January 4, 2002 at 9:34 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 3:06 AM
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Cleveland committed itself to Tim Couch (pictured, right) on Friday when the Browns gave him an $8.7 million bonus rather than allow him to become a restricted free agent.
"Now is the time to make the move. Everyone was in total agreement. Not only is he our quarterback of the present. He is our quarterback of the future," Browns president Carmen Policy said.
The team announced the move less than a week after Couch had one of the best games of his career, a 41-38 come-from-behind victory over Tennessee. Couch set a career high with 336 yards passing and matched his previous career best with three touchdown passes.
"Clearly he is the future of this franchise. Not only is he a great player, but he is a great person," head coach Butch Davis said. "He is the kind of guy you want to build a team around."
The Browns signed Couch as the first pick in the 1999 draft to a seven-year, $48 million contract. The contract had a clause allowing the Browns to buy Couch out after three years. Instead, the team chose on Friday to exercise its option for the remaining four years, which aren't necessarily guaranteed.
Couch's salary will escalate from $325,000 this year to $4.4 million next year. He gets $6.2 million in 2003, $7.6 million in 2004 and $8 million in 2005.
"It means a lot that the people running this team think of me like that in their future plans," Couch said. "I wanted to come out this season and prove by my play and by my actions in the community that I was the right person to lead this team."
While the Cleveland offense has struggled this season, Couch has had the best year of his career. He has set career highs in passing attempts (428), completions (259), yards (2,890) and touchdowns (17).
When Couch takes the field Sunday for the season finale against Pittsburgh, he will also achieve his goal of starting all 16 games this season. In each of his two previous years, his season was cut short by injury.
In 1999, he severely sprained his ankle when he was sacked for a franchise-record 56th time in the next-to-last game against Tennessee.
He missed the final nine games last season after he broke his thumb on the last play of practice on Oct. 19.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)