Browns stick to financial plan

Published 1:27 am Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Associated Press

BEREA — As debt ceilings and borrowing limits consume everyone’s day, the Cleveland Browns are saving their money.

While other NFL teams have thrown around millions at players in free agency since the NFL lockout lifted, the Browns, who are roughly $35 million under the salary cap, are sticking to their plan and choosing not to overspend. General manager Tom Heckert promised he would not be overly aggressive in the free agent market, and he has been true to his word.

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Heckert has seen his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, splurge in free agency along with teams like the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals. To this point, he hasn’t been enticed to follow the pack.

“I don’t know if it’s tempting,” Heckert said Monday after the Browns held their first practice in pads under new coach Pat Shurmur. “We didn’t say we weren’t going to do anything. It was just there were certain parameters we’re trying to deal with right now. That could always change. Our philosophy is to build through the draft, but if there are guys out there that we think can come in here and help us, we would do that. We’re not going to spend a ton of money right now in that (free agent) situation.

“For our team, we think we’ve added players who are going to help us. We really do. Are they big-name guys? No. But we think we’re a better football team than we were last year.”

Other than signing safety Usama Young and defensive end Jayme Mitchell — both projected starters — the Browns have made few other major moves. Even the trades they’ve completed over the past week have been underwhelming, moves designed to bolster their roster and improve a team that’s been spinning its wheels for years.

One trade that Heckert had presumably completed hit a major snag and collapsed.

On Saturday, the Eagles announced they had traded defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, originally drafted 14th overall in 2006 by Heckert, to the Browns for a fifth-round pick in 2012. However, Bunkley reported to the Browns and did not meet all of the conditions of the deal, sending him back to Philadelphia.

The Eagles ended up trading him to Denver on Monday for a 2013 pick. Before the deal with the Broncos was announced, Heckert refused to comment on anything to do with Bunkley.

“I have nothing on that,” said Heckert, who wouldn’t divulge any information despite repeated questions about the trade. “You’ll have to talk to Philadelphia.”

That wasn’t Cleveland’s only roster-related issue. The Browns have not yet signed Phil Taylor, their first-round pick (No. 21 overall), to a contract. The big Baylor nose tackle missed his third practice Monday in a holdout, but Heckert isn’t worried and remains confident the sides can work out something soon.

“It’s not a concern at all,” Heckert said. “We’re talking to them every day and we have a good relationship with his agent and we’ll see what happens.”

Taylor’s agent, Peter Schaffer, did not respond to an email from the AP seeking comment.

The Browns’ track record in free agency has been spotty in recent years. They’ve had their fair share of hits and misses. Last year, Heckert landed linebacker Scott Fujita, tight end Ben Watson and offensive tackle Tony Pashos, who missed most of the season with an ankle injury. Heckert is preaching patience as he rebuilds the team.

It’s not that he’s unwilling to spend money, it’s that Heckert doesn’t think now is the time to do it.

And that’s fine with Browns guard Eric Steinbach.

“Everyone’s got their own approach,” he said. “Maybe we feel comfortable with the guys in the room. Maybe we’re a team that doesn’t have to go make these monster moves to get where we want to get. With the guys we had on the field last year, I see a lot of good things and I see a lot of good players, and now we got another staff in and you just tweak some things with coaches.”

“We’re not a team that signed 10 older free agents. Maybe that’s a good thing.”

The free agent frenzy has died down some, and while the Browns have yet to take part, Heckert didn’t rule out making a big move — if it’s the right one for Cleveland.

“My old team is making headlines like crazy,” he said. “A few teams are doing it, but there are still a ton of guys out there. A lot of guys are looking for work. It isn’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Notes: Browns WR Josh Cribbs sat out practice with a left knee injury he sustained Sunday. Cribbs said an MRI showed no structural damage and hopes to be back later this week. … Browns QB Colt McCoy hooked up with WR Demetrius Williams on a 45-yard TD pass during team drills. … Rookie TE Jordan Cameron cramped up during the morning workout and was helped to the locker room. He did return for the afternoon walkthrough. … RB Montario Hardesty was held out of several drills, but not because he’s had a setback. The Browns don’t want to overwork him as he comes back from his latest knee injury.