Browns to start from bottom

With cap in mind, new team eyes draft to fill end of roster

February 09, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

In football's version of trying to find a needle in a haystack, the new Cleveland Browns will sift through the expansion draft list today in search of a few good men who can still play and aren't too expensive.

The Browns can select from a pool of 150 players -- five from each team -- in a draft that will be televised on ESPN2 from Canton, Ohio, the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cleveland can select up to 42 players, but is unlikely to take that many.

If it takes fewer than 30, it must spend at least 38 percent of its cap money, or about $22 million. If it takes more than 30, it just adds up the value of its cap numbers.

Carmen Policy, the team's president, isn't thrilled with the restrictions.

"I'd rather have an expansion draft with slightly different rules," Policy said. "The draft does give us the opportunity to get veteran players who otherwise would be unobtainable. But I think you pay a penalty in terms of the number of players we're required to take and/or the amount of cap space we must make available."

So the Browns are likely to try to take more than 30 players who cost a total of about $16 million to $17 million.

"The players that we take will probably comprise the bottom one-third of our roster," coach Chris Palmer said. "That will give us players No. 30 through 45. Will they be good enough to play in this league? Yes, they will. I think we're looking for players with upside."

That means the Browns will likely go for younger, cheaper players who can stock the special teams.

They figure to avoid such players as Washington's Gus Frerotte and his $5.7 million cap figure, the Ravens' Michael Jackson and his $3.7 million cap figure and Green Bay's Reggie White and Pittsburgh's Will Wolford, who have announced they are retired.

If the last expansion draft in 1995 can be used as a yardstick, the players the Browns select will be stopgap players.

Of the 35 players Carolina took, 15 made the initial roster, but only one remains. Wide receiver Mark Carrier was not re-signed after the 1996 season, but returned as a free agent.

Of the 31 players Jacksonville selected, 22 made the 1995 roster. Only starting cornerback Dave Thomas and two injured-reserve players remain.

One of the players Jacksonville selected, quarterback Steve Beuerlein, is now on the Carolina roster.

Cleveland is expected to take one player from each of the other teams. Each team that loses a player can then protect a player.

If Cleveland selects a second player from a team, that team can pull back its remaining players. However, a team can leave all of its players exposed if it wants to.

The player the Ravens are most likely to lose is guard Ben Cavil. Since he was benched in each of the last two years, his selection would show how thin the pool is.

Besides Cavil and Jackson, the other three Ravens on the list are strong safety Stevon Moore, who played in Cleveland on the old Browns, but has bad knees and a $1.2 million cap figure, linebacker Tyrell Peters and defensive back Donny Brady.

"The interesting thing will be the second pick and how that unfolds," Palmer said. "Since we know we can get at least one player from each team, that guy's a lock. The second pick will be very interesting."

ESPN2 has a 2 1/2-hour time slot to televise the draft starting at 4 p.m. The Browns will announce their selections player by player. They're also turning it into a promotional vehicle with 4,000 fans expected to attend at the Canton Civic Center.

They have a maximum of three minutes between selections. Once a team loses a player, it has two minutes to decide which player to pull back.

A player selected in the draft gets a $10,000 bonus. If he reports to camp, he gets another $20,000. If he makes the regular-season roster, he gets another $30,000. That money won't count against the team's cap.

The Browns can trade a player they select, though not back to the team that exposed him.

Cleveland's toughest decision may be whether or not to take Denver cornerback Darrien Gordon, who intercepted two passes in the Super Bowl.

Since he has a cap number in the area of $3 million, he's probably out of the Browns' price range. But he can still play and might be one of the expensive players worth taking because the team probably will have to overpay to attract free agents to an expansion team.

Expansion eligibles

Arizona: WR Fred Brock, DB J.B. Brown, DE Jerry Drake, RB-TE Jarius Hayes, LB Terry Irving.

Atlanta: S-DB Chris Bayne, RB Harold Green, TE Ed Smith, LB Ben Talley, G Dave Widell.

Ravens: DB Donny Brady, G Ben Cavil, WR Michael Jackson, DB Stevon Moore, LB Tyrell Peters.

Buffalo: C Bill Conaty, WR Quinn Early, DB Ray Jackson, QB Alex Van Pelt, RB Clarence Williams.

Carolina: NT Mike Fox, G Corbin Lacina, RB Winslow Oliver, LB Tarek Saleh, DB Tony Veland.

Chicago: DB Ricky Bell, LB Andre Collins, DB Marlon Forbes, T Andy Heck, LB Jim Schwantz.

Cincinnati: LB James Francis, WR Damon Gibson, NT Mike Thompson, C Greg Truitt, LB Tom Tumulty.

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