The Browns are among the teams that talked to the agents of San Diego Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Greg Toler on Saturday, league sources told the Beacon Journal.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situations.
Starting Saturday, NFL teams were permitted to enter negotiations with agents of players whose contracts are set to expire. However, according reports from several national media outlets, the league sent a memo to teams warning them not to strike any agreements with agents before free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday. A violation would subject a team to a tampering investigation, the memo read.
Still, teams are allowed to express their interest in soon-to-be free agents by speaking with their representation, and the Browns have been doing just that.
The Orange and Brown Report also reported the Browns contacted the agents of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger, 27, Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, 26, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis, 26, Oakland Raiders tight end Brandon Myers, 27, New England Patriots wide receiver and Kent State University product Julian Edelman, 26, and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 26.
The Plain Dealer reported the Browns talked to the agent of Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, 27.
The Orange and Brown Report listed Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith, 25, as someone in whom the Browns have shown interest. But a source told the Beacon Journal the Browns had yet to contact Smith’s agent.
The names that have leaked so far are not surprising. Cornerback, linebacker, tight end and wide receiver are among the positions the Browns need to bolster.
For example, Cason or Toler could replace Sheldon Brown in the starting lineup opposite Joe Haden if the Browns are able to nab one of them. Brown, 33, is set to depart the Browns via free agency.
Cason, 26, has been a full-time starter for the Chargers in each of the past three seasons. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Cason started all 16 games last season and had 73 tackles, 11 passes defensed and two interceptions.
Toler, 28, started 13 games in 2010 and was expected to start the following season until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during an exhibition game and sat out all of 2011. The 6-foot, 192-pound Toler then started two of the 11 games in which he appeared last season, compiling eight passes defensed and two interceptions.
Cason and Toler have ties to Cleveland.
Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, a former head coach of the Chargers, drafted Cason in the first round (No. 27 overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. The two spent the past five seasons together with the Chargers. Toler, a fourth-round pick (No. 131 overall) in 2008, spent last season with Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who previously held the same job with the Cardinals.
Kruger and Avril, though, are the top pass rushers of the aforementioned players. The 6-4, 270-pound Kruger had nine sacks in the regular season and 4½ in the playoffs while helping the Ravens win the Super Bowl. The 6-3, 260-pound Avril has had 9½, 11 and 8½ sacks in the past three seasons, respectively. He is a former pupil of Browns defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who filled the same role for the Lions during Avril’s rookie season in 2008.
Out the door?
As of Saturday afternoon, six teams had shown interest in Browns wide receiver/special-teams standout Josh Cribbs, 29, a league source said. All signs continue to point toward Cribbs’ departure from Cleveland. He has not been confident about his chances of returning since last season.
“It’s a business, unfortunately,” Cribbs, a three-time Pro Bowl kick returner from Kent State, said Feb. 28 during a Cleveland Auto Show appearance. “As much as I love the fans of Cleveland and the community, football is a business, and unfortunately there comes a time that we must part ways.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers cut outside linebacker James Harrison for salary-cap reasons. Harrison, an Akron native, is a product of Coventry High School and Kent State.
The 6-foot, 242-pound Harrison has connections to the Browns aside from his Northeast Ohio roots. Horton was an assistant for Pittsburgh from 2004-10, and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam bought a minority stake in the Steelers in 2008.
Harrison, 34, has had at least 10 sacks in three seasons (2008-10). He had six sacks last season and nine in 2011.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.