FEB. 12: BEREA
The free-agency shopping season begins. The Browns, determined to show prospective players that no team in the NFL will go to greater lengths to woo them, pitch Vikings cornerback Corey Fuller, Ravens tackle Orlando Brown and Patriots center Dave Wohlabaugh on the stadium and food and the other amenities. "We want to be the place of choice for the best players," Lerner says.
Expansion draft pickups are around to make their pitches. "I've come to NFL heaven," says Pyne.
"I didn't come here for the food," Brown says gruffly during his visit. "I came here for a contract."
No problem. Never an All-Pro, the 350-pound Brown will get paid like one: six years, $27 million, including a $7.5 million signing bonus. In all, Cleveland will sign three players to deals averaging more than $4 million annually. Unfortunately for Palmer, whose forte is offense, none of that dough will go to skill players to help the quarterback he knows he'll draft.
FEB. 23: BEREA
To the outside world Palmer is Clark Kent, the mild-mannered assistant who'd been overshadowed by domineering coaches—Parcells and Tom Coughlin—for the previous six years. But Palmer has a plan, and damn anyone who gets in his way. He has his finger on the pulse of his players. Already he has met with police chiefs from six area towns and representatives of the Ohio Highway Patrol, inviting officers and their families to watch minicamps; in exchange he has asked them to give the club a heads-up if their departments find his players running into trouble in their towns.
Palmer is bitingly blunt with his players. "If I tell you something, it's the truth," he says. "It might not be what you want to hear, but it's meant to make you better."
Case in point: Soon after guard Jeff Buckey is picked up in the expansion draft, Palmer asks him why the Miami Dolphins had given up on him and exposed him to the draft. Buckey says he doesn't know. Palmer tells him he'll find out. At the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Palmer does just that.
"Hey, Buckey," Palmer says in the weight room a couple of days later. "I found out why the Dolphins gave up on you. You're soft, and you don't practice hard."