The Browns released linebacker D'Qwell Jackson Wednesday (Feb. 26) and saved a $4.1 million roster bonus due March 15.
The move was the first major transaction for new general manager Ray Farmer.
"We had positive discussions with D'Qwell and his agent over the last several days, and we came to the mutual agreement to go in different directions," Farmer said in a statement. "D'Qwell is the epitome of class, leadership and professionalism. Every day of his NFL career, D'Qwell has been a solid representative of the Browns and the city of Cleveland, both between the lines on Sundays and off the field in our area community."
Jackson, the Browns' second-round pick in 2006 out of Maryland, is now free to sign with any NFL team. He started 96 games in eight seasons for the Browns.
"To the people of Cleveland and Browns fans everywhere: eight years ago I began a journey that blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful organization and community," Jackson said in a statement. "I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for opening your arms and hearts to my family and I, and for making Cleveland an easy place to love and call home. It's been an honor playing in front of you.
"I also would like to thank the Browns players, coaches, and staff for their tireless work and commitment. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all and will always carry you with me."
According to Cleveland.com, the 30-year-old Jackson signed a five-year extension last year through 2016 worth $42.5 million -- including $19 million in guarantees and bonuses. In addition to the $4.1 million roster bonus, Jackson was set to make $3.93 million this season. His salaries for 2015 and 2016 were $7.73 million and $7 million, respectively.
He will still count $4.2 million in dead money on their cap, but that is $5.233 million less than Jackson would have counted if on the roster.
--Mike Pettine took a phone call Friday afternoon, a warning of sorts, that a report was soon to be released that the Cleveland Browns attempted to trade draft picks for San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.
"I got a phone call saying that that report was about to come out. I shot the messenger a little bit," Pettine said to media at the Scouting Combine on Saturday morning. "I said how does that affect my tenure as head coach? I think my next sentence I either said flying followed by something or reference a part of a rat's body."
Pettine was hired by a front-office group -- led by CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi -- that was replaced two weeks into his tenure as a head coach. Ray Farmer, a veteran scout interviewed by the Miami Dolphins, was promoted to general manager.
Farmer was not present for Pettine's interview. The perception of dysfunction and disarray are not distractions, Pettine said.
"I'm the proverbial guy from the mailroom," Pettine said. "I don't have the pedigree of most college or pro coaches. The perception, real or imagined, motivates me. That I was just the guy getting Rex (Ryan) coffee."
Pettine said even though the Harbaugh report left him red-faced, in one way that is a credit to owner Jimmy Haslam.
"I think it shows that the organization is committed to getting it turned around, that they would investigate that option," Pettine said.
The report, to Pettine, is a part of the "noise" and he's striving to eliminate the negative. Asked if there seems to be more "noise" in Cleveland, Pettine bit his lip.
"That is potentially an accurate statement," Pettine said. "I'm hoping it's going to get quieter."
Still, Pettine said he pinches himself every morning and believes he is living a dream.
Nightmare might be more apt to describe the Browns' organization, especially since returning to the league in 1999. Pettine said he has a slide in his office that reminds him the Browns have only one playoff win -- and two appearances -- since 1991.
He's working hour-to-hour to get up to speed on his own roster, including key free agents such as safety T.J. Ward.
"I'm full speed ahead with Ray Farmer," Pettine said. "I mentioned it yesterday -- we have a shared vision. Neither one of us had to stray far from our football philosophy."
Quarterback could be a target for the Browns in the draft or free agency. Two prospects, including Northern Illinois Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch, mentioned the Browns are eagerly talking to all quarterbacks at the Scouting Combine.
Pettine was noncommittal when asked about Brandon Weeden, a first-round pick in 2012, and his place on the roster in 2014. Brian Hoyer, who suffered a torn ACL against the Buffalo Bills -- Pettine was the defensive coordinator on the other side of the field -- seems more certain to remain with the team.
"Brian Hoyer, I think is ahead of schedule with his rehab. I'd always admired Brian from afar," Pettine said. "He's proven he can be successful in the NFL. At the same time, you're always looking to make your team better and that's an important decision."
--Everybody assumes the Cleveland Browns will take a quarterback with the fourth pick of the draft on May 8, but that isn't a given, team general manager Ray Farmer said on Thursday.
This is Farmer's first Scouting Combine as Browns general manager, but he has been coming here for years. He was the pro personnel director of the Kansas City Chiefs for seven years and the Browns assistant general manager last year.
"I would say it could be safe, but we might not go that (quarterback) direction," Farmer said. "It may not be what everybody thinks it's going to be. There is an opportunity for some curveballs."
