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Release of DE Frostee Rucker kicks off the Joe Banner-Mike Lombardi Browns era

Feb 06, 2013 -- 6:00am

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By Tony Grossi

The Morning Kickoff …

Look out below: The conclusion of the Super Bowl means … we’re off and running on another new era of the Browns.

On Tuesday, teams were given the green light to resume business -- specifically, to delete players from their rosters and contracts from their salary structures. The Browns officially christened the Joe Banner-Mike Lombardi era by dumping 4-3 defensive end Frostee Rucker and about $14.5 million in future contract money.

The move results in a net salary cap cost of $1.5 million ($4 million in acceleration of Rucker’s original $5 million signing bonus minus $2.5 million in scheduled 2013 salary).

Rucker was the first free agent signed by former Browns GM Tom Heckert last March. Thus he becomes the first to be jettisoned. Rucker instantly became obsolete when Banner and Lombardi decided they wanted to break up the defense Heckert and Dick Jauron built over two years and switch to a 3-4.

I suppose if Jauron ran a 3-4, Banner and Lombardi would have switched to a 4-3. Everything will be different. An under-center, West Coast offense will be replaced by a shotgun, vertical offense. A reliable kicker will be replaced by a young, unproven one (you watch). White walls will be darkened and dark ones will be lightened.

Football is all about territorialism, and the new guys are going to be marking theirs now that they are freed to reconfigure the roster.

Unsigned free agents likely not to be back include cornerback Sheldon Brown, kicker Phil Dawson, returner Josh Cribbs, punter Reggie Hodges, linebacker Kaluka Maiava, receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, defensive end Juqua Parker, tight end Alex Smith, safety Ray Ventrone, and  tight end Benjamin Watson.

Heckert left the salary cap in fantastic shape with plenty of cheap young players and few unwieldy contracts. Quarterback Colt McCoy’s $2.325 million salary and the Norv Turner vertical passing game likely means the end of McCoy. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson probably has another year in a Browns uniform. The 3-4 defense devalues Jackson. If he survives this year, a $4 million roster bonus a year from now will be his ticket out of Cleveland.

Plunging forward: Banner and Lombardi, and the new coaches, have been evaluating the roster in anticipation of the offseason acquisition season. Here is a look at the important dates ahead:

Feb. 20-26: NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Banner will work relationships with player agents and renew acquaintenances with potential trade partners. Lombardi may hang after hours with Bill Belichick. At the Super Bowl, a source said that Belichick in recent years would give Lombardi free-lance assignments at the combine, such as: “Find me a guard in the fifth round.”

March 9-10-11: A three-day run-up to the free agent signing period. Teams can talk to certified agents of free agents on these days but not agree to a contract.

March 12: Teams must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents to retain the right of first refusal. Browns restricted free agents (expiring contracts of third-year players) are running back Chris Ogbonnaya, fullback Eddie Williams, safety Jeromy Miles and tight end Richard Quinn. Ogbonnaya, an original seventh-round draft pick of St. Louis, might receive a qualifying offer. He is reminiscent of Jason Wright, who filled a third down/special teams role for the Browns in 2007 when coach Rob Chudzinski was offensive coordinator.

March 12: Free agency and the trading period begins. The exact salary cap won’t be announced until next month, but it’s expected to be not much higher than $120 million. The new feature of the CBA that kicks in this year is the salary floor. Teams must spend at least 89 percent of the cap, which means the minimum will be at least $107 million per team. Reportedly, the Browns are second in available cap space, with over $40 million of spending available. Still, owner Jimmy Haslam said at the Super Bowl, “I don’t think you’ll see us making any big, splashy, high-priced moves.” I think Haslam was trying to temper expectations. I think the Browns will be active in free agency. On the trade front, quarterbacks Alex Smith or Ryan Mallet are possibilities.

March 17-20:The annual league meetings are held in Phoenix, Ariz. Seeds of potential trades, some of which are planted at the combine, are cultivated here. The resort locale of the meetings will serve as a bonding experience for the Haslam-Banner-Lombardi-Chudzinski management team.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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