The booming industry and hype surrounding the NFL draft actually aided the Cleveland Browns Sunday.
General manager Phil Savage acknowledged the stock of UNLV inside linebacker Beau Bell and Missouri tight end Martin Rucker dropped since the season ended. And Savage admitted that if it hadn't, he might not have been able to land Bell and Rucker in the fourth round, trading up with Dallas to the Nos. 104 and 111 spots.
''They were players that we evaluated back in February as potential second- and third-round type of players,'' Savage said. ''Both players incidentally came out of the fall with very good grades. The process of this draft, be it the Senior Bowl, the combine, interviews, private workouts, or what have you, I think in both these players' cases their status dropped to a degree. In our eyes they really didn't.
''Nothing's changed since the season. You’ve got the same tapes and games to watch. What changed a bit was the fact that the NFL tries to pick these kids apart. You’re not going to find the perfect player, particularly in the fourth round, but we feel good about these two guys.''
Bell is a hard-hitter with good instincts, but Pro Football Weekly's ''2008 Draft Preview'' said the 6-1 1/2, 250-pounder ''has a bad body -- is high cut and top-heavy and looks like he has not seen a weight room.'' It also said he ''too often leaves his feet and whiffs in the open field.''
Such remarks didn't seem to faze Savage.
''This kid is kind of a hammer-type hitter and if you saw some of his highlights he really knows how to finish,'' Savage said. ''He brings some explosion at the end of plays. We feel like he is a powerful tackler. I think he gives us a dimension to a degree that we have not have with the current group on board.''
Rucker 6-4 1/2 and 247 pounds, was an All-American and set the career reception record at a university that produced Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr. The knock on him was his lack of blocking ability. But Savage said Rucker didn't line up like a tight end, but as a receiver in Missouri's high-powered offense.
''Martin Rucker was not asked to block much,'' Savage said. ''He was in a system that advocated being in the slot moving around. He had terrific production as a receiver. At the Senior Bowl he showed some improvement throughout the week. It was really the first time he played on the end of the line as a traditional tight end for any length of time. We feel like we can teach him.
''How many tight ends really do block in this league? You couldn’t name one I bet that’s known as a blocker. This is a passing league and this guy is a pass catcher.''
Savage extension expected soon
There have been reports for weeks that a contract extension for Savage is imminent. He said it probably will take place ''in the next week or so.''
''It's more or less a handshake and a wink, but nothing on paper yet,'' he said.
Winslow talks update
Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. has three years remaining on a contract that will pay him $4 million in 2008, $4.5 million in 2009 and $4.75 million in 2010. Winslow said at the Pro Bowl he wants a new contract and his new agent Drew Rosenhaus said at the combine that he and Savage had discussed the issue. Rosenhaus has a history of holding his clients out of training camp in such situations.
''We've had a few conversations this spring,'' Savage said of Rosenhaus. ''Obviously Drew has got a lot going on. We've had a lot going on in terms of free agency and getting ready for the draft. We’ve kept open lines of communication in terms of talking through some things.
''You're talking about a player that has three years left on his deal, one year was added after the motorcycle accident, so I guess that would be up for discussion, but there’s no real indication one way or the other. We're in the off-season, several months away from the real season so we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.''
Heiden, Winslow will take it slowly
Tight end Steve Heiden recently underwent what his agent Jack Wirth called a ''minor'' procedure on his back and Winslow had an elective off-season procedure on his right knee to clean out scar tissue. It was the fourth surgery on the knee Winslow seriously injured in a 2005 motorcycle accident.
Savage isn't sure either will do much in the Browns' veteran minicamp June 10-12, but believes they will be ready when training camp opens, tentatively on July 23.
''They are going to be around, but in terms of how much they are actually able to do and get on the field, I would be guessing at this point,'' Savage said. ''In my mind realistically you would like to have them for training camp. I think we would have concern if that didn’t happen, but if they are not able to do as much in June, they are both veteran players, they have been around. I don’t know if we would be that concerned about it.''
What about Jamal's backup?
Savage got defensive when asked about the continuing reports on The NFL Network that Cleveland would draft a running back to back up eight-year veteran Jamal Lewis.
Currently the Browns have Jason Wright, primarily a special teams player, and Jerome Harrison, a fan favorite the past two preseasons.
Asked about the need at running back, Savage said, ''I don't know why people keep saying that. With Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison, we're pretty comfortable with the running backs we have. We discussed that in meetings quite a bit. Hopefully Jerome will do something more than he's done in the past.''
Cornerback Daven Holly, a restricted free agent, is expected to sign his tender soon. He's passed the deadline he could sign elsewhere. ... Savage said the Browns hoped to sign 10 to 15 free agents and will invite more for tryouts at this weekend's rookie minicamp. ... Savage said Paul Hubbard, a 6-2 1/2, 221-pound receiver from Wisconsin, will have a chance to succeed Joe Jurevicius. Jurevicius, a 10-year veteran who is 6-5 and 232 pounds, is expected to retire after this season. He asked to move to the third receiver spot after last year because his body couldn't take the wear and tear.