One of the continuing questions lingering over the Browns off-season concerns the team's enigmatic pursuit of linebacker Peter Boulware.
With Matt Stewart the only linebacker with experience in the 3-4 defense, and what appears to be a tepid reaction by the coaching staff after seeing Chaun Thompson in action, pass-rushing specialist Boulware would seem a logical fit on the cap room-blessed Browns.
Why, then, has the team's pursuit been so cautious?
Our friends at Seahawks.NET have provided part of the answer in their discussion with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Clare Farnsworth, who they call the "Godfather of Seahawks reporting".
.NET: What is your take on the Peter Boulware saga - do the Seahawks have a decent shot to sign him? What will be the determining factors?
Farnsworth: Stop me if you've heard this before, but Peter Boulware thinks that some team is going to give him a ton of money. At this stage of free agency, that's a bad read by the pass-rushing linebacker and ex-Baltimore Raven.
Also in the mix is Boulware's injury situation. He didn't just have knee surgery, he had the microfracture procedure - where holes are drilled in the bone so that blood can drip through and form a replacement cushion for the cartilage that no longer is there. It's the same procedure that John Randle had a few years ago, and it can take 18 months to two years to fully recover. Some players never return to their previous productivity after having this done.
The Seahawks do have two things in their favor, however: Boulware wanting to play on the same team with his younger brother, strong safety Michael; and a pass-rushing role that plays to his strength. Now, it's a matter of Boulware accepting a contract to match that situational status, and the club being comfortable that he is healthy enough to deliver what they would be paying for.
ESPN's John Clayton had also reported on Boulware's microfracture surgery, which is providing the team with every reason to be cautious.
A league source agrees with Farnsworth, telling us that players who have had similar surgeries have had mixed results: "It's a risky procedure. After John Randle had it, he was pretty much done. Bruce Smith had it, and it worked, Eric Swann had it, didn't work. DeShaun Foster had it, worked so far, Stephen Davis had it, we'll see if it worked. Chuck Smith (former DE for ATL and CAR) had it and his career ended shortly after."
Microfracture surgery has had mixed results for athletes outside of the NFL, as well. NBA players have had careers derailed after the procedure. Penny Hardaway is an example of an athlete who lost explosiveness after the surgery. Chris Webber's defensive play has suffered due to limitations in his lateral movement caused by the surgery.
Browns fans may remember microfracture surgery being used on Courtney Brown. The defensive end, now with Denver, had microfracture surgery in December 2002, and was able to return to action seven or eight months later. Brown was considered to have had a successful recovery.
Microfracture surgery is considered to be more complex than the more common arthroscopic surgery, and the outcomes may be harder to predict. Having enough time to recover from the surgery is critical. Although players can be back relatively quickly, like Brown, pushing them back before fully healed can be very damaging.
Compounding the logic of being cautious after such a risky procedure is the nature of Boulware's visit.
Importantly, it was revealed a couple of weeks ago that Boulware did not work out for Browns coaches when he was in town.
With limitations in explosiveness and lateral movement being possibilities after the surgery, it becomes even more important for coaches to see for themselves before committing money to a recovering player.
With the revelation about Boulware's surgery and the lack of a workout, the reasons that the Browns have not pursued Boulware more aggressively are clearer.
We continue to believe that the team's interest in Boulware would be contingent on him signing a contract with limited guaranteed money and a lot of incentives. Hitting the incentives, of course, would be dependent on a successful recovery from the surgery, protecting the team's interests if Boulware can't bounce back.
With the high caliber of athletes at every position in the NFL, even a difference small player's explosiveness - particularly in a pass rusher - can separates the Pro Bowl players from the also-rans... or the waived.
At this point, it appears that the cautious approach taken by the team is a wise one.