Sunday Morning Massacre

The ins & outs, ups & downs and back & forth of free agency involving the Browns, the AFC North, and the rest of the National Football League.

For only the second time this offseason, a free-agent wide receiver will visit Cleveland, The Insiders has learned.
Terrence Wilkins, who has spent all four years of his NFL career with the Colts, is expected in Berea at some point next week, most likely following the conclusion of the league owners' meetings in Orlando on March 22.  The University of Virginia product has already visited the Dolphins, and also has a visit scheduled with the Rams in the near future.
Wilkins, while listed as a wide receiver, is known mainly for his ability to return both punts and kickoffs.  Last season, the 5-8, 178-pound restricted free agent finished in the top seven among AFC returners in both categories.  The Browns have been sorely lacking in the return game since their rebirth three years ago, particularly their punt-return unit.
For his career, Wilkins has 119 catches for 1,466 yards and seven touchdowns.  On the return side of the ledger, he's averaged 9.3 yards a return on punts, 22 yards on kickoffs and scored three special teams touchdown -- two on punts, one on kick returns......
BACK TALK:  Nearly two weeks ago, during the latter stages of the Ricky Williams soap opera, a source close to the Browns told The Insiders that the club was less-than-happy with what they had seen from the top running backs available in this year's draft.
According to one AFC front office executive, though, you shouldn't believe the smoke machine.
"It's that time of the year, and you're going to get those kinds of rumors floating all over the league.  I wouldn't bet the house, but you could put down a pretty good chunk of change that [the Browns] are very interested in [Boston College's William] Green and [Michigan State's T.J.] Duckett at the top of the draft," the exec said.
(WRITER'S NOTE:  It should be noted that this was the same exec who told this space that he would be shocked if Ricky Williams was not a Cleveland Brown at some point before the draft, so take the above with a grain or 20 of salt.)
This insight comes on the heels of extremely solid Pro Day workouts by both Green and Duckett, with Duckett in particular upping his draft status in the eyes of most teams around the league......
ONE-YEAR SAFETY NET?:  Are the Browns looking at safety Robert Griffith as a one-year fix, or a building block for two or three years down the road?  Looking at Griffith's base salaries, it certainly seems that they are making contingency plans for the former being the case.
Griffith will receive a base salary of $650,000 in 2002, at which point the bases jump dramatically to $2.55 million (2003), $3.15 million (2004) and $3.75 million (2005).
The four-year contract Griffith signed with Cleveland in early March was worth a total of $15 million and included a signing bonus of $3.6 million.  Should Griffith fail to live up to expectations, the Browns could easily rid themselves of the safety for a very minimal cap hit.
If Griffith were released before June 1 of 2003, $2.7 million of his signing bonus would accelerate onto the 2003 cap.  To offset that, however, his $2.55 million base salary would be wiped from the books.
While this is in no way intimating that Cleveland expects Griffith to fall on his face after one season, it does show excellent vision on the part of the Browns organization, particularly cap guru Lal Heneghan, to sign a quality but aging player to a relatively low-risk deal......
BY THE NUMBERS:  In other contract news, The Insiders has obtained the base salary details of the Browns' two other free-agent signings.
Defensive end Kenard Lang will receive base salaries of $550,000 (2002), $1.9 million (2003), $900,000 (2004), $3.7 million (2005) and $4.5 million (2006) to go along with his $3.4 million signing bonus.  Lang is also due a $1.6 million roster bonus on March 1 of 2004.
Offensive tackle (for the moment) Ryan Tucker is scheduled to receive bases of $525,000 (2002), $1.5 million (2003), $1.9 million (2004) and $2.3 million (2005).  Tucker received a $2.6 million signing bonus as part of his $8.8 million deal.
BROWNS NOTES:  Head coach Butch Davis continued his busy week of viewing players eligible for the 2002 draft by taking in Ohio State's Pro Day on Friday.  Davis, along with several members of the organization, also attended workouts earlier in the week for T.J. Duckett at Michigan State and William Green at Boston College. According to one scout in attendance at the OSU workout, LeCharles Bentley drew raves from the NFL personnel in attendance by doing 38 reps in the 225-pound bench press. Bentley was also seen chatting at length with undisclosed member of the Browns and Bengals organization. ... The Browns were only willing to offer free-agent running back James Allen a one-year deal worth slightly more than the veteran minimum base salary and a very minimal signing bonus, which led the four-year veteran to ink a pact instead with the Texans.  Allen received a $200,000 signing bonus as part of his $800,000 contract, which was approximately $300,000 more than the Browns were willing to pay the former 1,000-yard rusher.  The Jaguars and Lions were also interested in Allen, but, like the Browns, were not willing to guarantee him a spot in the starting lineup. ... The Vikings will continue negotiations with the agent for defensive end Keith McKenzie even as they plunge into this week's owners' meetings, although no deal is on the horizon.  It's believed that McKenzie is asking for considerably more in the form of guaranteed money than teams feels he's worth, which is the reason the Browns allowed McKenzie to test the free-agent market and signed fellow DE Kenard Lang to replace the veteran.  The Browns have held a couple of conversations with McKenzie's representatives since the start of free agency, but would only be willing to bring him back if his price bottomed out.  Thus far, only Minnesota and Cleveland have expressed more than a tepid interest in the defensive lineman, with the Vikings sitting as his lone visit.
