One thing I have been candid about in my time covering this team is my admiration for Anthony Henry as a player. I've been puzzled all year at the lack of attention paid to Anthony's looming free agency by the main stream media in this town.
As a 4th round pick in the final year of his initial four year rookie deal, Anthony becomes an unrestricted free agent at season's end and is able to begin negotiating with other teams on March 2, 2005. Once he hits the open market, the Browns chances of retaining him will decrease drastically … and the Browns could feasibly be left with just Daylon McCutcheon and a host of question marks at the cornerback position.
In trying to track down Anthony to try and find out why things have gotten to this point, I called his agent Jerrold Colton. Colton is a prominent lawyer out of Cherry Hill NJ, but also represents some NFL guys as an agent ... most notably Boomer Esiason. Colton also heads up the Boomer Esiason Charitable trust, and is best known for negotiating a monstrous six year/thirty million dollar contract extension for Bengals linebacker Brian Simmons in the summer of 2002.
Our conversation was enlightening, and revealed several items that no one else has reported on this season. Here's the transcript of the highlights, per my taped recording of our conversation …
Swerb: "Jerrold, Browns fans are eager to know if Anthony is interested in returning to this team next season. Is there any chance of you lining up some time for me to speak with him in the next week or so?"
Colton: "Rich, unfortunately, Anthony really doesn't want to take any interviews right now on his looming free agency, and the manner with which the Browns conducted negotiations this year with him. He'd have to no comment most of the questions. But I'd be happy to talk to you. I've got a lot to say about this organization, and the way they handle business. There are 31 teams that feel Anthony is one of the top corners in the league, and unfortunately, the team that you cover is the one that doesn't."
Swerb: "Where does this pessimism stem from?"
Colton: "It stems from the fact that Anthony should have never gotten to free agency. Frankly, the team was insulting to him in their negotiations during the course of the season despite the fact that Anthony was basically offering to take less money to stay here, where he likes it, and achieve some financial security in-season ... had they addressed the issue at the appropriate time."
Swerb: "Who was handling the negotiations for the Browns, and who is handling those negotiations now?"
Colton: "Trip McCracken and Pete Garcia were handling negotiations, but simply as a mouthpiece for Butch Davis. Since Butch left, there has been no dialogue, and everything appears to be on hold until a new general manager is announced."
Swerb: "What kind of money will Anthony be looking for this off-season? Is somewhere in between the three million per year Jason Webster and the five million Ahmed Plummer got last off-season a fair estimate?"
Colton: "Rich, I can't discuss specific names and numbers, but I will say this. Of the names you mention, Anthony was not even looking for that much per year. The Browns essentially laughed at this and offered fourth cornerback money. We now feel his market value is two to three times what he was looking for during the year. What is fair has now changed. Anthony has now played an extra year in this league and we feel it was a very good year. He's had to play another season for essentially the league minimum while risking injury. And other teams have resigned some of their own, inflating the market for a guy like Anthony."
Swerb: "Did this have anything to do with Daylon McCutcheon's contract extension before the year, and also the fact that Daylon is represented by Marvin Demoff, also the agent of Butch Davis?"
Colton: "I can't comment on any specific names, but I will say that the manner in which this team has worked with a particular agent or two is a running joke throughout the league. It was an embarrassing situation, and no other team in the league would handle business that way."
Swerb: "Do you think it was more the dollars being discussed, or the team's view of Henry as a player that contributed to this mess?"
Colton: "That's hard to say. I would say a bias by Butch Davis, and the fact that he had a different view of Anthony than the rest of the NFL. If I sound angry, it's because I am furious. Anthony is a great pro that is well-respected by his teammates and coaches, and lines up man to man every week with the toughest receiver the opponent has. The disrespect that this organization showed him was dumbfounding to me, given the conservative fiscal demands we had."
Swerb: "When can Anthony begin negotiating with other teams?"
Colton: "I believe on March 2nd."
Swerb: "Is Anthony looking forward to testing the market? Are there any particular teams he has interest in? Does he have a desire to return to Florida to play football?"
Colton: "There are no specific teams he has a desire to play for, and he is still very disappointed things did not get done here. The sad part is ... none of this had to happen. He did not want free agency, he did not want things to get to this point, and he figured he would have had his deal extended her by now. This is nothing he was looking for, or looking forward to."
Swerb: "The team should have a GM in place by mid-January, and a new coach by the Super Bowl. Is there any optimism on your part that something can still get done before Anthony hits the open market?"
Colton: "Based on my past transgressions with this team, I cannot say "optimistic". I am still open-minded, based on Anthony's love for this city, these fans, and this organization. I eagerly await the announcement of the new general manager, and am looking forward to our first conversation together."
Swerb: "I've spoken with many of Anthony's secondary mates, all of whom have nothing but the best things to say about him as a player … and also as a person. Does he hold his coaches and teammates here in the same high regard?"
Colton: "Anthony really has a great relationship with his teammates here, and considers many of them amongst his closest friends. Also, Anthony is very fond of all of his coaches here, especially coach Pagano and Coach Bowles. It's hard to say how many of them will be back, but he would have no problem playing for any of them again."
Swerb: "What is your view of this organization as a whole?"
Colton: "The fans deserve better. I've been all over this league, and know of no fans that deserve success more than Clevelanders. While Mr. Lerner got in too far over his head in handing off all the power to Butch, he is a very good man that also deserves better. He has effectively created an environment that is set up for success; the results just haven't been there on the field yet. Once effective leadership is in place, and this team starts to win, this is a place guys are going to want to play."
Swerb: "Thanks Jerrold. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to talk to you more as this thing unfolds."
Jerrold: "I'd be happy to do it Rich."