Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Browns add QB Garcia, soon may subtract Couch

NFL notebook

The Associated Press

BEREA, Ohio - Jeff Garcia's wish list as a free agent quarterback was a short one: a starting job, a fair contract and a team with a chance to win.

He thinks he found all three with the Cleveland Browns.

Soon, Tim Couch may be searching for the same things.

Garcia signed a four-year, $25 million contract Tuesday to become Cleveland's new starter, a spot Couch previously held.

"I think it's going to be a perfect fit," said Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler released earlier this month after five seasons in San Francisco. "The Browns showed a real desire to have me here, a real want and a real belief that if I came here, I would make a difference."

Garcia's deal includes two voidable years at the back end in case he or the team wants out of it.

For Couch, drafted No. 1 overall by the Browns out of the University of Kentucky in 1999, it appears a rocky era in Cleveland has ended. His five years there were beset by injuries, a love-hate relationship with Browns fans and coach Butch Davis, and a quarterback controversy with Kelly Holcomb.

Last week, the Browns asked him to restructure his $15.6 million contract for the next two years. But when the club sent Couch a proposal slashing his salary by nearly 60 percent, the 26-year-old and his agent, Tom Condon, rejected it.

Davis said "it's possible" when asked if the Browns could keep Garcia and Couch. But it's more likely the club will trade or release Couch.

Couch did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Garcia passed for 2,704 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, but missed three games due to injuries. He hurt his back lifting weights before training camp and never returned to full strength during his least productive season since 1999.

OWENS DEAL: The NFL players' union asked an arbitrator to make Terrell Owens a free agent, claiming San Francisco didn't have the rights to trade the wide receiver to Baltimore on Thursday.

The union says the 49ers knew of Owens's intent to void the final years of his contract and become a free agent this offseason. But Owens's agent, David Joseph, missed a deadline to file paperwork, leaving the four-time Pro Bowl receiver under contract with the 49ers.

STEELERS: Running back Duce Staley signed a five-year contract worth $14 million with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday.

Staley spent the last seven seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, and is expected to boost the Steelers' running game, which ranked 31st last year. That was the worst ranking under coach Bill Cowher.

The deal includes a $4 million signing bonus.

Staley's agent, Leigh Steinberg, said the Steelers were a favorite because his client rooted for them as a child. Steinberg also was negotiating with the Detroit Lions.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Staley, a 1997 third-round draft pick out of South Carolina, has rushed for 4,807 yards on 1,200 carries. He's also caught 275 passes for 2,498 yards.

Last season, Staley held out of training camp trying to renegotiate the final year of his contract with the Eagles. When he returned, Staley found himself in a three-man rotation at halfback with Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter and gained only 463 yards on 96 carries; he also caught 36 passes.

Staley will compete with Jerome Bettis for the starting job.

The Steelers may release running back Amos Zereoue to make room for Staley. Zereoue is due to make $2.2 million this season.

BUCCANEERS: Free agent running back Charlie Garner signed a four-year deal worth $10 million with Tampa Bay.

Garner, 32, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last week, has played 10 NFL seasons for Philadelphia, San Francisco and Oakland. He has rushed for 6,986 yards, caught 410 passes and scored 51 touchdowns.

• A week into free agency, seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp has yet to receive a contract proposal from Tampa Bay, and his agent says he is ready to begin talking to other clubs. "There are 31 other teams in the NFL," agent Drew Rosenhaus said. "The likelihood is that he will be playing for one of them next season."

EAGLES: Free-agent linebacker Dhani Jones, who had 120 tackles and three sacks for the Giants last season, signed a five-year contract. Details were not available.

SEAHAWKS: Seattle agreed to terms with receiver Darrell Jackson on a reported six-year, $25 million contract. He had 68 catches for a career-high 1,137 yards with nine touchdowns last season.

REDSKINS: Washington signed 15-year veteran punter Tom Tupa, who spent the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.

DOLPHINS: Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Madison has restructured his contract to save Miami about $3 million against the salary cap. Madison took pay cuts in the last three years of the deal, reducing the 2004-07 total from $28 million to $18 million.

JAGUARS: The team signed Mike Compton, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive tackle who started the first two games last season for New England before being placed on injured because of a broken foot.

CONCERT CANCELED: The NFL canceled plans for a third opening-game kickoff concert following Janet Jackson's risque halftime show at the Super Bowl. The league held free downtown concerts before its season-opening Thursday night games the last two seasons.

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