Browns lost Holcomb to free agency
Just one day after the man they had targeted as their starter for 2005 signed elsewhere, the Cleveland Browns rebounded nicely on Saturday evening, reaching an agreement in principle on a trade that will net them Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Trent Dilfer.
The Seahawks will reportedly receive a fourth-round pick in next month's NFL draft. The pick is the one the Browns received from the Broncos earlier in the week in exchange for defensive tackle Gerard Warren.
There remain a few details to be addressed before the swap is official, but sources said there is no likelihood the deal will fall apart. Cleveland is expected to compensate the Seahawks with a middle-round draft choice. The trade is the first consummated by new Seattle team president Tim Ruskell, who was hired less than two weeks ago.
The deal is not altogether surprising, since the two franchises have been in discussions for a few days. Unrestricted free agent Kelly Holcomb, who the Browns hoped to re-sign as their starter, on Friday night reached agreement with the Buffalo Bills on a four-year, $6.6 million contract.
Losing the journeyman Holcomb to the Bills, just a few days after negotiations with the veteran had reached an impasse, accelerated trade talks with the Seahawks. Seattle team officials had promised the highly respected Dilfer, an 11-year veteran, they would consider trading him if it meant an opportunity for him to be a starter again.
Certainly the deal represents a tremendous opportunity for Dilfer, since he is all but assured of opening the 2005 season as the Cleveland starter.
The trade reunites Dilfer with first-year Browns general manager Phil Savage, who was the personnel director at Baltimore in 2000, when Dilfer led the Ravens to a victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
While he hasn't started more than eight games in a season since 1999, when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dilfer represents precisely what the Browns were seeking as they move into the Romeo Crennel Era. The rookie head coach wanted an experienced player, one who would work well with the younger quarterbacks like Luke McCown and Josh Harris, and serve as a stable presence during the team's transition.
Cleveland has the third overall choice in next month's draft and could still select a quarterback with that pick. But the Browns seem reluctant to invest an eight-figure signing bonus on even a top quarterback prospect, such as Aaron Rodgers of the University of California or Alex Smith of Utah.
Dilfer has started only 12 games during his four-year stint in Seattle, including only two starts in the last two seasons. He hasn't registered more than 100 attempts since the 2000 season in Baltimore and has thrown only 13 touchdown passes the past four years.
Still, the classy Dilfer is a solid competitor, a quarterback with good grasp of a variety of offenses, and fits Crennel's desire for a more conventional dropback-style passer who can throw the deep ball with precision and stretch the field a bit.
A former first-round draft choice of the Bucs (1994), Dilfer played the first six seasons of his career with Tampa Bay. He moved to the Ravens in 2000 after the Bucs released him in part for salary cap reasons, then signed with the Seahawks in 2001. He has completed 1,447 of 2,620 passes for 17,031 yards, with 95 touchdown passes, 105 interceptions and a career passer rating of 70.6.
Only twice in his career, the 1997 and '98 seasons with the Bucs, has Dilger thrown more than 12 touchdown passes, as he notched 21 in both those campaigns.
There is only one season remaining on Dilfer's contract, at a base salary of $1.25 million, and the Browns are likely to quickly enter into negotiations aimed at an extension.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .