GB gets backup; QB gets out of limbo
Couch acknowledged Monday night what sources had confirmed earlier in the evening, that he has agreed in principle to a one-year contract with the Packers. The contract, which comes after months of being in limbo, is worth about $1.3 million and includes the chance to increase its value through performance incentives.
The Packers did not announce the agreement immediately and likely will wait until after the contract is signed Tuesday before issuing a statement.
By playing a long and sometimes frustrating waiting game, both the Packers and Couch achieved their goals, although Green Bay would have preferred a longer-term deal, one of at least two seasons. Still, the Packers now upgrade the backup spot behind starter Brett Favre and Couch gets to play one year in Green Bay and then get back into free agency in March, when the market for a player of his ilk is apt to be much broader.
"This is a great opportunity for me to start a new chapter in my career," Couch said. "And I am going to a team that has a real chance to win the Super Bowl. Just getting the chance to be around Brett will be awesome."
Green Bay had been reluctant to sign Couch to a one-year contract as long as it appeared the Packers would have to trade for him, probably compensating the Browns with a midlevel draft choice. But when the Browns released Couch, it enhanced the chances for a short-term deal, since the Packers did not have to deal with the Browns' demands.
The Packers, Couch said, already have broached the possibility of extending the deal. "We'll see how things go before we decide on that," Couch said.
It is not known whether other teams pursued Couch over the weekend, but the consensus around the league was that, given the time the quarterback had spent with Green Bay officials and coaches, the Packers were the front-runners for his services. While the Packers likely will retain journeyman and longtime Favre backup Doug Pederson for now, the addition of Couch clearly provides the franchise its best quarterback insurance policy in years.
Those who know Couch well, and understand his fierce competitiveness, acknowledged during the courtship process that it would be difficult for him to play caddie to Favre for even one season, let alone possibly sitting idle for two years. That, in large part, is why Couch wanted just a one-year contract. Plus, there figure to be enhanced opportunities next spring for Couch to find a situation that will afford him a chance to be a starter again.
Favre has offered no indication of retirement plans, and the consensus is that the 13-year veteran will play at least two more seasons.
For Couch, who is 26, the Green Bay scenario appeared to be his best option all along. It was believed the Browns at first were seeking a second-round pick for Couch but lowered their demands. The biggest sticking point at the time, though, was the reluctance of the first overall choice in the 1999 draft to commit to more than one year in Green Bay.
Couch visited with Packers officials in Green Bay on April 6-7. Less than two weeks earlier, he dined with coach Mike Sherman in Cleveland, only hours after the Packers had received official permission from Browns officials to meet with the five-year veteran.
The Packers' staff genuinely liked Couch from the outset.
Couch's five-year tenure in Cleveland essentially ended when the club signed former San Francisco starter Jeff Garcia to a four-year, $25 million contract. Since then, the market for Couch had been slow, since many teams that might have had an interest in him waited to see whether Cleveland simply released him.
At one point in the spring, Couch attempted to participate in the Browns' offseason conditioning program, but club officials requested he not use 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.
That impasse led Couch to file a grievance against the team. He dropped the grievance last week as part of the agreement that led to his release.
"I didn't agree with the way [the Browns] handled it," Couch said of his long goodbye. "I expected to be released when they signed Garcia, but that's not what happened. It was tough being in limbo for so long."
Couch carried a salary cap charge of $9.26 million for 2004 with the Browns and was due a base salary of $7.6 million. His base salary for 2005 was $8 million and his cap charge $9.663 million. Before signing Garcia, the Browns had attempted to reduce Couch's compensation to about $6.5 million total for 2004 and 2005. Couch refused to accept such a dramatic restructuring, and, after the addition of Garcia, he rebuffed overtures to stay in Cleveland as the backup.
In 62 appearances, 59 of them 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.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
- Fathead Josh Cribbs Wall Graphic