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NFL Cleveland Browns Quarterback Duel

Tim Couch -vs- Jeff Garcia

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Couch out, Garcia in at quarterback in Cleveland
an Associated Press report 3/09/04 - updated 3:30 p.m.

BEREA, Ohio - Free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia agreed to a $25 million, four-year contract with Cleveland, ending Tim Couch's rocky era with the Browns.

The team scheduled a 5 p.m. news conference to introduce their new starting quarterback.

Browns president Carmen Policy told WTAM, the team's radio rights holder, Garcia's deal is worth $10 million over the first two years, and there's an option for the final two years.

The 34-year-old Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler, was unable to agree on a restructured contract with the San Francisco 49ers, who released him earlier this month after five seasons.

Garcia's arrival will end Couch's five-year tenure with the Browns, who drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 1999. The team cannot afford both QBs and most likely will trade or release Couch, who is under contract for two more seasons.

A phone message was left Tuesday for Couch.

The Browns had been trying to get Couch to rework his contract this offseason. He rejected an offer last week that would have cut his salary by more than half. Now it appears Couch will be playing elsewhere next season.

Garcia had been San Francisco's starting quarterback since 1999. In 2000, he set a franchise record, passing for 4,278 yards and earning his first Pro Bowl berth. Garcia was a mobile, steady and tough-nosed competitor in San Francisco, attributes that clearly endeared him to Browns coach Butch Davis.

He also visited with Atlanta and Tampa Bay but reached an agreement in principle with the Browns in the early morning on Tuesday after talks broke down with the Buccaneers.

Garcia passed for 2,704 yards and 18 touchdowns while battling various injuries for much of last season.

Garcia, who grew up in Gilroy, Calif., rooting for the 49ers, was unable to restructure a contract with the team, which wanted to reduce his salary from the $9.9 million he was scheduled to earn in 2004.

In January, he was arrested in San Jose on drunken-driving charges. According to police, Garcia's blood-alcohol level was .237 -- nearly three times the legal limit in California. His arraignment is scheduled for Monday.

Couch's 2003 season was typical of his time with the Browns.

The 26-year-old lost his starting job to backup Kelly Holcomb in training camp only to get it back when Holcomb got hurt and then struggled.

Couch was Cleveland's first draft pick when the franchise returned to the league as an expansion team in 1999. He was immediately thrown into the starting role but never found his place in the team's offense.

His tenure with Cleveland was beset by inconsistency and injuries. The low point came in an October 2002 loss against the Ravens when Browns fans cheered as Couch staggered off the field with a concussion.

Couch said recently that he would be willing to take a pay cut -- as long as he had assurances the money would be used to strengthen the Browns, who went 5-11 last season.

He rejected a proposal last week that would have cut his salary from $7.6 million to $3 million in 2004 and from $8 million to $3.5 million in 2005. Couch was awaiting a second offer from the Browns that never came.

On Monday, Couch said he was surprised the club had moved so quickly to sign Garcia and hoped he could go somewhere and start if things didn't work out in Cleveland.