On The Inside: McLain On Free Agency

The white limousine parked in front of the Browns' facility Wednesday couldn't be missed by any visitor.<BR>It's safe to say that a few of the players might have also noticed the limousine as they arrived to participate in offseason conditioning, which began this week.

The white limousine parked in front of the Browns' facility Wednesday couldn't be missed by any visitor.


It's safe to say that a few of the players might have also noticed the limousine as they arrived to participate in offseason conditioning, which began this week. Middle linebacker Wali Rainer should have been the first to spot the vehicle, since its arrival could have meant bad news for his future with the team.


If anyone should feel insecure these days, it's Rainer, a three-year starter since being picked in the fourth round of the 1999 draft. The interest the Browns have shown in free-agent linebackers shouts the news that a new man will be standing in the middle of the defense next season.


The latest visitor was James Farrior of the New York Jets. Farrior, the eighth overall pick in the 1997 draft, is one of several linebackers the Browns have shown an interest in.


Given reports that Earl Holmes could return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Farrior might be the Browns' last, best chance to strengthen the middle prior to the draft. The 6-foot-2, 244-pound Farrior, starting on a regular basis in 2001 for the first time in his career, led the Jets in tackles while playing on the outside.


Don't think that Butch Davis is looking at Farrior to play on the outside. From everything Davis has said during the offseason, it's obvious that virtually any linebacker signed will play the middle.


Davis hasn't been exactly subtle in his comments about Rainer. He's strongly insinuated that Rainer, whose playing time dropped dramatically last season, needs to step it up. Translation: get your act together, or so long.


Rainer's career wasn't on strong ground before Davis arrived. Former coach Chris Palmer's continual preaching about gap integrity was meant primarily for Rainer's ears. Rainer admitted that locating and filling gaps wasn't one of his strong points.


Tackling has also been a problem for Rainer. The fact that the Brown were 29th in the NFL in rushing defense last season wasn't solely the problem of the interior of the line. Rainer often missed tackles on first hits, a problem Davis might try to rectify by finding someone else to play the position.


Holmes isn't out of the picture, but he'd have to drop his salary demands to sign with the Browns. The door is wide open for Farrior, assuming he keeps his asking price within reason, which isn't the case as of now.


ENTER, PLEASE: The Browns have to be among the NFL leaders in hosting free agents. The six visitors on Wednesday brought the total of free-agent visitors to 25. Just four (Kenard Lang, Robert Griffith, Ryan Tucker and Chris Sanders) have signed.


The hit-miss ratio on signing free agents has led to conjecture that many of the players don't want to play in Cleveland. If anything, it means that the Browns are being prudent in their spending ways. They've put offers on the table that are lower than many of the players' asking prices, and management has refused to budge.


The hard-lined strategy could pay off in the long run. Davis said recently that the Browns don't have the luxury of throwing big dollars at a few free agents. He's still trying to build the bottom of the roster as much as the top, which means overspending on one or two players is out of the plan.


STONE COLD: The arrival of offensive guard Ron Stone was somewhat surprising. Coming off two Pro Bowl seasons, Stone, 30, is looking for a big-time contract. His signing would be a big boost to the line, but at what financial cost?
Unless the market has collapsed on Stone or he buys into Davis the way Tucker did, Stone would seem to be a longshot. Davis, however, is known for his wily recruiting ways.


FOR SURE: It's a given that a fullback will be added in the near future. If it's not the Giants Greg Comella, who was in town Wednesday, look for a fullback to be picked in the top half of the draft.



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