A smooth offseason for the Browns -- smooth if you don't count dumping the top two quarterbacks from the last two seasons -- was shattered when nose tackle Shaun Rogers was arrested at Cleveland Hopkins airport for carrying a concealed weapon.
Rogers intended to fly to his hometown of Houston for the Easter weekend when a TSA technician spotted the .45 caliber handgun in Rogers' carry-on bag as it went through the X-ray machine at a security checkpoint. Further investigation showed the gun was loaded with eight rounds, including one in the chamber, and that it was cocked in the safe mode.
Rogers told police he forgot the gun was in the bag. He had to spend one night in jail and posted bond the next day. He pleaded not guilty to a fourth-degree felony for carrying a concealed weapon.
Rogers, 31 and coming off a season that ended prematurely because of a broken leg, has a Michigan license to carry a concealed weapon.
"By no means did I intend or willingly or knowingly take a firearm into the airport," Rogers told a group of reporters after posting bond. "That's not something I would do. I'm truly remorseful, and I really can't put into words how unfortunate the incident is, Again, I'm completely sorry."
Rogers told police and TSA officials he carries a gun with him when he travels for personal safety. Teammate Robaire Smith was traveling with Rogers. Smith was not arrested.
How the incident affects Rogers' football career with the Browns is not up to a judge or prosecutor, unless of course he is thrown in prison.
Even if he escapes the courts with probation, the 350-pound behemoth still faces the possibility of suspension by the Browns and/or the National Football League.
"Shaun is from a tremendous family that knows right from wrong," Rogers' agent, Kennard McGuire, said. "He is completely remorseful and sorry. While he does have a permit to carry a weapon, carrying it into the airport was an unintentional mistake. He will fully cooperate with all the authorities."
Despite all the apologies, Rogers' football career with the Browns could still be in jeopardy. Head coach Eric Mangini is pleased with the progress Ahtyba Rubin made in the last five games of 2009 when Rogers was on injured reserve with a broken leg. Brian Schaefering would be the backup.
Rogers has played nine seasons -- seven with the Lions and two with the Browns. He made the Pro Bowl three times, most recently in 2008 in his first year with the Browns.
Soon after the arrest Browns president Mike Holmgren issued a statement saying the Browns were aware of the arrest and would wait "until the legal process has taken its course" to make further comment.
--When the Browns built their stockpile of draft picks to an even dozen by trading linebacker Kamerion Wimbley for a third-round pick it seemed unlikely they would wait until the draft to spend all 12 picks.
Sure enough, they filled a huge need on defense in a trade with the Eagles on April 2, and they did not have to ransom the draft to do it.
In exchange for their fourth-round pick, choice 105 overall, and their second of four fifth-round picks, choice 137 overall, the Browns acquired cornerback Sheldon Brown and linebacker Chris Gocong from the Eagles. The Browns also threw in linebacker Alex Hall in the deal.
The trade seems like an excellent one for the Browns. They had been trying to find a right cornerback to pair with Eric Wright. Brandon McDonald, the starter in 2008, started 10 of 16 games last season. He was benched three different times. It is unlikely they would find a starting cornerback in the first round. Plus, this deal could alter the Browns' strategy with their first-round pick, the seventh overall choice.
"In Sheldon and Chris we were able to acquire two players, not just whom I am very familiar with, but who also will be great additions to our team," said Browns general manager Tom Heckert. "They both bring a tremendous amount of leadership from a winning organization, and will make us better and deeper on defense."
Brown is 31. He wanted a new contract last year despite having four years remaining on the one he was working under in Philadelphia. Brown responded with five interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns. The Browns satisfied Brown's contract demands by keeping the total money in the last three years of his contract the same, but converting a large portion of it into a signing bonus. The move was good for the Browns from a financial angle because this is an uncapped year.
"Sheldon Brown has been a very good football player for the Eagles over the last eight years," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. "He's a good person, a legitimate tough guy and he'll do a good job helping the Browns. Chris did a good job converting from defensive end to linebacker."
A report on the Eagles website explaining the trade from Philadelphia's view had this to say about Brown:
"Brown was a solid cornerback for this football team since the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2002. He played through injuries, he was a tough guy on the field and he was a darn good cornerback in every capacity. There is no lack of respect for Brown, but the Eagles are in the process of transitioning this defense, as they did the offense a year ago. Brown struggled with a hamstring injury late in 2009, which clearly limited his performance in the second half of the season, but he was out there every week, battling."
Brown, 5-10, 196 pounds, played in 127 games with 82 starts for the Eagles. He has 19 career interceptions and scored three touchdowns. He recovered two fumbles and scored touchdowns on both of them.
Gocong, 6-2, 263 pounds, missed his rookie season of with a neck injury. He made 92 tackles in 2007, 61 in 2008 and 50 last season. He has four career sacks.
Hall was a seventh-round draft pick by the Browns in 2008. Last year he played in 14 games, mostly on special teams, and made 10 tackles. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said the Eagles might use Hall as a pass rushing defensive end on third down in passing situations.
--Even after trading two picks to the Eagles the Browns still have 10 draft choices. That is the most since they made 13 picks in 2000.
--Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is using the offseason conditioning program to get stronger. Massaquoi tied for the team lead with 34 catches last season.
"(I'm) just trying to gain some weight and get a little bit faster, understand the game better," he told Cleveland Browns.com. "You watch some of the older guys play and they don't have the abilities that they used to have, but they're so smart and so sound and so technical that it makes up for all of that."
Team president Mike Holmgren said he likes the way Massaquoi played in 2009, but he wants to find a speedy receiver in the draft.
