Mum's the word
Browns voice indecision but negotitate with Couch
Posted: Saturday April 17, 1999 12:28 AM
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Barring a blockbuster trade or a breakdown at the bargaining table, the Browns' No. 1 pick today will likely be a No. 2.
Tim Couch, the quarterback who wore No. 2 while setting dozens of passing records at Kentucky, is expected to be Cleveland's top selection in the NFL draft in New York.
The Browns are returning to the league as an expansion team after a three-year hiatus, and indications are that they will make the 21-year-old Couch their quarterback of the future.
Couch's agent, Tom Condon, began face-to-face contract negotiations with Lal Heneghan, Cleveland's contract expert, in New York on Friday night. The two met for three hours before breaking for dinner and indicated they would work through the night if necessary.
According to reports Friday night, as long as the two sides come to an agreement, the Browns will make Couch their top pick. Condon is said to be seeking an eight percent increase on the six-year, $48 million deal he got for Peyton Manning last year when the former Tennessee quarterback was taken No. 1 by Indianapolis. He is also looking for a larger signing bonus than the $12 million Manning got from the Colts.
As of Friday evening, the Browns insisted they still didn't know what they were going to do, and said there was still a chance they would trade the pick.
"There are some new developments with at least one other team wanting to trade up and take the pick," Browns president Carmen Policy said Friday evening. "We have four alternatives and all of them are still alive."
Policy denied rumors running wild through New York hotel lobbies and on the air waves in Cleveland that the Browns have already decided to make Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch their first selection. Policy said Couch, Oregon quarterback Akili Smith and Texas running back Ricky Williams are all still in the mix and that negotiations with the players' agents were continuing.
"I have been in constant contact with the Browns," Williams' agent, Leland Hardy, said in New York.
The Browns seemed to be enjoying their first moment in the NFL draft spotlight in three years. They may have already decided what to do, and were just waiting until the final moment to show their hand.
"There's a possibility we might make a decision tonight," Policy said as workers scurried around the team's headquarters in Berea in preparation for the two-day draft. "Late tonight or early tomorrow."
Asked if Couch had already agreed to a contract and would be taken first, Policy said, "No, that's not true."
Picking Couch seems to be the Browns' first option as long as they can strike a deal with his agent, Tom Condon of Cleveland-based IMG. The 21-year-old Couch, who is skipping his senior year at Kentucky, has been considered the frontrunner for months. He solidified his place as the team's likely quarterback of the future with a good workout orchestrated by Browns coach Chris Palmer and attended by Policy and Browns owner Al Lerner last weekend in Lexington, Ky.
Cleveland's second option would be to take Smith, who has a stronger arm than Couch and appeared to be Palmer's favorite after a stellar private workout last month.
Smith's agent, Leigh Steinberg, said from New York that he spoke with Browns' officials several times Friday and was assured his client was still being considered.
One advantage for Smith could be Steinberg's experience with Policy at the bargaining table. Steinberg represented several San Francisco 49ers, including quarterback Steve Young, whose contract he negotiated when Policy was 49ers president.
Steinberg, too, was impressed by the Browns' ability to keep everyone guessing.
"If the Cleveland Browns had been given the atomic nuclear secret, we would still have it," he said. If the Browns choose their third option and take Williams, it would mean they couldn't get either quarterback to agree to a contract. And it could signal they plan to grab another quarterback in later rounds or attempt to sign free agent Warren Moon, who reports say has been in contact with Palmer in the past few days.
And if all else fails, the Browns could choose a fourth option -- trade the pick, something that until recently seemed highly unlikely.
"Someone is talking to us about making a trade of pick to move into the first selection slot," Policy said. "It's a long shot but it's still a horse in the race."
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