The Washington Redskins intend to pursue Courtney Brown, the talented yet oft-injured defensive end who is expected to be released today by the Cleveland Browns, according to sources familiar with the situation.
According to reports, Cleveland has informed Brown, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, that he will be released, making him an unrestricted free agent, after he declined a substantial pay cut.
While a teammate of Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington at Penn State, Brown broke the school record for career sacks. But he has finished his last four seasons on injured reserve.
According to sources, Brown believes that the Redskins would be a good fit partly because of Gregg Williams, the team's assistant head coach-defense, and defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who has a reputation for developing defensive linemen. Brown's Los Angeles-based agent, Marvin Demoff, also represents Williams.
Demoff, who once represented Coach Joe Gibbs, did not return calls yesterday. According to one source who has spoken to Brown, he will make free agent visits starting tomorrow and will leave all options open.
Last week, Gibbs indicated that Washington would monitor released players to fill remaining needs.
Last night, Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato declined to comment on Brown, noting the NFL's tampering rules regarding players under contract. But, Cerrato said, "anybody that comes across the wire, we will evaluate and investigate."
Although the Redskins are expected to keep their pursuit of free agents to a minimum, the club is seeking a pass rush specialist. And Brown, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive end, would be a strong candidate. (Renaldo Wynn is Washington's left defensive end, but Williams is known for frequently rotating players.)
Last season, the Redskins had 40 sacks -- tied for second in the NFC -- while the defensive line performed surprisingly well for the league's third-ranked defense. But Washington's pass rush was largely generated by Williams sending his linebackers and cornerbacks on blitzes. (Only 14 of Washington's sacks were by defensive linemen, led by tackle Cornelius Griffin's six.)
Washington's chances of landing Brown are likely to come down to how much the club feels it can spend on a player who has missed 33 games over the past four seasons. Last year, in Week 2 at the Dallas Cowboys, Brown tore a Lisfranc ligament in his left foot and underwent season-ending surgery. In 47 games, Brown has 136 tackles, 17 sacks and 7 forced fumbles.
Brown was scheduled to receive a $2.5 million roster bonus tomorrow plus a base salary in 2005 of $.5.5 million. Brown reportedly rebuffed Cleveland's suggestion that he restructure to earn an average salary of $2 million. The offer likely will remain on the table, sources said, meaning that the Redskins must at least match it.
One benefit of losing cornerback Fred Smoot is that Washington suddenly has financial flexibility and is $2.1 million under the salary cap. (The Redskins will jump to about $4 million after an expected trade of wide receiver Rod Gardner for a draft pick.)
But the Redskins must determine the risk of signing a player whose NFL career has been riddled by ankle, elbow, knee and neck injuries: In 2001, Brown missed 11 games with knee and ankle injuries. In 2002, he suffered a knee injury and underwent microfracture surgery. In 2003, Brown tore his right biceps. And, before last season was cut short, Brown was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery in February 2004.
Brown has earned $26 million in five NFL seasons. Waiving him will save Cleveland $5 million under the cap.
Arrington was chosen second overall in the 2000 draft, followed by left tackle Chris Samuels. If Brown were to join Washington, the Redskins would have the top three players from the 2000 class.
According to a club source, if Arrington had been selected No. 1 that year, the Redskins likely would have chosen Brown with one of the next two picks.