Compensation issue key in completing deal
In the second step of a courtship that could result in a trade before this month's NFL draft, exiled Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch dined Tuesday night with Green Bay Packers executives and met Wednesday with club officials and coaches.
There is mutual interest in completing a deal that would make Couch the backup to Brett Favre, but several hurdles remain, most dealing with compensation to Couch. Even if the Packers can satisfy the former Browns starter's demands, they must also reach an agreement with Cleveland on trade terms.
"It's no secret we have talked," said Andrew Kessler, an associate at IMG Football, which represents Couch. "But nothing has been substantive yet."
The Browns told Couch's agent Tom Condon several weeks ago that he could discuss with other teams, at least those outside the AFC North, a trade for the five-year veteran. Observing NFL protocol, Packers officials phoned the Browns two weeks ago to receive official permission to meet with Couch. Coach Mike Sherman visited with Couch that same day.
Sherman acknowledged last week at the NFL meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., that he is interested in Couch. But he also noted candidly that he does not know when Favre will retire, and conceded that Favre could be a factor in Couch's decision on his future.
Favre has still offered no indication as to how much longer he will play, but the Packers understand they must prepare at some point for life without the future Hall of Famer. They are considering their options. The consensus is that the Packers will add a quarterback either via a trade, free agency or through the draft.
Couch's two-day visit to Green Bay, apparently arranged last week, might stoke trade flames, or at least nudge discussions to the next level. Sources close to Couch, 26, indicated that he wants his situation resolved soon, perhaps by the end of this week, but the Browns might not be inclined to make such an expeditious deal.
Couch's five-year tenure in Cleveland essentially ended last month, when the club signed former 49ers starter Jeff Garcia to a four-year, $25 million contract. Since then, the market for Couch has been slow; many teams that might have an interest in him will wait to see if Cleveland simply releases him. That way, they could sign Couch as a free agent, without having to compensate the Browns in a trade.
Since he remains under contract, Couch attempted to participate in the Browns' offseason conditioning program, but team officials requested he not visit the complex. The feeling was that, if Couch was injured during a conditioning session, Cleveland could be liable for the final two seasons of his contract and his trade value would be diminished.
The first overall pick in the 1999 draft, Couch carries a salary cap charge of $9.26 million for 2004 and is due a base salary of $7.6 million. His base salary for 2005 is $8 million and his cap charge is $9.663 million.
Before signing Garcia, the Browns had attempted to reduce Couch's compensation to about $6.5 million total for 2004-05. Couch refused to accept such a dramatic restructuring and then, after Garcia was signed, he rebuffed overtures to stay in Cleveland as Garcia's backup.
In 62 appearances (59 starts), Couch has completed 1,025 of 1,714 attempts for 11,131 yards, with 64 touchdown passes, 67 interceptions and a passer rating of 75.1.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.