March 9, 2004

Browns Upside Down

ESPN has just reported that the Cleveland Browns have signed Jeff Garcia to a four-year $25 million contract, which means that the outright release of Tim Couch is imminent. Couch, who had said he wanted to stay in Cleveland, had apparently worn out his welcome with Butch Davis with inconsistent play and a strained relationship with Cleveland fans.

When you think about the tens of millions of dollars (approx. $30 million) that Couch has been paid by the Browns organization in his five years here, after being the first player chosen in the 1999 draft, it's difficult to summon too much sympathy for the guy. But let's face it. He was jerked around by this organization time after time during the last three years, after getting bashed around by opponents for the first two. Last season was a soap opera, with management's allegiance shifting between Couch and Kelly Holcomb like a tag team match.

Then when the Butch and Carmen Show had to approach all three of their disappointing high draft picks about renegotiation of their huge contracts, they suggested that Tim Couch should play for less than half of the $7.6 million that they were contractually obligated to pay him for 2004, and he wondered just why he should agree to do that for this team.

This team that is scrambling for space under the salary cap even though the only orange helmets on the Pro Bowl rosters belonged to players from that team downstate. The team that had very few cards to play in their negotiation with Couch, since their backup (for the moment) Kelly Holcomb just had surgery on the labrum in his passing shoulder, and is out a minimum of six months. The team that bungled their way into a desperate situation this past week or two by alienating Couch with their insulting offer, which served only to bail them out of the financial mess they had created for themselves.

Tim Couch should take a pay cut of $4 million for that team?

As a result of Couch's balk, the desperate Browns front office refused to wipe the considerable quantity of egg off of their face, and instead rushed back out into the eggstorm by signing, and overpaying, a 34 year old scrambler to a four year deal. They overpaid because they knew that if Garcia signed with Tampa Bay, as he and his father had suggested he wanted to do, they were screwed. Gruden had been talking about a deal for between $15 and 20 million, so the Browns went to $25 million, getting eight years older at the position in the process, and not gaining much room under the cap, if any at all.

When you draft a player with the first overall pick, the team and the fans expect him to be "great" Elway, a Manning, a Bruce Smith. Couch isn't great. That much was pretty obvious after a couple of seasons, the Browns expansion team status notwithstanding. Couch could be maddeningly inaccurate passing, and would often follow a stellar game with a couple of lousy ones. A couple of QB's drafted after him in 1999, Culpepper and McNabb, look in retrospect like superior talents.

But what Couch is, is a better than average NFL quarterback. What he is, is a tough guy. Carmen Policy's organization has never put an offensive line in front of the guy that was even "good" by NFL standards, and Couch was lucky to even survive the first two seasons in one piece. Not once did he ever complain about his line off the field, or berate them on it. Try to think of one dangerous offensive weapon that the organization has put on the field with Tim Couch in five years. Thought so.

The one guy who comes close to that description in recent years is Dennis Northcutt, the team's leader in catches and receiving yardage this past season. Northcutt is only with the team at the moment due to a screw-up by his agent, who failed to file the free agency paperwork on time. In one of the most classless stunts I have ever witnessed by an NFL head coach, Coach Davis slammed Northcutt in a press conference a couple weeks ago, wondering out loud to the assembled media if the NFL would allow him to use the "franchise player" tag "on a punt returner".

This was before the disclosure of the free agency snafu by the agent, and so Davis was supposedly in a negotiating posture at the time with Northcutt, in an attempt to keep his best offensive threat from bolting through free agency. I guess he was going for a cheap laugh from the reporters. My opinion of Davis the coach, and Davis the man dropped significantly at that moment. And my opinion of Carmen Policy has always been that he's little more than a slick, "spin doctor" with a line of B.S. a mile long, who condescends to the fans of this great franchise, playing them for idiots.

The Browns may eventually prove to be a better team now that Tim Couch is gone. And we'll soon find out what other NFL teams think of his talent and his value. For now, what is left behind in Cleveland is troubling for us season ticket holders and lifelong Browns fans. We've got a team with no real star players, a head coach with a big ego who still has a lot to learn about player and fan relations, and a front office that can't get out of it's own way.

Posted by dan at March 9, 2004 1:07 AM