it's news to both Boyer and those close to him. 
 
A source close to the linebacker tells The Insiders that head coach Butch Davis phoned Boyer during the expansion draft, informing the eight-year veteran that the club was pulling him back after guard Jeremy McKinney was selected and attempted to smooth over the rough edges created by Boyer being placed on the unprotected list in the first place. 
 
From what Boyer's been told, he will not be released, nor has there been any trade talk with the Texans since the draft, and is very much a part of the Browns' plans for the 2002 season.  Boyer is due a roster bonus of $250,000 on March 1, which has led some to speculate he would become a cap casualty.
 
BROWNS NOTES:  Mark Bartelstein, agent for free agent tight end Ken Dilger, has notified The Insiders that his client "will likely meet" with representatives of the Browns during the Indianapolis Combine, which starts this Thursday.  Cleveland is just one of several teams -- including Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Detroit and New England -- that Dilger is expected to sit down with beginning this weekend. ... While Roman Oben's level of play had a major role in his being released, there was one another factor that led to the events that transpired on Monday.  A source close to Oben tells The Insiders that the Browns had requested Oben take "a significant pay cut."  After the offensive tackle refused, it was an easy decision for Cleveland as they saved nearly $4.1 million against the $71.1 million salary cap in one fell swoop. ... Earlier this week, it was reported that the Browns would have an interest in Steelers linebacker Earl Holmes.  A league source has confirmed that interest, and added that there are at least two other teams who will seriously vie for the services of the six-year veteran.  Both Houston and Buffalo are expected to be major players in the quest for the LB the moment he hits the open market.  The Bills, in particular, are expected to go hard after Holmes as their general manager, Tom Donahoe, was in Pittsburgh and pushed hard for the organization to select the Florida A&M product in the fourth round of the 1996 draft.  The Steelers, who made fellow LB Jason Gildon their top offseason priority, have held only minimal discussions with Holmes' agent regarding a new contract. ... Wide receiver Michael Westbrook, whose signing is at or near the top of the Browns' offseason to-do list, will be seeking a contract that averages $3-$3.5 million annually, a source close to Westbrook told The Insiders. The 29-year-old Westbrook is also looking for a deal anywhere from three to five years in length and would include a signing bonus of $4-$5 million. ... Defensive tackle Mark Smith has fired his agent, Gil Thompson, which could make life more difficult for the Browns in retaining Smith's services.  Thompson told The Insiders yesterday that, as far as he knew, Smith had not yet decided on new representation.  Thompson also said that he was not close to reaching a deal with the Browns before being let go, adding that both the Texans and an unnamed AFC East had expressed interest in his former client if he became a free agent. ... David Levine, agent for defensive end Greg Spires, tells The Insiders that it's been "several weeks" since he's had discussions with the Browns regarding his client.  No future talks are scheduled and Levine fully expects Spires to hit the open market on Friday.
 
NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS:  Due to salary cap constraints, it was expected that the Ravens would lose anywhere from five to seven defensive starters this offseason.  What was unexpected, and came to fruition two days ago, was the release of offensive starters Qadry Ismail and Sam Gash.  Ismail was the team's leading receiver last season with 74 catches, while Gash is widely recognized as one of the top blocking fullbacks in the game.  Ismail's agent, Tony Agnone, informed The Insiders that the Ravens have no interest in bringing his client back at a reduced price. ... Baltimore has confirmed their interest in punter Mitch Berger, released late last week by Minnesota.  The Ravens' current special teams coordinator, Gary Zauner, coached the same position for six years with the Vikings. ... While the Bengals are still interested in possibly dealing for Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, there is an ever-growing faction within the organization that wants the club to pursue Seahawks QB Trent Dilfer once he hits the open market.  The team is leery of giving up a first-round pick and more for Bledsoe, especially when there is a player such as Dilfer available for only money. ... According to the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore's Ray Lewis, who is entering the final year of his contract, is involved in negotiations that could wind up with the Pro Bowl linebacker receiving a seven-year contract worth an estimated $90 to $100 million. ... The Bengals made one last-gap effort to retain the services of defensive end Reinard Wilson before he hit the open market, but it was to no avail.  Wilson turned down a Bengals' offer yesterday that would have averaged $3 million annually.  The converted outside linebacker feels he can get a better deal in free agency as he attempts to convince teams that he can be an every-down end, as opposed to the pass rush specialist he's been the last three seasons.  The situation involving Wilson is eerily similar to the one that landed Keith McKenzie in Cleveland during the 2000 offseason.  McKenzie was primarily a pass-rush specialist in Green Bay and proved during his two seasons in Cleveland that he could be an all-around end. ... Safety Rod Woodson, who will have his contract terminated by the Ravens in the next day or two, may have an interest in returning to the city where he started his NFL career 15 years ago.  Woodson was the Steelers' first-round draft pick in the 1987 draft and spent 10 seasons with the Steelers before moving on to the 49ers (1997) and Ravens (1998-2001).  "I've thought about it, but it has to be a mutual feeling... It's one of those things where we'll have to wait and see," Woodson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
 
LEAGUE-WIDE BAUBLES:  Now that the Raiders have fleeced the Bucs out of four draft picks in exchange for Jon Gruden, the club has set their sights on wheeling and dealing in this April's edition of the NFL draft.  A league source tells The Insiders that the Raiders are looking to move up in the draft, specifically targeting a defensive tackle to help restock their suddenly-bare interior line cupboard.  While rumor has it that the club may be targeting John Henderson, the source says don't be surprised if, instead, the target is Henderson's Tennessee teammate, Albert Haynesworth, or North Carolina's Ryan Sims. ... Patriots are interested in signing Stalin Colinet, the former Browns defensive lineman released recently by the Vikings. ... The Vikings will look to sign a wide receiver via free agency, and have not yet closed the door on Cris Carter returning to the club.  Carter voided his contract with Minnesota and is free to sign with any team.  In the past, Carter has stated that he would not return to the Vikings, but the organization is keeping the door open slightly ajar just in case he has a change of heart.  Philadelphia, Baltimore and St. Louis have all been mentioned as potential destinations for the 15-year veteran. ... The Titans have expressed serious interest in safety Chad Cota, released last week by the Colts. ... If the Jets do not re-sign linebacker Marvin Jones, who was released yesterday in a salary-cap move, the club will make a hard push to sign Bucs LB Jamie Duncan.  Head coach Herman Edwards was on the coaching staff in Tampa Bay before taking the New York job last offseason. ... The Redskins have shown initial interest in quarterback Chris Chandler, released Monday by the Falcons.  The club is still exploring the possibility of trading for Jacksonville's Mark Brunell, but have apparently lost interest in acquiring New England's Drew Bledsoe. ... The Patriots will have an interest in both linebacker Marvin Jones and defensive tackle Shane Burton, released yesterday by the Jets.  Head coach Bill Belichick coached both players during his time as defensive coordinator in New York and will look to sign one or both if the price is right. ... The Panthers and Cowboys are thought to be the early leaders for the services of linebacker Jessie Armstead, who will be released by the Giants either today or tomorrow.

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