With money to spend and holes to fill, the Cleveland Browns struck quickly in free agency Saturday, reaching agreements with several high-profile unrestricted free agents who will dramatically alter the landscape of the team's offensive line unit.
The Browns have signed center LeCharles Bentley of New Orleans, the top-rated player overall in ESPN.com's ratings of unrestricted free agents.
In addition, the Browns also signed veteran wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, who got a four-year deal.
Both Bentley and Jurevicius are Cleveland natives who are excited about the prospect of returning to their hometown. Bentley attended the city's St. Ignatius High School, and is a longtime Browns fan.
"I can die happy now," said Bentley, who wore a Browns jersey
under his sports coat. "This has been my dream."
Bentley's contract is for six years at $36 million, and includes $12.5 million in guarantees. Shaffer's deal is for six years, totaling between $36 million -$37 million and includes $12 million in guarantees. The value of Shaffer's first three years will be $17.5 million.
"This is where it all started for me," said Jurevicius. "I
had opportunities to go to a couple different places. First and
foremost, I wanted to become a Cleveland Brown, put on the orange
helmet, play in front of Lake Erie and enjoy the feelings.
"This is going to add years to my career because of excitement
that comes along with it."
Jurevicius, who played at Lake Catholic High School on
Cleveland's east side, has 233 career receptions for 3,010 yards
and 30 touchdowns. He also played on Super Bowl teams with the New
York Giants and Tampa Bay.
Cleveland officials had suggested as the free agency signing period approached that they would be very active, and early on, in addressing key needs. The Browns had about $20 million in salary cap room even before the extension to the collective bargaining agreement added $7.5 million more per team. General manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel moved quickly in 2004 at the outset of free agency, and their Saturday forays will aid an offense that statistically ranked No. 26 in the league in 2005.
Landing the highly regarded Bentley is a huge acquisition for the Browns, who wanted more bulk and power on the interior of their offensive line.
It had been rumored for about two weeks that Bentley would sign with Philadelphia once the free agent market opened for business, but those reports proved erroneous.
Bentley, 26, was the Saints' second-round pick in the 2002 draft. He began his career at guard and then moved to center in 2004. He earned one Pro Bowl berth at each position and scouts leaguewide agree that his best football is still ahead of him. The former Ohio State standout is a mauler, the sort of road-grader blocker the Browns need. At 315 pounds, he can take on the NFL's biggest nose tackle and has the power to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage.
In four seasons with the Saints, he played in 57 games, all as a starter.
The intention of the Browns at left tackle was to re-sign L.J. Shelton, who started all 16 games in 2005, while playing on a one-year deal. But when they could not land an extension with Shelton, the Browns quickly turned to Shaffer, a four-year veteran.
Although he struggled against speed-rushers at times in 2005, Shaffer is an emerging pass protector, as former seventh-round choice who made himself a solid player through hard work. The former Tulsa star moved into the Falcons' starting lineup midway through the 2003 season. A very good technician, and a player who figures to keep improving, Shaffer has played in 53 games and started 39 of them.
ESPN.com's Michael Smith and The Associated Press contributed to this report.