Browns lose another center as Hallen retires

Updated: August 11, 2006, 9:27 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Veteran offensive lineman Bob Hallen, who was being counted on by the Cleveland Browns to replace the injured LeCharles Bentley at center, informed the club Friday that he has retired.

 Bob Hallen

Hallen, who left the team earlier this week, sent a letter to the Browns saying he was done with pro football due to a medical situation and the best interest of his family.

"This is stunning to all of us because it was so abrupt," Browns general manager Phil Savage said.

Hallen's retirement couldn't come at a worse time for the Browns, who lost Bentley, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and their prized free agent signing, to a season-ending injury on the first 11-on-11 play of training camp.

Bentley was supposed to protect second-year quarterback Charlie Frye, improve Cleveland's running game and anchor an offensive line currently missing right tackle Ryan Tucker, who recently underwent knee surgery.

"We're disappointed that Bob Hallen made this decision," Savage said. "But what is more disappointing is that he waited until two days before the first [exhibition] game, especially after LeCharles Bentley's injury."

The 31-year-old Hallen, who played the previous four seasons with San Diego, left camp unexcused on Monday, citing back problems. Coach Romeo Crennel said Hallen had "a back issue" and was dealing with "personal problems."

"To keep from it being an embarrassing situation we basically said he's being looked at, but our people never saw him again," Savage said.

Savage said Hallen's injury came as a surprise to the Browns and that he never complained of back problems.

"He passed every medical check that we ever administered, every physical," Savage said. "He rarely, if ever, spent any time in our training room throughout his tenure here with the Browns."

Hallen's agent, Cliff Brady, told The Plain Dealer that Hallen had to retire because he has a two herniated discs and is suffering from stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. Messages seeking comment were left with Brady on Friday.

Hallen's biography in the club's media guide makes no mention of any history of back problems. He was placed on San Diego's injured list in 2003 because of a torn chest muscle. He also sustained a concussion in 2002.

The Browns will recoup the $200,000 signing bonus they paid Hallen when he signed in the offseason, Savage said.

In the meantime, with their Sept. 10 season opener against New Orleans drawing near, the Browns may have to find a dependable veteran center.

Alonzo Ephraim, signed after Bentley got hurt, started in Thursday's 20-7 loss to Philadelphia. Ephraim has five career starts, two at center, and played 43 games in three seasons with the Eagles.

On Tuesday, the Browns traded a 2007 draft pick to New England for center Ross Tucker, who has 24 career NFL starts.

Savage said they're going to take a look at Tucker in Friday's exhibition game against Detroit. He also planned to call a dozen teams with a surplus of center/guards.

There's irony in the Browns' mess at center. After signing Bentley in March, the club traded Jeff Faine, a former first-round draft pick and three-year starter, to New Orleans. Faine is listed as the Saints' starter on their current depth chart, a spot he'll likely have when the club opens in Cleveland next month.

Hallen, who is from Mentor, Ohio, and played at Kent State, made 47 career starts for Atlanta and the Chargers. He was drafted by the Falcons in the second round (53rd overall) of the 1998 draft. He signed with San Diego as a free agent in 2002.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press