AFC NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS: Ravens free-agent wide receiver Patrick Johnson paid a visit to the Dolphins last week, but, as of yesterday, had not received an offer from the club. ... The Bengals have been in contact with the agent for cornerback Donnie Abraham since his release from Tampa Bay Thursday, The Insiders has learned.   The Bengals are still looking for a veteran corner to add via free agency after losing Walt Harris to the Colts.  A source close to Harris tells The Insiders that the thrifty Bengals offered the corner a contract that was "substantially lower" than he eventually received from the Colts. ... The Bengals have made re-signing Artrell Hawkins one of their top offseason priorities, but the Steelers may have thrown a wrench in their division-rivals' plans.  Pittsburgh made a contract offer to the free-agent corner late this past week, and could be close to landing the hometown kid.  Hawkins is also drawing interest from the Raiders, but Oakland will hold off on offering a contract pending a resolution of their interest in fellow free-agent corner Duane Starks.  It's believed that the Raiders have the inside track on Starks and will only seriously pursue Hawkins if they fail to land Starks. ... Defensive end Renaldo Wynn has an offer on the table from the Bengals, but the defensive lineman is waiting for an offer from the Packers before deciding whether or not to become the latest free agent to shun Cincinnati.
LEAGUE-WIDE BAUBLES:  Quarterback Jeff Blake hopes to decide within the next 48-72 hours where he will play in 2002, The Insiders has learned.  Blake, released by the Saints earlier this month, wrapped up a visit with the Redskins on Friday after visiting with the Bills a day earlier.  While the Baltimore and Houston have also shown interest, it's believed that Washington and Buffalo are Blake's top two choices.  The Blake camp has tossed around some very preliminary contract numbers with both teams, but, as of last night, Blake had yet to receive a solid contract offer from either club. That, however, is that's expected to change in the very near future.  It's believed that the Bills have a slight advantage over the Redskins in the race for Blake, mainly due to the fact that Blake would be all but guaranteed the starting job heading into training camp.  'Skins head coach Steve Spurrier has made it perfectly clear that no one will be guaranteed a starting job, even one of his hand-picked Gator Boys. ... Speaking of Washington's quarterback position, look for trade talks with Chicago to heat back up regarding Shane Matthews should Washington's bid to land Jeff Blake fails.  Losing Blake to the Bills may benefit the Bears as the Redskins might be willing to give up more than a seventh-rounder for Matthews and get closer to the fifth-rounder the Bears are seeking. ... The three-year, $5 million contract signed by New England's Adam Vinatieri yesterday makes him the third-highest paid kicker in the NFL.  The hero of this past February's Super Bowl falls in financial line behind Tampa Bay's Martin Gramatica and Miami's Olindo Mare, who both average $2 million a season on deals signed in the last year. ... Offensive tackle Barrett Brooks, who was released by the Browns during training camp last year, signed a one-year deal with the Broncos over the weekend. ... Kudos to the Jets for their signing of offensive lineman Dave Szott late last week, not necessarily for size of the deal -- a three-year, contract worth $4.2 million -- but for the concessions to Szott's personal life that allowed the agreement to be finalized.  Szott's son Shane suffers from cerebral palsy and attends school in New Jersey.  Szott, who signed with the Redskins last offseason to be closer to home, requested that he be allowed to spend a minimum of three nights a week at his home in Morristown, New Jersey.  The Jets were more than amenable to that stipulation and landed a quality locker room presence and a solid performer on the field. ... The Bears have begun talks on restructuring the contract of offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer.  Last week, the two sides agreed to push back the date Brockermeyer was slated to receive a $500,000 roster bonus from March 15 to April 1. ... The four-year, $4.68 million contract linebacker Mike Caldwell signed with the Bears on Friday will include a first-year cap number of $1.0875 million.  The signing of Caldwell gives Chicago veteran insurance against the possible loss of Warrick Holdman, a restricted free agent who has yet to receive an offer sheet from the two teams he has visited -- Cleveland and Houston. ... The 49ers, Packers and Saints were the first teams to contact the agent of Johnnie Morton following the receiver's release from the Lions last Wednesday.  Word out of Detroit is that Morton's preference is Green Bay and San Francisco, in that order. ... Linebacker Shawn Barber, who signed Friday with Philadelphia, would have preferred to sign with the New York Giants, but the cap-strapped club simply did not have the kind of space to even offer the veteran a bare-bones contract.  The Eagles still acquired Barber for the bargain-basement price of $1.5 million on a one-year deal. ... The signing of Barber was the Eagles' second "major" defensive acquisition in two days as they also added veteran safety Blaine Bishop on Thursday.  Bishop received a three-year deal that could be worth in excess of $6 million. ... Given their decisions this offseason, the Cowboys may be offering a clue as to what direction they may be headed with the sixth pick in this year's draft.  Earlier this offseason, Dallas waived safety George Teague.  Then on Friday, the club allowed nickel safety Izell Reese to sign with the Broncos.  While the team has stated a public interest in cornerback Quentin Jammer, their target could very well be safety Roy Williams.

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