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Marla Ridenour on Sports

If the Cleveland Browns were fined for meeting with players, so what?

By Marla Published: March 24, 2011

Speculation continues over the five teams fined by the NFL for violating the since-expired Collective Bargaining Agreement by meeting with players after the season ended.

Some  who have been mentioned in Internet reports as possibilities are the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns. The issue arose again at this week's NFL meetings in New Orleans, but the league has not revealed the offenders.

An article in the old CBA protected the players' down time and specifically prohibited organized meetings before the off-season program began, which was usually around March 15.

Browns general manager Tom Heckert dodged the question of whether they were in hot water with the league at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

"I’m not going to get into what we can do and what we  can’t do, but the league, and there’s rules on everything ... we’re just going about it, whatever those rules are we’re going to obey 'em and just move on,'' Heckert said on Feb. 25. "We’ve had these meetings (with the NFL), and they’re kinda just letting us know what’s going on and what you can and what you can’t do if there is a lockout.''

Browns president Mike Holmgren also addressed the situation in a March 14 press conference after the lockout began.

Asked how much prep work had been done in anticipation of the lockout, Holmgren said, "Not a lot. There were memos that we received dealing with this. The whole purpose is that everyone is on a level playing field during the time that the season ends through the potential lockout. We had our quarterback (Colt McCoy) come in and we did give him a playbook, but that was about it. We are going to abide by what the rules that the league has set down and what they would like all the teams to do during this particular time and we are going to do things in a correct way. As eager as a player might be, we are going to stick by what we are supposed to do."

As for McCoy being given a playbook, Holmgren said, "I didn't think that was bad and I think it was necessary. That's all we did.''

McCoy may have gotten the Browns into hot water when he made the media rounds at the Super Bowl in Dallas and said he was excited after meeting with new coach Pat Shurmur. Cornerback Joe Haden also made a similar comment. Shurmur said at the combine that some players had come to Berea to get to know their new coach.

"I haven’t told anybody to come in,'' Shurmur said on Feb. 25. "I think it’s just normal off-season protocol. I remember our first year in St. Louis, there were lots of players that came back with the idea of just meeting the head coach. I think that’s normal.

"We’re just getting to know one another.''

There's no doubt the Browns will be one of the teams most hurt by the lockout because they are converting to a West Coast offense and a 4-3 defense. They have a new coach who will also call the plays and a  new defensive coordinator in Dick Jauron.

But owner Randy Lerner also has deep pockets. Only the league knows if the Browns pushed the envelope in getting together with players before the NFL clarified what was allowed, or maybe even after they knew. But if a fine was all it cost them, it seems like a small price to pay, whatever the amount.

As long as there were no draft picks involved, it would have been a gamble worth taking, especially after the firing of coach Eric Mangini and the major changes it wrought.



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