By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports
March 2, 2007
One year after making a huge free agent splash by inking center LeCharles Bentley, the Cleveland Browns have splurged again on their offensive line, adding guard Eric Steinbach.
Yahoo Sports learned on Friday that the Browns signed Steinbach to a 7-year deal worth $49.5 million and with $17 million in guarantees. Steinbach's agent, Jack Bechta, was believed to be seeking a deal close to the one signed by Minnesota guard Steve Hutchinson last season, and Steinbach's pact is actually a slight cut above that one, which was a 7-year pact for $49 million and with $16 million in guarantees.
Pending his physical, the deal will make him one of the highest paid offensive linemen – and not just among guards – in the history of the NFL. He was widely considered the top free agent offensive lineman available this season.
Adept against both the run and pass during his last four seasons with Cincinnati, Steinbach was one of the prime free agents available. At only 26, he gives Cleveland remarkable flexibility. Despite playing guard with the Bengals, he has the ability to play at tackle as well. He could handle either left guard or tackle for the Browns, allowing them to shuffle the right side of their line. Another major plus, Steinbach has displayed good durability during his career, appearing in 63 of a possible 64 games in the last four regular seasons – starting in 62 of those appearances.
The move shows a surprising commitment by the Browns, who signed Bentley to a 6-year $36 million deal last year, but got no return after he suffered a season-ending injury that has since become career-threatening due to post-surgery complications. But general manager Phil Savage has maintained his push to solidify the offensive line, first re-signing center Hank Fraley to a 4-year deal prior to the start of free agency and now adding Steinbach.
This could be a precursor to a big draft investment for the Browns, who were 31st in the league in rushing last season and who should have an opportunity to grab Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson with the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft. The Browns will likely also take a close look at Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, who was born and raised in Ohio.
Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Friday, Mar 2, 2007 9:34 pm, EST
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