Couch now free to sign with any team

Updated: June 9, 2004, 8:38 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CLEVELAND -- The Browns finally brought an end to the Tim Couch saga Wednesday by releasing the former No. 1 overall draft pick a month before training camp opens.

Couch has been told to stay away from Browns headquarters until the team work out a trade with the Green Bay Packers or another team. Without a place to work out to prepare for the season, Couch filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association.

Couch was the franchise's first selection as an expansion team in 1999, but his time with the Browns was marked by injuries, losing seasons and controversy.

Browns spokesman Todd Stewart told The Associated Press that the team would not have any comment Wednesday. Coach Butch Davis will address the media when the Browns complete their quarterback school Thursday.

Couch was unavailable for comment.

A few weeks ago, Davis said he had no plans to cut 26-year-old Couch, who lost his starting job when the club signed free agent Jeff Garcia in March.

Couch's $7.6 million salary for 2004 made it impossible for the Browns to keep him as a backup, however. Davis, who once predicted Couch would lead Cleveland to the Super Bowl, had been reluctant to release the quarterback, fearing he might sign with AFC North rival Baltimore.

However, the Ravens recently signed Kordell Stewart as a backup for Kyle Boller.

Couch could soon land with another team. His agent, Tom Condon, has had ongoing talks for the past two months with the Packers about Couch joining them to be Brett Favre's backup.

Couch has passed for 11,131 yards and 64 touchdowns in 59 starts since the Browns tabbed the former Kentucky star as the first overall selection in 1999.

After a 2003 season in which Couch lost his starting job to Kelly Holcomb in training camp, won it back and lost it again, his future with the Browns became uncertain.

The club talked with Couch about restructuring his contract -- $15.6 million for 2004 and 2005 -- but when he refused to take a nearly 60 percent pay cut, the Browns decided to go after Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler with San Francisco.

Before Garcia signed, Couch had been working out at the team's training facility in Berea, Ohio. Soon after, the Browns told Couch he was no longer welcome.

The Browns even cleaned out Couch's locker and removed his nameplate for their minicamp although he was still on their roster.

Couch had his best season in 2002, when he threw a career-high 18 TDs in 14 games while leading the Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

However, that season was marked by an ugly incident in a home game against Baltimore when some Browns fans cheered as Couch was helped off the field with a concussion.

Couch tearfully and profanely lashed out at fans after the game.

"If fans don't like the way I'm playing or the way we're playing, they have a right to boo us or boo me," he said. "But to cheer when I got hurt, that's a whole other level with me. I don't agree with that at all."

Last season, Couch lost his job to Holcomb but got it back when Holcomb got hurt and then struggled.

Couch eventually started eight games, playing behind an offensive line ravaged by injuries. He couldn't spark the Browns, who lost five of their final six games and finished 5-11.

The Browns went a combined 5-27 in Couch's first two seasons under coach Chris Palmer, who was fired after the 2000 season and replaced by Davis.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.