BROWNS Davis has luxury of being choosy
Cleveland owns the 21st pick in the first round of the NFL draft.
BEREA (AP) -- Butch Davis thinks he has the freedom to be choosy in this year's NFL draft.
Despite releasing the Browns' three starting linebackers in a salary cap dump, Cleveland's coach doesn't feel locked into selecting a linebacker, tight end or any other position in this weekend's draft.
"Given the fact that we have 17 starters back both offensively and defensively, we don't have the gun to our head that says you have to pick this guy," Davis said. "We have the luxury of being pretty much smart shoppers."
Or perhaps even sellers if they decide to make some trades.
After reaching the playoffs last season for the first time since returning to the league in 1999, the Browns find themselves drafting late in the first round (No. 21).
Cleveland had the top overall pick in 1999 and 2000, the No. 3 selection in 2001 and No. 16 a year ago.
"It's clearly a lot more difficult because of the projections of who might actually be there in that pool of players," Davis said.
The Browns filled a need at running back last year by picking William Green with their first-round pick. This year, they could fill several holes, including at linebacker, cornerback, tight end and the offensive line.
The one place the Browns appear to be deep is defensive line, but with Davis' love of big, fast defensive players, it's impossible to rule out taking another lineman to complement former No. 1 overall pick Courtney Brown and No. 3 selection Gerard Warren.
Also, the former Miami coach may find it hard to pass up Hurricanes William Joseph and Jerome McDougle, if they're available.
"Without question this is clearly one of the best years for defensive line drafts in recent memory," said Davis, who thinks as many as 12 defensive linemen could be taken in Round 1.
Draft day trade
Davis is exploring offers to move up or down in the first round, which means trade rumors about quarterbacks Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb and wide receiver Kevin Johnson will persist until Saturday -- and probably beyond the draft.
"I think those guys have a lot more value to help us win and get us closer to the Super Bowl than maybe they do anybody else in this league," Davis said. "There would be huge reluctance on my part, but I've learned that you never say never."
Running back Jamel White also could be traded after signing a one-year tender offer last week that makes it easier for the Browns to deal him.
To find a linebacker to fill the void left following the release of Jamir Miller, Earl Holmes and Dwayne Rudd, the Browns might look to the only two linebackers projected to go in the first round: Boss Bailey of Georgia and E.J. Henderson of Maryland.
If Davis wants a cornerback, converted wide receiver Andre Woolfolk of Oklahoma could be available. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder has the quickness to be a top cover cornerback, something the Browns have lacked the past few seasons.
He would help fill the void left by the release of Corey Fuller, which could be exploited by the many elite receivers on the Browns' 2003 schedule, such as Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens.
Although the Browns have selected six offensive players with their last four first- and second-round picks, they still haven't drafted an offensive lineman higher than the third round. They could change that with guard Eric Steinbach of Iowa or tackles Kwame Harris of Stanford or Wayne Hunter of Hawaii, who could all help open holes for Green.
The Browns probably won't draft a wide receiver after taking one in the second round for four straight drafts.
"You'd like to think that that's one tradition we'd like to break," Davis said.
The Browns have depth at receiver, but still don't have a go-to tight end and didn't seem to find one in Darnell Sanders. The former Ohio State player was drafted in the fourth round last year, but saw little action as a rookie.
With no Jeremy Shockey in this year's draft, 6-foot-6 Jason Witten of Tennessee stands out as the top tight end, but No. 21 could be too high to take him.
Whomever the choice, Davis hopes 21st overall is as high as the Browns pick in the near future.
"I'd really like to be at No. 32 for the next two or three years in a row," Davis said.