In one of the more stunning developments of the 2002 offseason, The Insiders has learned that former Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac has decided to leave the NFL and retire.
The move comes on the heels of a tumultuous season in Baltimore, which culminated in the QB's release late last week after negotiations on a pay cut broke down.
Following the Ravens' cruelest of cuts, Grbac's agents were in the midst of negotiations with the Bengals this past Saturday when the 31-year-old informed both sides of his out-of-the-blue decision. The two sides were closing in on a deal that would've landed Grbac in Cincinnati, but it was the QB's decision to retire, rather than any impasse involving the financial aspect of the talks as has been reported, that led to the negotiations breaking down.
His representatives decided to allow him a day or two to cool off and possibly change his mind, but, as of this morning, he had remained steadfast in his decision.
One interesting twist to this saga, and the reason it's the lead story on a Browns' website, is the fact that, during the cooling-off period, Grbac asked his representatives to make a phone call to a certain team whose football stadium fronts a certain Great Lake.
A source close to Grbac told The Insiders that the QB told his agents to get in touch with the Browns and inform the club of his desire to play for the organization.
Grbac, who was born in Cleveland and graduated from St. Joseph's high school before moving on to the University of Michigan, was willing -- and still is willing -- to take millions less than he could potentially get on the open market to be Tim Couch's backup.
The nine-year veteran still lives in Cleveland and wants to be closer to his family on a fulltime basis.
Unfortunately for Grbac, the Browns decided to take a pass on the Cleveland native, telling the firm representing Grbac that they were not interested "at this time."
Also at this time, Grbac would only consider playing for the Browns -- if they decided to change their mind -- although the source The Insiders spoke with stated that they wouldn't be surprised "if this [retirement] was a one-year thing, or even changed his mind at some point" this offseason.
Citing the organization's policy regarding players not under contract with the club or in town for a free-agent visit, Browns' executive director of media relations Todd Stewart offered The Insiders a polite "no comment" when asked if Grbac's agents had been in contact with the club.
Grbac's agents were not available for comment.
WESTBROOK UPDATE: It was thought that wide receiver Michael Westbrook would be in one of the first wave of visitors to Berea once free agency commenced last Friday.
While that has yet to happen, Westbrook's agent, Steve Zucker, expects that to change at some point this week.
Zucker told The Insiders early this afternoon that he has yet to receive a call from the Browns regarding his client, but feels that part of the reason for that lapse was the timing of the Indianapolis Combine coinciding with the beginning of free agency.
"Those two things coming right on top of each other has kind of slowed things down for a lot of teams," Zucker explained.
"I think things will really start heating up on Tuesday and Wednesday and I expect a call from Cleveland regarding Michael at some point this week."
Zucker added that his client has no visits scheduled with any other teams, although it's rumored that the Cowboys, in addition to the Browns, will have an interest.
IS WONG WIGHT FOR BROWNS?: While Westbrook isn't among the first wave of visitors, linebacker Kailee Wong, among others, is in Berea today taking the free-agent tour of the facilities.
A Browns source tells The Insiders "there is a strong possibility" that contract numbers could be tossed around between the two sides before the four-year veteran departs from Cleveland.
Wong's agent, Steve Baker, tells The Insiders that he wouldn't be surprised if a deal happened quickly with Cleveland or any other team, but also stated that Wong will make at least one more visit before deciding on his 2002 place of employment.
His client's desire to play in Cleveland, though, is very real.
"Kailee has a very, very strong interest in Cleveland, or else he wouldn't be making the visit," Baker said.
"There are a couple of reasons for his interest. Obviously, his relationship with [Browns defensive coordinator] Foge Fazio [Wong's defensive coordinator for two years in Minnesota], plus the Browns are on the verge of something special. That makes it an attractive place for him to play."
Baker would not disclose the name of the team Wong is scheduled to visit next, but it's rumored that the Houston Texans are very interested and would utilize him as a rush linebacker in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense.
The Browns, of course, are looking at Wong as a replacement for three-year starter Wali Rainer at middle linebacker.
ON GUARD: Contrary to some reports, the Browns have yet to schedule a visit for free-agent guard Chris Naeole, The Insiders has learned.
Naeole is on Cleveland's short list of interior linemen they are interested in signing, but have yet to solidify plans for a visit.
That could change in the coming days, pending the visits and negotiations with fellow free-agent guards Steve McKinney and Mike Wahle.