APRIL 16: NEW YORK CITY
The man scurrying across 49th Street in the steady rain curses his luck. Figuring he'll never find a cab in this weather, he's resigned to walking the nine blocks back to his hotel from the meeting he has just wrapped up. As he gets soaked, Lal Heneghan calls Clark and Policy to update them on his three-hour negotiating session with Tom Condon, the agent for Couch.
"How'd things go?" Policy asks.
"Not good," Heneghan says. "Condon wants the Peyton Manning deal plus 8½ percent."
It is the day before the draft, and things are tense. Heneghan's charge was to negotiate with Condon, see where things stood after a few hours, then call Smith's agent, Leigh Steinberg. The Browns prefer Couch, but if Condon's demands are too outlandish, they'll go with Smith. Policy curses Condon. Heneghan stays cool.
Back at the Loews Hotel, Heneghan orders room service chicken soup, then calls Steinberg to sketch out the parameters of a deal with Smith. But, Heneghan says, he isn't authorized to make the deal. Across town, as Couch and Condon are wrapping up dinner, the player says, "I want to play in Cleveland, and I've always wanted to be the first pick in the draft." At 10:30 p.m. Condon goes to Heneghan's room to talk, and after four hours the two have hammered out a deal. Couch gets the opportunity to redo the contract after three years. The Browns get the seventh year they want. Couch also gets $21 million in signing bonuses, more than Manning got as the top pick in 1998. "I can't tell you it's O.K. till I call the office in the morning," Heneghan tells Condon. Then Heneghan pulls out two cigars, and two grinning men stink up the fourth floor of the hotel.
APRIL 17: NEW YORK CITY
"Only the best for you, Tim," Heneghan says as he, Couch and Condon duck into the only private space they can find, a men's room at Madison Square Garden. The Browns are serious about getting Couch signed to a precontract agreement before the draft. It is 11:45 a.m. The draft starts at noon. Couch reads and signs the document before NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue goes to the podium and makes the quarterback's dream come true. Steinberg and his partner, Jeff Moorad, feel used, and Heneghan gets the following message from a bitter-sounding Moorad on his voice mail back in Berea: "We will never do business with you again."
MAY 13: BEREA
Steinberg-Moorad client Jamir Miller, a free-agent linebacker, signs a one-year contract with the Browns.
JUNE 7: BEREA
Every team needs a leader, someone who can dish it out as well as he can take it. Around noon Couch walks through the locker room. Fuller, the cornerback and champion trash-talker imported from Minnesota, starts running his mouth about Couch being the next Brett Favre. Couch gives it right back. "Yeah, and every quarterback in the NFC Central is sad to see you gone," Couch says.