Browns say Northcutt can't become unrestricted free agent

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt failed to file the proper paperwork with the team and cannot become an unrestricted free agent.

Northcutt, who signed a seven-year contract in 2000, had been required to notify the Browns by Feb. 19 if he planned to void the final three years of his deal, the team said.

The Browns said Northcutt and his agent, Jerome Stanley, failed to comply with the stipulation that they inform the club by certified mail of their intentions.

Team president Carmen Policy said Thursday the NFL management council has verified that Northcutt is under contract with the Browns through the 2006 season.

Northcutt had been eager to test the free-agent market next month, and the speedy receiver/punt returner was expected to land a multiyear multimillion dollar deal.

As he cleaned out his locker following Cleveland's disappointing 5-11 season, Northcutt was asked what it would take for him to be back with the Browns.

"This is what's going to keep me here," Cleveland's leading receiver said, rubbing his thumb and finger together in the universal sign for money. "Let's be real about it. This is a business."

Stanley could not immediately be reached for comment.

It's likely Northcutt will fight the Browns' insistence that he did not fulfill his contract and may file a grievance through the player's union.

The NFLPA did not return a message seeking comment.

Northcutt has been the Browns' top playmaker the past two seasons. The former second-round draft pick led the club with 62 catches for 729 yards and two touchdowns last season.

In 2002, Northcutt scored a team-high eight touchdowns and averaged 14.7 yards on punt returns, taking two back for TDs.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)