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Top dog

Cleveland agrees to terms with No. 1 pick Brown

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Posted: Saturday April 15, 2000 09:10 PM

  Courtney Brown will join Ki-Jana Carter as the only Penn State players to be picked No. 1. Ken White/Allsport

By Peter King, Sports Illustrated

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cleveland Browns reached a contract agreement Saturday morning with Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown, making him the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

The seven-year, $45-million deal, hammered out by Browns negotiator Lal Heneghan and Brown's agent, Marvin Demoff, was reached shortly after 11 a.m. ET in New York not far from the site of the draft, Madison Square Garden. Demoff and Heneghan negotiated for 12 1/2 hours Friday and got most of the deal done. The final points were hammered out Saturday in an 8 a.m. meeting, and sent to Browns owner Al Lerner for his approval, which came less than an hour before the draft began.

Beyond that Brown could earn an additional $11 million in incentives based on how he plays. The contract includes a $10.9 million signing bonus. The contract can be voided after three seasons. It is expected the seventh year will be voided.

The signing of Brown sets the stage for Washington to pick Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington and Alabama offensive tackle Chris Samuels with the second and third picks in the draft. Ironically, it was Arrington and his agents who gave the final push to the Browns getting Browns' contract done. On Friday, when the negotiations between Cleveland and Brown bogged down, Heneghan told Demoff that he was going to call agents Kevin and Carl Poston; Heneghan clearly was letting Demoff know that the Browns would try to use Arrington against Brown in negotiations if Demoff did not agree to some of Brown's terms. But the Postons, who have preferred Washington for their client all along, not only made themselves unavailable when Heneghan called but then did not return his phone call. So if the Browns wanted to reach a deal with either of the two players before the draft, they knew it was going to have to be Brown.

On Thursday, Washington owner Daniel Snyder stunned the Browns by calling club president Carmen Policy and offering him the third pick in the draft, plus the Redskins' third-round choice, for the first overall pick.

Snyder, sources say, was scared the Browns might pick Arrington, who has been Washington's first choice all along. The Browns refused the deal, because obviously it left open the possibility that Washington could take Arrington and Brown with picks one and two. Snyder, the same sources said, refused to trade the second pick in the draft.

Cleveland really wanted Brown and would have settled for Arrington, but wanted nobody else that high.

"It was a senseless move by Snyder," said one source with knowledge of the Browns' draft plans. "Why in the world would they risk getting neither for a third-round pick?"

Cincinnati, picking fourth, will likely take Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick and will then entertain offers for one of its plethora of unhappy players, wide receiver Carl Pickens. The Jets might be interested for the right, low price. Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said late Friday that if Warrick was there when the Bengals were on the clock, there was only about a 10 percent chance that any team could offer them enough in trade for them to not choose Warrick.

That's when the draft should get interesting. All week long it was expected that the fifth pick would be Florida State defensive tackle Corey Simon, but now comes word it may be New Mexico linebacker/safety Brian Urlacher, who has spent the last month shooting up draft boards leaguewide, or Michigan State wide receiver Plaxico Burress. The Jets enter the draft favoring Burress if they jump up to No. 5, while the Packers favor Urlacher.

Baltimore officials spent much of Friday on the phone trying to trade the No. 5 pick down for a collection of choices, and the best offer seemed to be from Green Bay. The Packers would give their first-, second- and fourth-round selections for the Ravens' choice. Green Bay is due to pick 14th in the first round. If that deal goes through, Baltimore would own the 10th and 14th picks.

The final bit of draft intrigue Friday centered on Pittsburgh, picking eighth. CNNSI.com has learned Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher called Marshall QB Chad Pennington on Friday and said if he were available when the Steelers chose in the first round, he would be Pittsburgh's pick. Such a move would have dramatic implications in Pittsburgh, where quarterback Kordell Stewart has player horribly for two years. Choosing Pennington would mean the Steelers had run out of faith in Stewart.

For Brown and Demoff, the long-time negotiator who has handled such stars as John Elway and Dan Marino, the deal wasn't hard to reach. In recent years, the signing bonuses and total dollars in high-draft-choice contracts have become well-publicized and important to agents. But Demoff figured it this way: Most high-pick contracts are worked so they can be renegotiated after three years so if the contract is going to be re-opened after three years, isn't the most important aspect of the deal what the player earns in the first three years?

The contract will pay Brown $14 million in the first three years, plus incentives, which tops the deals of the last two No. 1 picks, both quarterbacks. In 1998, Indianapolis signed Peyton Manning for $13 million over the first three years, plus incentives. In 1999, the Browns signed Tim Couch for $13.35 million.

In the first three years of Brown's deal, he will earn $14.1 million, which beats both of the recently chosen quarterbacks.

Brown, using a rare combination of speed and strength in his four college seasons, set Penn State career records with 33 sacks and 70 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Coach Joe Paterno says the 6-5, 271-pound All-American is the best defensive lineman he's ever had in his program.

For the NFL, which has experienced a rash of off-field image problems in the past six months, Brown comes along at the perfect time. Cleveland is probably the best team at checking player backgrounds; the Browns employ former Secret Service director Lew Merletti as their head of security. And they found nothing checkered about Brown's past, not at Penn State and not in the tiny South Carolina town of Alvin (pop. 800) where Brown grew up.

"You're not going to find anything bad on his record," says Don Ferrell, Brown's academic advisor in State College. "I've been at Penn State 30 years, 19 years in this job in the atheltic department, and I've never met a finer person, athlete and student than Courtney."

Brown, who carried a 3.4 grade-point average last fall with an Integrative Arts and Computer Graphics major, will graduate on time May 13, despite changing his major as a sophomore and having to take more classes than normal in four years.

He is an excruciatingly reserved person, and the attention afforded the first pick in the draft is something he's never had to deal with before. The Browns say they aren't worried about his quiet personality, but this could be a negative because Cleveland coach Chris Palmer has told Brown he wants him to be the defensive leader on the team.

Brown is not expected to start immediately. Cleveland has already signed defensive ends Keith McKenzie and Orpheus Roye this offseason, and Palmer has told them they'll have the first shot at the starting end spots, McKenzie on the left side and Roye on the right. Look for Brown to be spotted into the lineup for about 30 to 40 plays a game in September.

It's likely the Browns will use him at end in pass-rushing situations opposite McKenzie early, with Roye moving inside. But eventually, he'll win the starting left end spot, pushing out McKenzie.

"This is a man who will have the impact on his defense that Lawrence Taylor and Bryant Young had on theirs," San Francisco general manager Bill Walsh said.

The Browns pray he's right.


 
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