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Risky business

Browns could play draft leverage game again

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Wednesday April 05, 2000 12:31 AM

  Courtney Brown may just be a pawn in the Browns' draft day plans. Jonathan Daniel/Allsport

By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated

When the Cleveland Browns held the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft last year, they used every bit of leverage they had in getting Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch to agree to a seven-year, $48 million contract before selecting him.

Their bargaining chip was Oregon quarterback Akili Smith, the only other player they seriously considered taking in the top spot. Playing one passer off against another, the Browns got Couch and his agent, Tom Condon, to sign off on a deal just hours before the draft began. Smith wound up going third to Cincinnati.

Could history repeat itself this year, when the Browns again hold the No. 1 spot and give indications of favoring Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown over Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington? The Browns again would like to agree to terms with their pick before selecting him, and another all-night negotiating marathon might be in store.

Brown's agent, former NFL defensive end Sean Jones, was asked Tuesday if he was braced for a repeat of that scenario.

"Yeah, and that would backfire," Jones said. "Because if they really want LaVar, they can have him. If they really want Courtney, they can have him. And if it doesn't make a difference to them, then they should take LaVar.

"If you're Cleveland and you want Arrington or Brown, it doesn't make a difference to us, because there's not that much difference dollar-wise between the two picks. So that ploy really wouldn't work. There's not a million-dollar difference between those two picks. So if you're that concerned about it, pick Arrington and sign him, because we're still going to get the same deal."

The pre-draft bravado of an agent sitting in the catbird seat? Maybe. But the reality of the situation is that Cleveland is expected to make their decision between Brown and Arrington by Sunday, without letting the pre-draft contract talks play the role of deciding factor this year. Signability is still important, but not as vital as it was last year with Couch versus Smith.

"What they had last year was a situation where the people involved were a little bit na´ve," Jones said. "Not necessarily Tom Condon, but definitely Couch from that perspective. There's no way that makes any sense in this draft. That would not happen. If they did that I would ... This is not rocket science. If they don't care which one they want, they should take Arrington. That just makes it easy for them. If it's just a matter of who they can get cheaper, take Arrington."

But Cleveland is still leaning strongly toward Brown. With one caveat: The Browns feel there may be one team out there willing to pay them a boatload for the No. 1 pick, and they're willing to listen. Because unlike taking the first pick, listening costs nothing.

Final judgement for Brown?

Brown will be in Cleveland on Wednesday for an important visit with the Browns. On Thursday he concludes his pre-draft travels with a stop in Washington.

While he has met Cleveland coach Chris Palmer, Brown still has a few hurdles to clear in letting Browns owner Al Lerner and team president Carmen Policy get a feel for him.

"The people who are writing the checks have not met him," Jones said. "So it'll be good for them to see if they like the way he smells. Everyone knows he's a great football player and everyone knows that talent projects into success at the next level. But at the end of the day people have to be comfortable with people they work with. That's the process. That's where we're at right now."

Like a golfer on the first three days of a 72-hole tournament, Brown can't win the draft derby Wednesday, but he can lose it.

"It's like this," Jones said. "You watch a beauty contest and they go for days and days of singing and dancing and parading around in bathing suits. And then it comes down to the last five contestants and they still have them walk up and down the stage one more time. We're at the runway stage.

"So either they've made the decision and they want their minds to be changed, or they haven't made up their minds and they want something to push them over the edge."

Arrington on the move

With Arrington visiting Washington on Wednesday and Cleveland on Friday, the two Penn State standouts might be trading places and following each other around all month. Each NFL team is allowed to bring in up to 20 players for pre-draft visits, with no visits allowed in the week before the draft.

Thus, teams are getting their last in-depth looks at players whose names might be on the backs of one of their jerseys in upcoming days.

Arrington spent Tuesday filming a couple of ESPN commercials with St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace, a fellow client of agent Kevin Poston.

With Arrington expected to land in either Washington or Cleveland, a lot of the draft guess-work is missing, Poston said. A lot, but not all.

"It's the draft," Poston said. "If you've been around this whole thing as long as I have and have seen what happens, you know you can't count on anything. I mean, it may not be Cleveland or Washington. It could be someone trading up with Cleveland.

"But whatever happens, if he goes to the Redskins, I think that'd be great. If he goes to Cleveland, then he's the No. 1 pick and that's another blessing. It's hard to frown on any of this. Now, if you're Peter Warrick and you go down to Cincinnati, then there's reason to say, "Oh, man.' And it may happen with LaVar. But I don't think so."

Trying to act the part

Alabama offensive tackle Chris Samuels looks like a top-five pick to nearly everyone -- but himself.

Samuels, who should go either second or third overall to Washington, acknowledged Tuesday that he's having a hard time playing the part of millionaire-to-be.

Samuels visited Washington on Tuesday, following a day after Florida State receiver Peter Warrick toured Redskin Park.

"My agent's [Jimmy Sexton] been getting on me the whole time," Samuels said. "Because I've been the type of guy that's just laid back and I said I'd be satisfied if I was drafted anywhere in the first round. He keeps telling me, 'Look, Chris, you're going to be a top-five guy.'

"But I'm not comfortable with that. I really don't believe the hype. Not to be bragging, but I always try to keep a humble frame of mind. I think I'm a very humble guy, and if I was bragging or boasting about being a top-five guy, I wouldn't be a humble guy any more."

Samuels will visit Pittsburgh on Wednesday, then head back to Indianapolis on Friday for a re-check of his recently arthroscopically repaired right knee. Samuels had the knee checked at the February scouting combine, but didn't work out due to medical reasons. Players who didn't work out at the combine must have their medical situations updated just before the draft.

Despite not believing the hype, Samuels said he believes he'll be back in Washington very soon.

"I'm pretty confident," he said. "I'm not going to put all my eggs in one basket, but I'm pretty confident that this is going to be my new home. I'm very lucky if the Redskins take me like I think they will. That's a blessing to come in and have a shot at the Super Bowl and get a ring."

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