The 2004 NFL season concludes in Florida, with the city of Jacksonville and Alltel Stadium scheduled to host Super Bowl XXXIX.
For the Cleveland Browns, though, the '04 campaign seems to have commenced in The Sunshine State, with team president Carmen Policy visiting there last weekend to begin talks aimed at reworking the contracts of two key veterans.
Policy huddled Friday with quarterback Tim Couch, laying the groundwork for the five-year veteran to retain his job by restructuring a deal that calls for him to have a base salary of $7.6 million in 2004. But ESPN.com has learned that Policy also met with the agent for defensive tackle Gerard Warren, who is due total compensation of about $5.8 million, and who will likewise be asked to rework his current contract to provide the Browns much needed salary cap relief.
Policy visited Sunday with Joel Segal in what the veteran agent termed a "very positive" meeting and "good conversation". Translation: Look for Warren, the third player chosen overall in the 2001 draft, to be amenable to reshuffling his contract.
As is the case with Couch, it is critical for the Browns that Warren rework his contract, since the team has very little wiggle room under the spending limit. Because he reached predetermined playing time and performance benchmarks stipulated in the contract he signed as a rookie, Warren then triggered "escalators" that significantly raised his overall compensation for the 2004 campaign.
His salary cap figure likewise mushroomed dramatically and is now over $8 million.
Warren, 25, has been inconsistent both on and off the field during his first three seasons with the Browns, but is still regarded by the Cleveland coaches as an interior defensive force, and a player they desperately want to retain. The former University of Florida star had just 32 tackles in 2003, the lowest total of his NFL tenure, but also posted a career-best 5 ½ sacks.
As is the case with most interior linemen, Warren's value to the Browns is not measured in tackles, and coaches feel he can still emerge as a true "difference maker" in the league. He has appeared in 47 games, started all but one of those, and has 133 tackles, 12 ½ sacks and nine pass deflections.
Negotiations aimed at lowering Warren's cap hit for '04, and possibly beyond that, likely will begin shortly.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.