The Washington Redskins contacted the gifted but injury-prone Courtney Brown immediately after he was released yesterday by the Cleveland Browns, according to sources familiar with the situation. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound left defensive end will make one of his first visits as a free agent to Redskins Park this week -- perhaps tonight -- said two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, and will consider signing a contract.
Coach Joe Gibbs was unavailable to comment. Neither team vice president Vinny Cerrato nor Brown's agent, Marvin Demoff, returned telephone messages yesterday.
According to sources, although Brown has been contacted by Denver, Tampa Bay and Seattle, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft believes Washington is an ideal situation -- providing he receives a contract that suits him. Brown will first visit the Broncos, perhaps this morning.
Linebacker LaVar Arrington played with Brown at Penn State and was drafted No. 2, one slot behind his teammate. Sources close to the player said the idea of playing for Gregg Williams, Washington's assistant head coach for defense, and Greg Blache, the de facto defensive line coach known for helping players reach their potential, appeals to Brown. Last season, the Redskins, with the third-ranked defense, allowed an NFL-best 3.1 yards per rush after entering the season with a maligned defensive line.
Brown is also familiar with Foge Fazio, a special assistant to the Redskins' personnel evaluation department. Before being hired as a Redskins consultant in 2003, Fazio coached Brown as Cleveland's defensive coordinator in 2001 and 2002. At the time, Fazio was said to believe one reason Brown had injury troubles was that he was too focused on technique and didn't freelance enough.
Brown played in all 16 games as a rookie, amassing 70 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. But in every year since, Brown has been on injured reserve, including last season after tearing a ligament in his left foot. Brown has missed 33 games in five years.
The Redskins have to determine whether the potential reward of signing Brown is worth the risk, given his medical history. But Brown's scheduled visit may indicate that the Redskins are leaning toward adding him, contingent on negotiations.
Washington's pursuit of Brown apparently has been approved by Williams, whose contract provides him a say in defensive personnel. Demoff also represents Williams, who was unavailable to comment yesterday.
Cleveland released Brown before he was due a $2.5 million roster bonus today. Brown, who was scheduled to earn a $5.5 million base salary, reportedly declined to take a substantial pay cut. He has earned $26 million in five NFL seasons, but after a promising rookie season, he showed an inability to stay healthy.
In 2001, Brown missed 11 games with a knee and ankle ailments. In 2002, he missed five games with a knee injury that required surgery. In 2003, Brown missed three games after tearing his right biceps. This past season, Brown suffered a serious foot injury in Week 2 against Dallas and had season-ending surgery. Brown reportedly had screws removed from his foot recently.
Washington beat the odds the last time it signed a talented defensive lineman with medical problems. Tackle Daryl Gardener underwent back surgery in 2000 and 2001 before agreeing to a one-year contract with Washington.
Gardener, 29 at the time, missed the season opener because of a degenerative back condition. But after receiving a pain-killing injection, he flourished, playing in 15 games and anchoring Washington's defensive line. He was named the team's most valuable player on a defense that ranked fifth in the league under then-coordinator Marvin Lewis.
The Redskins did not re-sign Gardener after the 2002 season because his health made the club reluctant to offer a more substantial contract. In 2003, Gardener joined the Denver Broncos for a six-year, $33 million deal.
Gardener was released during the season after being arrested for fighting outside a restaurant and then later clashing with Coach Mike Shanahan. The Cincinnati Bengals signed Gardener last summer, but he retired at 31 before playing for the club after his back condition worsened.