--One reason for hope is the Browns were dramatically better in the second half of the season. They increased their scoring from 9.8 points a game to 20.9 a game. They did not lose much scoring punch by releasing Derek Anderson and trading Brady Quinn.
--As the Browns wait to see what the legal system and Commissioner Roger Goodell do about punishing Shaun Rogers for having a loaded gun in his carry-on bag at the airport, Coach Eric Mangini has to figure out how to play defense without him while anticipating a suspension. It might not be so bad.
Rogers started 11 games before a broken leg ended his season, but Ahtyba Rubin finished with more tackles -- 38-36.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Sheldon has been a very good player for a long time and had one of the best seasons of his career last year with five interceptions. He stepped into the starting lineup by his third year and there were times when I felt he should have gone to the Pro Bowl." -- Browns general manager Tom Heckert, former G.M. of the Eagles, on newly acquired cornerback Sheldon Brown.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Despite acquiring cornerback Sheldon Brown from the Eagles in a trade made last week, the Browns had two high-profile cornerbacks in for visits this week -- Joe Haden from the University of Florida and Devin McCourty from Rutgers.
Haden is a sure-fire first-round pick. McCourty has been projected to go anywhere from late in the first round to early in the third round. That the Browns would still be looking at top of the line corners is an indication Browns management believes the secondary is in terrible shape.
There is another possibility. Brown is 31, and G.M. Tom Heckert knows him well. Heckert might see Brown more as a safety than a cornerback at this stage of his career. If that's the case, the Browns would still need a starting cornerback.
Ghiaciuc, 6-4, 302 pounds, was a fourth-round draft choice by the Bengals in 2005. He started 45 of the 48 games he played for Cincinnati. He was in the Chiefs training camp last year and finished the season with the Chargers.
1. Safety: Until Sheldon Brown is switched to safety or the Browns acquire one, free safety remains the Browns' biggest need. Abe Elam, the starting strong safety last season, is a restricted free agent whom the Browns have given a second-round tender. Mike Furrey, who played some safety last year, is unrestricted and the Browns do not seem eager to re-sign him. Brodney Pool signed with the Jets through free agency. The Browns could package draft picks for Eric Berry in the draft or hope he falls to them with the seventh pick.
2. Wide receiver: This isn't as pressing as safety or cornerback, but if Jake Delhomme doesn't get another weapon he might end up regretting his decision to sign with the Browns. Team president Mike Holmgren said he wants a receiver with speed to complement Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Josh Cribbs.
3. Running back: The Browns added Peyton Hillis in the trade sending Brady Quinn to Denver, but it's questionable whether they have three complementary backs in Jerome Harrison, Hillis and Chris Jennings or whether one could emerge as the dominant No. 1 back.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR/DB Mike Furrey was valuable because he could play both sides of the ball, but the Browns won't break the bank to re-sign him.
--TE Michael Gaines was one of three tight ends signed after the season started. He won't be back unless the Browns can get him at a bargain price.
--CB Hank Poteat is a player opposing quarterbacks picked on constantly. His pass-interference penalty with no time left caused the Browns to lose in Detroit. He will not be back. RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*S Abe Elam (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) led the Browns in tackles, but he wasn't the game-changer they hoped he would be. The Browns are very thin at safety, though, so they are not likely to let him go.
--*RB Jerome Harrison (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) could end up as the Browns' starter in 2010 after rushing for 561 yards in the last three games if they are willing to pay him enough.
--*LB D'Qwell Jackson (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) led the NFL in tackles in 2008. A pectoral tear in the sixth game ended his 2009 season.
--*LB Matt Roth (tendered at $1.809M with second-round pick as compensation) was claimed on waivers from the Dolphins on Nov. 25. He started all six games he played for the Browns and was a boost to their pass rush.
--*FB Lawrence Vickers (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) was the lead blocker for Harrison's fantastic finish in 2009. If the Browns want to be a running team they have to re-sign Vickers.
--LB Marcus Benard: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB Blake Costanzo: ERFA; terms unknown.
--TE Greg Estandia: Not tendered as RFA; terms unknown.
--RB Chris Jennings: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB Jason Trusnik: RFA (tendered at $1.684M with second-round pick as compensation); $1.684M/1 yr.
--FS Raymond Ventrone: Not tendered as RFA; $2.2M/3 yrs.
--C/G Billy Yates: UFA; terms unknown.
--CB Sheldon Brown (trade Eagles).
--QB Jake Delhomme: FA Panthers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Scott Fujita: UFA Saints; $14M/3 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--*C Eric Ghiaciuc: Not tendered as RFA by Chargers; terms unknown.
--LB Chris Gocong (trade Eagles).
--FB Peyton Hillis (trade Broncos).
--QB Tyler Palko: FA; terms unknown.
--OT Tony Pashos: UFA 49ers; $10.3M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--QB Seneca Wallace (trade Seahawks).
--TE Benjamin Watson: UFA Patriots; $12M/3 yrs, $6.25M guaranteed.
--C Hank Fraley (released).
--G Rex Hadnot: UFA Cardinals; $9M/3 yrs.
--LB Alex Hall (traded Eagles).
--TE Steve Heiden (released).
--RB Jamal Lewis (released).
--*S Brodney Pool: Not tendered as RFA/Jets; $1.3M/1 yr.
--QB Brady Quinn (traded).
--WR Donte' Stallworth (released).
--OL Ryan Tucker: UFA; retired and will be on league suspension for first eight games of the 2010 season.
--DE Corey Williams (traded Lions).
--LB Kamerion Wimbley (traded Raiders).