Farmer wants to meet with as many of the 335 players at the combine as he can. He is especially interested in meeting with quarterbacks Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. Since all three are underclassmen, he did not meet with them at the Senior Bowl.
Farmer said he knows some players, including Manziel, have had off-the-field issues, but he is not going dismiss them just because of that.
"I was told by an older scout, an older coach, that if you don't have some dirt under your fingernails, you're not (experiencing life)," Farmer said. "We all have to experience some negatives and you have to turn some of those negatives into positives.
"Regardless of position, we have to identify the most talented kids that have maybe made some mistakes in the past, but have learned from them and have turned them into positives."
Farmer is more concerned about what kind of teammate a new player would be, whether as a draft pick or a free agent.
"What I really want to find out from any player is who he is, how would he define himself?" Farmer said. "What would he say is his core character makeup? What does he think of his opportunity to play in the National Football League? Is it a privilege, is it an honor? Is it a right?
"How does he see himself impacting, not only his individual performance in the game, but how does he impact his teammates and what does he bring to the table that is going to demonstrate the other guys around him can have success. Football is probably the biggest team sport and from that perspective I need guys that understand the team concept and how to affect their teammates in a positive way."
The Browns have 10 draft choices - two in the first round, two in the third, two in the fourth and one in each of the other four rounds. Farmer is open to trading up or down or accumulating more picks.
"I'm going to try to be resourceful," Farmer said. "I want to keep our resources at a premium, whether it's trading up or down, whether it's acquiring more picks; the No. 1 thing we want to do is improve our batting average and give ourselves more opportunities to go to bat.
"There are players that you want to make sure you have on your football team. When you get in a position where you're looking at the board, and there are guys that you say, 'Look, man, there are three or four guys that we'd really love to have, but we're 12 picks away,' we might need to make that adjustment to move up to get one of those three or four guys that we like.
"Conversely, if there aren't players there, we need to have enough relationships around the league to potentially slide back and maneuver, so I think we're in a good position with the number of picks we have and being able to navigate the draft board. There will be people in the room that can help in that instance and I'll definitely be open to receiving information from a lot of sources."
--San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York told the Sacramento Bee that the team had "no interest" in a deal to send coach Jim Harbaugh to the Browns.
A day after Browns owner Jimmy Haslam admitted the team contacted the 49ers about making a deal, York acknowledged there was a discussion but the deal was quickly turned down.
"Not far at all," York said. "We had no interest in entering those discussions."
York also said the 49ers want to secure a long-term deal with Harbaugh.
"We want Jim to be our head coach, and we've said that very clearly," he said.
Haslam confirmed on Sunday to USA Today that talks occurred with the 49ers about possibly trading for Harbaugh.
"There was an opportunity there, and it didn't materialize," Haslam said.
--The Browns are expected to draft a quarterback with the fourth pick, but might hold off doing that until they choose 26th with the selection acquired from the Colts for running back Trent Richardson. The Browns are high on Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
"He's an explosive athlete," Browns head coach Mike Pettine said Saturday. "I think anytime that you can add somebody to your team that can score points that can make explosive plays that's what the NFL is all about.
"Being a defensive coach, you think about, 'Hey, we're going to play great defense, run the football, I don't think you can win that way anymore in the NFL.' You have to have players that when they get their hands on the ball are special, and I think he falls into that category."
Watkins said he and Josh Gordon together would be a nightmare for opponents.
--Pettine won't pigeonhole the Browns into a 3-4 or 4-3 base defense. They converted to a 3-4 last season after two years of playing a 4-3.
"We're multiple," Pettine said. "We'll be in both fronts and if you can draw the front, we'll likely be in it. I think that's been the key to our success, whether it was Rex's (Rex Ryan) tenure in Baltimore, when I took over in New York, certainly in Buffalo, that we'll be multiple fronts, multiple coverage."
--The Browns tied for 27th in rushing last year and want to improve that.
Said Pettine, "We're all going to be about taking the best player at that spot (whatever draft pick). If it happens to be a running back, it's a running back. It's hard to be that three-down back anymore in the NFL. Most of the successful teams have a committee approach. You need to have depth there given the pounding that position will take. We're going to make a commitment to run the football and obviously that position is a priority."
The Browns did not have a No. 1 running back after trading Richardson last year.
--The Browns play in cold weather in the second half of the season and if they ever make the playoffs will be playing in cold weather in January. That will factor into selecting a quarterback. Pettine wants a player with a big arm and big hands.
"If you're going to be quarterback in an area where it is potentially going to be windy or you're going to get some bad weather in the year, that's a big priority," Pettine said. "You're looking for guys that have strong arms that can deal with the wind and can protect the football."
