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Published: Friday, 8/3/2001

All's well that ends well with Browns, Warren

BEREA, Ohio - Right now, all of the concerns about Cleveland Browns rookie Gerard Warren not being in training camp seem trite. Warren reported Wednesday in regular-season playing shape, 15 pounds lighter than he weighed during May minicamp.

With that in mind, I'm happy to report that Warren looks good, despite missing the Browns' first 14 practices. Warren was the correct choice for the Browns. Cleveland needs a stud defensive tackle and Warren has a great deal of potential. He was worth the third pick in the NFL draft.

Warren's hulking presence means opponents will find it more difficult to establish a running game, which will enhance defensive end Courtney Brown's ability to rush the quarterback. Brown could reach double digits in sacks. With Warren's help, Brown should develop into one of the best ends in football.

Good run defense by the front seven means you don't have to commit additional defenders to stopping the ground game. And that means you don't have to leave your cornerbacks isolated in pass coverage. Having Warren in the lineup means the Browns will become a more balanced defensive football team - a unit to be reckoned with.

If Warren plays up to his potential, his six-year, $33.6 million contract will be considered puny in today's inflated sports market.

What I didn't like about Warren's recently concluded contract negotiations was how Cleveland's brass attempted to engage Warren and his agent in an old-fashioned, mud-slinging contest.

First things first. Warren wasn't “holding out” for more money as reported by various media outlets. Technically speaking, only players with contracts can be holdouts.

The stalemate in the Warren negotiations should have been business related, but the Browns tried to make it personal.

Last week, Browns owner Al Lerner said Warren's refusal to sign was “lunacy.” Team president Carmen Policy termed the negotiations “nonsensical.”

Attempting to play divide-and-conquer between Warren and Joel Segal, Warren's New York-based agent, Policy indicated after Warren's signing that his contract could have been completed much sooner if Segal didn't have other clients he was negotiating contracts for. As though Segal is the only sports agent in America who has more than one client.

Warren gave Segal instructions to secure a $12 million signing bonus, which is the only real guaranteed money in an NFL contract. Otherwise, Warren was prepared to stay out until the Browns met his demands - bad publicity or no bad publicity.

“I didn't worry if it would drag on,” Warren said, softly but firmly.

In the next eight months alone, Warren will be paid more than $12 million, making him one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in football.

The Browns knew exactly what they were getting when they selected Warren ahead of more popular choices, big-play crowd favorites such as Michigan wide receiver David Terrell. The pressure on Warren is immense.

If Warren doesn't pan out, if he's not the run-stopping, pocket-collapsing defensive force Cleveland believes he is, he'll never hear the end of it. If, on the other hand, Warren plays as advertised, the Browns have a bargain.

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.

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