The Insiders Report

KJ impresses Browns brass <i>off</i> the field, while rook WR impresses on it; Marquis lighting up the LB corp?; More fallout from Miller trade talk; Plus, news & notes from around the AFC North and the rest of the National Football League.

BROWNS NOTES
 
The word this space is getting is that the Browns were privately very, very pleased regarding the public statements made by Kevin Johnson a few days ago in connection to his contract situation. 
 
Preliminary talks regarding a new contract took place earlier this year, but, according to a source close to Johnson, will heat up past that stage in the coming weeks.  The goal of both sides will be to cement a new pact before the start of training camp, if possible, with the start of the regular season being a very realistic scenario.
 
Johnson can become an unrestricted free agent in March of 2003, but wants to remain in Cleveland for both the short and long haul.
 
"I want to finish my career here, and if they're committed to wanting me to be here, then they will get it done," Johnson told reporters earlier this week.
 
More than one member of the organization has questioned Johnson's commitment to the team in the past, but his stated desire to remain a member of the Cleveland Browns beyond this season is casting the talented receiver in a much different light in the eyes of some in Berea......
 
As far as what size contract Johnson will be seeking during the negotiations, the deal inked by Johnnie Morton with the Chiefs is a good starting point, those familiar with the situation tell The Insiders.  Not so much in the length of the deal, mind you, but in the structure.
 
As far as NFL contracts go these days -- where most are severely backloaded -- Morton received a very fair and balanced deal.
 
Morton's seven-year, $25.7 million contract calls for a base salary of $650,000 this season, then jumps to $1.25 million and $2.5 million in 2003 and 2004, respectively.  There are $500,000 increases in the next three years, with the final year of the contract jumping from a base of $4 million in 2007 to $5 million in 2008.
 
According to a source close to Johnson, the receiver is looking for a similar structure to Morton's deal,  but with two less years.  Additionally, Morton received a $5.5 million signing bonus, while Johnson is looking for a bonus in the neighborhood of $8-$10 million......
 
2002 second round draft selection Andre Davis caught more than an interested eye at this past weekend's mini-camp in Berea.  A source close to the team tells The Insiders that the Browns actively looking to improve the return game have already penciled Davis into the role. After the mini-camp, an expanded role could be in the making for Davis. 
 
"His footwork, speed, and quickness are extremely good.  Just having him a few days, he has already picked up on a couple tips from Terry Robiskie [Browns receivers coach] and hit the ground running," the source said. "If this kid [Davis] continues to show that he can hold onto the ball and grasp the offense, it will be impossible to keep him off the field.  We have high expectations for him, to us he was a steal in the second round."......
 
The Browns surprised many people in league circles when linebacker Jamir Miller was offered in trade discussions prior to the 2002 NFL Draft.  According to a league source, the Browns openly discussed dealing Miller after receiving a proposal from Miller's agent, that included a complete contract restructure with a 12-million dollar signing bonus.  The team believes that Miller had a career season are not willing to travel down that avenue, according to the source......
 
According to one Browns insider, one of the players to pay close attention to upon the commencement of training camp in July is safety-turned-linebacker Marquis Smith.  The club is very excited about the strides Smith has made this offseason, from his work in the weight room to his performance at the just-concluded minicamp.  This a mere six months after his in-season switch from the defensive backfield to outside linebacker.  Smith has the speed that coach Butch Davis craves at the position, and there is more than one member of the organization rooting heavily for Smith to fill the depth void at LB......
 
Tarik Saleh, one of the good-guys in the NFL won't be out of work long, The Insiders has learned.  Saleh, a special teams ace was caught in a numbers game in Cleveland and could be headed to the Sunshine state or perhaps Tennessee.   We've been told that Tampa Bay, Miami, and Tennessee are looking to improve their special teams performance as well as wanting to improve depth.
 
NORTH-SIDE TIDBITS
 
For approximately the 38th time in the last two offseasons, a free-agent quarterback has taken a backhand to the Bengals' efforts to improve their shoddy play at the position.  The latest disser in the "Who Will Be Nati's Man Under Center" is Shane Matthews, who canceled a visit to Cincinnati in favor of a one-year deal with Washington.  The Bengals still have a contract offer on the table to Gus Frerotte, but now the veteran is seriously considering returning to the Broncos as Brian Griese's backup......
 
Forget the reports that there is a solid block of the Ravens organization that are pushing for Jeff Blake to become the club's starting quarterback.  Baltimore, in particular head coach Brian Billick and vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome, would love nothing better than for third-year QB Chris Redman to grab the starting job by the throat and relegate Blake to nothing more than quality veteran backup insurance.  Those close to the organization feel that Redman is ready for the burden of being an everyday NFL starting QB and will be given every opportunity to win the job outright......
 
The Bengals have taken a tiny dip into the draining free-agent pool, signin

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