The off-season has officially started in the NFL. The Browns' task of evaluating the roster and laying the groundwork for next year began immediately following the 36-33 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in early January.
Some key decisions will be made in the month leading up to the NFL player free agency period. No later than February 27th, all NFL teams must make qualifying offers to their restricted free agents whose contracts have expired and who they desire to retain. The team will then get right of first refusal for compensation purposes.
This date also applies for teams to submit minimum salary offers to players with three or less seasons of free agency credit, to retain exclusive negotiating rights to said players, whose contracts have expired.
The February 27th date holds even more importance in the progression of the Browns.
All-Pro linebacker Jamir Miller is due a 14 million dollar bonus on this date, and the Browns are not going to pickup the bonus. Indications from those close to the team suggest that it is unlikely, but not out of the question that the team will enter into a multi-year deal Miller, who missed the entire 2002 season due to an Achilles tendon injury that required surgery. The risk on the investment is percieved to be too great. Both sides are talking, but from what we've been told, there is significant gap between what the Browns are willing to pay and what Miller's agent, Leigh Steinberg is requesting, but optimism resides in the Miller camp that a deal can be struck.
If the Browns are unable to secure a contract with Miller, he will become a free agent and approximately 4 million dollars will be removed from their salary cap. Stay tuned, we'll keep an ear on this one.
Another player of serious interest to the Browns is running back Jamel White. White, a restricted free agent, is expected to receive some attention in free agency and the Browns would like to retain his services. The ‘feel' from speaking with agents and front office types is that White will receive an offer from a team, well above the marginal qualifying offer the Browns are expected to make in hopes of retaining or receiving compensation, if White were to dash off to greener pastures.
When free agency commences on February 28th, the Browns are expected to take a serious look at improving areas on the roster without breaking the bank. This isn't to say that the Browns are strapped by the salary cap strapped... the quiet word coming out of Berea is that the team will have significant salary cap space to sign a few free agent players. The Browns, however, will not disclose details about their present salary cap situation.
The offensive line is an area that the organization has spent considerable time evaluating. From what we've been told, the team would like to obtain a dominant left tackle and move current left tackle Ross Verba inside to guard. This doesn't mean the Browns are displeased with Verba, but the belief is that the overall line play would improve with such a move. The interior line is going to be a focal point, and player movement is expected in this area.
Stay tuned. More to follow "From What We've Been Told" shortly.