The Cleveland Browns gave up three months ago on Tim Couch being their starting quarterback and franchise centerpiece. They gave up yesterday on trying to trade him, and released the former top overall draft choice.

The club informed Couch's representatives of the move, said a source close to the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made by the team.

The Browns saved $7.6 million on their $80.5 million salary cap for the upcoming season and made Couch, 26, an unrestricted free agent. He's likely to draw interest from several clubs still looking for backup quarterbacks. The Green Bay Packers, who tried for months to trade for him but couldn't agree to a new contract with Couch and agent Tom Condon, still want him to back up -- and perhaps eventually succeed -- Brett Favre.

Couch was a starter for most of the five seasons he spent in Cleveland after the Browns chose him with the first pick in the 1999 draft from the University of Kentucky. But he threw more interceptions (67) than touchdown passes (64). He lost his starting job to journeyman Kelly Holcomb last season and was put on the trading block after Cleveland signed free agent Jeff Garcia in March to be its starter. Couch had refused to accept a pay cut proposed by the Browns and was to have salaries of $7.6 million this season and $8 million in the 2005 season.

The Packers were willing to trade a mid-round draft choice to Cleveland to obtain Couch but first needed to work out a new contract with him. Those talks reached an impasse, however, with Couch and Condon seeking a one-year contract that would enable Couch to be a free agent next offseason, and the Packers wanting Couch to sign a two-year deal.

The Browns told Couch to stay away from their practice facilities while they tried to trade him, and Couch filed a grievance against the team for being denied the opportunity to prepare for the season.

NFL Note: Tampa Bay traded tackle Roman Oben (from Gonzaga High School) to San Diego for a fifth-round draft choice next year. . . . The Packers released defensive end Joe Johnson, clearing $4 million in cap space.

-- Mark Maske