Saints ready to make a deal? Linebackers falling to the wayside, offensive linemen lumber their way to Cleveland, and a cold dose of the combines.
Beginning Monday afternoon, the short drive down state route 237 to Lou Groza Blvd. from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport will be a well traveled journey.
The Browns have scheduled visits for many free agents, in hopes to improve upon the 7-9 record in the 2001 season.
Already confirmed to be arriving in Cleveland in the upcoming week are offensive linemen Victor Riley, Steve McKinney, Mike Wahle, safety Robert Griffith, running back Garrison Hearst, defensive tackles Lional Dalton and Jason Fisk, and defensive end Kenard Lang.
Other players rumored to be of interest to the Browns that could be visiting in the near future are middle linebackers London Fletcher and Kailee Wong, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, and defensive end Lorenzo Bromell, and running back Warrick Dunn.
Sources have informed The Insiders that the Browns appear very serious in their approach of Riley, Hearst, McKinney, and Griffith. The source continued to inform The Insiders and it would be a surprise if the Browns did not sign at least two of the players sometime next week.
Linebackers have been the quick mover thus far in free agency. Jessie Armstead, Marvin Jones, and Jaime Duncan all have removed themselves from the market. Armstead signed with Washington, Jones resigned with the New York Jets, and Duncan has landed in St. Louis with the Rams.
Duncan and Jones were a target of the Browns, sources informed The Insiders within the past weeks.
Going into the free agency period, the Browns were 12+ million dollars under the salary cap. The team has discussed the possible restructuring the contracts of three players, in the event the team would need to create additional cap space. While the identities of the players hasn't been disclosed to this corner at this time, the three proposed restructures would place the team between 17-and-18 million dollars under the cap, if done.
MORE LINEMEN TALK: Out with the old guard, in with the new.
That seems to be the tack the Browns are taking in the preliminary stage of free agency as that position is a prime target for upgrade, with several candidates emerging on Cleveland's wish list.
At the top of that list, a league source tells The Insiders, is Steve McKinney.
McKinney, a 6-4, 295-pound lineman who spent his first four seasons in the league with the Colts, is expected to be in Cleveland for a visit at some point next week, most likely on Tuesday or Wednesday. A visit to Houston is scheduled for tomorrow, with one to Green Bay tentaively scheduled for Thursday.
According to the source, the Browns will atttempt to work out a quick deal with McKinney's representatives shortly after his visit -- which is assuming he makes it out of Houston without signing a contract. If one cannot be reached with the Browns, additional avenues for the other candidates will open up.
Two of those candidates -- Chris Naeole and Mike Wahle -- rank just below McKinney on Cleveland's want list.
The Browns have been in contact with the agents for both players, and in both cases may be in Cleveland at some point early this week. As of yesterday evening, however, firm dates had yet to be scheduled for either player.
COLOR HIM HAPPY: While not a big name, and not technically a free agent signing, defensive tackle Damian Gregory began the player acquisition phase of the Browns' offseason after being claimed off waivers from the Dolphins yesterday.
The move by the Browns to claim Gregory was music to the talented tackle's ears.
"He was absolutely ecstatic," Gregory's agent, Brian Levy, told The Insiders about his client's reaction when told of the news.
"That's the one team he wanted to go to. He told me, 'Please get me to Cleveland. I don't care how, just get me there.' I don't now how many players say that, but he really wants to play for Butch Davis."
This is Gregory's second flirtation with the Browns, with the first coming in October of 2001.
Cleveland and Miami had a trade in place at that time, in which the Browns would have sent a seventh-round pick to the Dolphins in exchange for the lineman. Gregory, however, was involved in an automobile accident that resulted in a ruptured spleen, which nixed the deal.
Levy stated that Gregory is completely recovered from the accident and will be in Cleveland this coming week to undergo a physical, which the agent says there will be no problem in passing.
The two-year veteran doesn't come without his own set of baggage, however, as he was involved in two highly-publicized confrontations with the Miami coaching staff last season. One involved his position coach, while the other involved head coach Dave Wannstedt, which led to Gregory being placed on the trading block early last October.
Gregory was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State by the Dolphins in April of 2000 and played in two preseason contests before being placed on injured reserve due to a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. The 6-2, 305-pounder played in two regular season games last year and recorded two tackles.
WR DISCUSSED: The Browns have talked with the New England Patriots about disgruntled wide receiver Terry Glenn twice while in Indianapolis, sources tell The Insiders. While doubtful that Cleveland will pull the trigger on a deal for Glenn, the Browns are exploring the options. Or, as one Browns source put it, "Don't hold your breath waiting for that one to happen." Reportedly, the Patriots would part with Glenn for a third- or fourth-round draft choice. In addition to Cleveland, the names of Oakland, Washington and Green Bay have been linked to interest in Glenn, with the Packers believed to be the early frontrunners.
WALKING THE TALK?: If talk means anything right now, put a Brown & Orange jersey on the back of free-agent offensive tackle Victor Riley. According to one source close to Riley, the massive right tackle is already talking like he is a member of the organization and would be surprised if a deal could not be worked out in a quick and expediant fashion. Therein lies the rub, though, as Riley is expected to command a kingly ransom on the open market and it will be up to the Browns to decide whether or not he is worth the price tag. All of the early signs, though, point to the organization feeling he is indeed worth it.
NEW LANG SIGN: Defensive end Kenard Lang, who played at the University of Miami during Butch Davis' first two years with the program and also played in Washington under Foge Fazio, is scheduled to visit Cleveland tomorrow. A source close to Lang tells The Insiders that the Browns are his only scheduled visit thus far, with the reason being that Lang "finds the situation in Cleveland very, very intriguing and is very interested in reuniting with Davis." The source also added that the Texans and Broncos have also expressed an interest, but no additional visits will be scheduled until "the Cleveland situation is resolved."
THE RICKY WATCH: The Browns still have a desire to obtain the talented and sometimes troubled Ricky Williams. Sources tell The Insiders that the Browns have no intention of dealing a number one draft choice in the 2002 NFL Draft to New Orleans for Williams. Now second-round selections in 2002 and 2003 are rumored possibilities. The Browns have spoken to the Saints almost every day in the past week, including yesterday.
MORE WILLIAMS: The Insiders have learned that the Miami Dolphins have discussed various trade possibilities with the Saints for Williams. The latest rumored proposal has Miami sending their number one draft selection in the 2002 NFL Draft and a second round selection in 2003 for Williams and a third round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft.
NOT A RB?: The Insiders have learned from a league source close to the Browns that the team does not intend on drafting a running back with their first round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft. Citing knowledge of the team needs and internal discussions, the source believes the Browns will pull out all the necessities to fill the running back position in free agency.
NOT SOLD ON GREEN AND FOSTER?: Indications from the combines are the Browns weren't impressed with the 4.55+ times run by both William Green and DeShaun Foster. One high ranking member of the Browns organization was overheard saying that he was surprised that Green did not run better, but will see him workout again in a couple weeks.