--Brandon Weeden faces an uncertain future with the Browns, but the quarterback is certain about one thing: He wants to play next season.
Whether that's with the Browns or another team, he would not specify. With Brian Hoyer returning from a knee injury and the Browns likely to draft a quarterback in May, Weeden might be on the way out in Cleveland.
"I want to play football," Weeden told The Daily Oklahoman. "I don't care. I just want to play football and be at a place where it's enjoyable and we can compete and win games. That's really what it's all about."
The former first-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State struggled in his first two seasons with the Browns, each under a different head coach. Now the Browns have a new coach (Mike Pettine) and a new general manager (Ray Farmer) who were not part of the decision to bring in Weeden.
Weeden is under contract for the 2014 season, but the Browns are expected to have enough room under the salary cap to absorb the hit if they decide to cut him loose.
"I understand the business side of everything that's going on," Weeden said. "It's kind of out of my control because I'm still under contract. The ball's kind of in their court, depending on what they want to do and do with me going forward. I kind of have no control over it. It is what it is, and things will work out."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Browns retained Billy Cundiff on Thursday by agreeing to terms with the veteran kicker on one-year contract. According to ESPN, it is a $1.02 million deal.
Cundiff, who will be entering his ninth NFL season, was to become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday.
Last season for the Browns, Cundiff made 21 of 26 field-goal attempts (80.8 percent) and 32 of 32 extra point tries in 16 regular-season games. On kickoffs, Cundiff set a franchise record with 42 touchbacks and a career-high 67.7 touchback percentage (42 of 62).
--The Browns parted ways with talented but troubled wide receiver Davone Bess.
The team announced Wednesday morning that it had released Bess, wide receiver Brian Tyms and linebacker Paul Hazel.
Bess made news in December when he posted on his Twitter account an image of himself on an outdoor residential deck lighting what appeared to be a marijuana joint. He also made reference to watching "Cocaine Cowboys," a 1980s program about illegal drug use, and used the N-word. The posts were deleted.
The 28-year-old Bess was then arrested for assaulting an officer in December and was taken into custody by police at Fort Lauderdale International Airport.
That incident happened after the Browns had placed Bess on the reserve/non-football illness list after 14 games. At the time, the Browns allowed him to return home to Oakland for what was called a "serious family matter."
The Browns acquired Bess from the Miami Dolphins in a trade last April along with the 111th and 217th overall picks in exchange for the Browns' fourth-round draft choice (104th overall) and fifth-round pick choice (164) in the 2013 draft. He finished the 2013 season with 42 catches for 362 yards and two touchdowns.
The team drew fire for acquiring Bess and then signing him to a three-year contract extension that will guarantee him $3.067 million in 2014. He had been treated for mental health issues before the trade, but the Browns were unaware of Bess' psychological state.
"Davone was a consummate professional on the field and a model representative of the team off it through all of his charitable activities," former Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said last year after the trade. "He joined the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent and worked hard to become one of the team's most popular and respected players."
Bess has 363 receptions in 91 career games through six seasons and was known as one of the league's more dependable slot receivers.
--The Browns placed the transition tag on Pro Bowl center Alex Mack on Monday, giving the team the chance to match any offer sheet he might sign.
The transition tag guarantees Mack the average of the 10 highest-paid offensive linemen, or $10.039 million.
By using the transition tag on Mack instead of the franchise tag, Cleveland will have five days to match any offer made by other teams when free agency opens on March 11. If the Browns had used their franchise tag, Mack would have been tendered at $11.654 million.
Mack (6-foot-4, 311 pounds) was drafted by the Browns in the first round in 2009. He has not missed one offensive play in five years, a run of 4,998 consecutive snaps.
Despite having the tag, Mack is hoping there will be interest from other teams.
"We'll see what happens," he said. "It's tough to know. I don't know how teams feel about me. I still have an opportunity to meet with coaches and experience free agency. That's the goal. I like Cleveland; I know it. I like these new coaches. But there are other opportunities out there. You only get to play this game so long. Let's see what else is out there."
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March
--G Shawn Lauvao
--SS T.J. Ward
QUARTERBACK: Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell were 1-12 in 2013. The Browns have the fourth pick plus the Colts' first-round choice to move up if necessary.
RUNNING BACK: The backfield was left without a starter when Trent Richardson was traded. The Browns scored only four rushing touchdowns and struggled in short yardage.
CORNERBACK: A starter is needed to pair with Joe Haden, though this will change to strong safety if T.J. Ward leaves through free agency.
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