The Denver Broncos have agreed to trade running back Reuben Droughns to the Cleveland Browns for two defensive linemen, end Ebenezer Ekuban and tackle Michael Myers.
By obtaining Droughns, 26, the Browns acquire the Browns the workhorse runner that new coach Romeo Crennel and new general manager Phil Savage were seeking. They first tried to pry restricted free agent Chester Taylor from Baltimore, but the Ravens matched the Browns' one-year, $3 million offer sheet to retain the tailback.
Droughns will vie with Lee Suggs for playing time and carries in Cleveland. Droughns rushed for 1,240 yards for the Broncos last season, emerging as Denver's starting tailback in the season after they traded Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins. Droughns got his chance because of injuries to Quentin Griffin and rookie Tatum Bell, and took full advantage. He previously had played fullback, and before last season he'd managed only 97 rushing yards in three NFL seasons for the Detroit Lions and Broncos.
The Browns like Droughns's tough, straightforward running style, but there were some questions whether his success was due mostly to Denver's highly successful system. He became the fifth different running back to rush for at least 1,100 yards in a season for the Broncos in a span of seven years, joining Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Portis. Portis topped 1,500 yards in each of his two seasons in Denver.
When the Broncos told Droughns that he would have to compete for playing time next season and might be moved back to fullback, he asked to be traded. The club granted permission for Droughns and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to seek a trade. The running back market is flooded league-wide, with Travis Henry, Edgerrin James and perhaps Shaun Alexander on the trading block. But Droughns's gritty running style, comparatively modest price tag and cheaper salary made him an attractive option for the Browns. Droughns has two seasons remaining on a contract that pays him salaries of $950,000 next season and $1.15 million in 2006. Cleveland is trying to make its running game more power-oriented and signed guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman in free agency.
Ekuban, 28, had a career-best eight sacks for the Browns last season after managing only 12 ½ sacks in five seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys selected him in the first round of the 1999 draft. He becomes the third defensive lineman who is a former first-round draft choice to move from Cleveland to Denver in a span of about a month. The Broncos traded a fourth-round pick in next month's draft to the Browns for defensive tackle Gerard Warren, and agreed to a contract this week with defensive end Courtney Brown after he was released by Cleveland. The Browns' former defensive line coach, Andre Patterson, now works for the Broncos.
Ekuban signed a three-year, $7 million contract with Cleveland before last season as a free agent.
Myers, 29, made seven starts for the Browns last season and has started 33 games in seven NFL seasons for Dallas and Cleveland. . . .
Acquiring Droughns virtually ensures that Cleveland will trade or release tailback William Green. The Browns already have given Green permission to seek a trade. . . .
The move also increases the likelihood that the Browns will select a quarterback with the third overall pick in the draft next month. The draft is top-heavy with tailbacks -- Auburn teammates Ronnie Brown and Carnell (Cadillac) Williams and Texas's Cedric Benson. But having both Droughns and Suggs probably leaves the Browns selecting a quarterback from among Aaron Rodgers of Cal and Alex Smith of Utah, provided that they aren't taken with the top two choices.
Cleveland could attempt to trade down in the first-round draft order and bolster its defensive line. But there are few clubs looking to trade up in this draft, with so many prospects regarded as roughly equal in talent level. ...
The Browns traded Warren and Ekuban in large part because they felt that neither would fit into a three-linemen, four-linebacker defensive scheme, which Crennel prefers. Cleveland could end up parting with another defensive lineman, Kenard Lang, for the same reason. ...
Adding Ekuban and Myers would take the Broncos out of the market for adding another free-agent defensive lineman. They'd been talking to end Marques Douglas and tackles Ed Jasper and Tony Williams.
Obtaining Ekuban might increase the chances of Denver trading defensive end Trevor Pryce. The Broncos have been shopping Pryce, a reliable pass rusher over the years who missed most of last season after undergoing back surgery, but haven't yet found a team willing to meet their asking price.
Chargers, 49ers Denying Rivers Talks
The Chargers are joining the 49ers in squashing speculation that quarterback Philip Rivers could be traded from San Diego to San Francisco for the top overall pick in next month's draft. The trade would give the 49ers a quarterback prospect widely regarded as more promising than Rodgers or Smith, and would give the Chargers -- who already have Drew Brees at quarterback--three first-round draft choices on the heels of a season in which they went 12-4 and won the AFC West.
But officials from both teams say that no trade talks are taking place and they don't expect such a deal to happen. The Chargers used their franchise-player tag to keep Brees off the unrestricted free agent market this offseason and declined to negotiate a long-term contract with him, and trading Rivers would leave them in a bind if Brees does not continue the career revival that he started last season.
The 49ers haven't ruled out trading the pick, but appear to be leaning toward keeping it and selecting Rodgers. ...
The Kansas City Chiefs are uncertain if guard Will Shields, who reached his 10th career Pro Bowl last season, will return for a 13th NFL season. Coach Dick Vermeil has said he expects Shields, 33, to play next season but isn't sure about it. The Chiefs have announced plans to move John Welbourn, obtained from Philadelphia in a trade last year and moved to right tackle, back to guard next season but want him to back up Shields and Brian Waters rather than replace Shields in the starting lineup. ...
Center Tyson Walter, a restricted free agent, re-signed with the Cowboys for a one-year, $656,000 deal. ...
St. Louis today signed defensive end Jay Williams, who was released by Miami last month, to a three-year, $2.65 million contract that includes a $300,000 signing bonus. Williams began his NFL career with the Rams, playing for them between 1995 and 99 before two-year stints with Carolina and Miami.