Browns release Steinbach, lose Hillis
On the second day of free agency, the Cleveland Browns cut loose a reliable player and parted ways with a problematic one.
The team released veteran offensive guard Eric Steinbach, once a major acquisition who missed last season following back surgery and was due to make $6 million this season.
Also, running back Peyton Hillis signed a one-year deal with Kansas City, ending his star-crossed stay in Cleveland.
The 31-year-old Steinbach underwent an operation to fix a disc in August and was forced to sit out his out his fifth season with Cleveland, which signed him to a seven-year, $49.5 million deal in 2007. Agent Jack Bechta was unable to negotiate a new deal with the Browns. According to Bechta, the team wanted Steinbach to ''take a significant salary reduction.''
In releasing Steinbach, the Browns will be further under the salary cap. It's still possible Steinbach could re-sign with the Browns after testing the open market.
''These types of decisions are the difficult part of this job, especially when it involves a player such as Eric Steinbach,'' Browns general manager Tom Heckert said. ''Eric exhibited tremendous leadership and passion for the game during his time here. We want to thank him for his contributions.''
As for Hillis, the Browns kept open the possibility of re-signing the former 1,100-yard-plus rusher whose 2011 season was loaded with unnecessary drama.
With the Chiefs, Hillis will be reunited with former Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who was with Hillis in Cleveland in 2007 when he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. He'll also play for former Browns coach Romeo Crennel.
After agreeing to his deal with the Chiefs, Hillis tweeted: ''Appreciate all my fans in Cleveland for the support given to me in my time there. Can't wait to get back on the field and go to work in KC.''
Last week, Browns general manager Tom Heckert said the club was still interested in re-signing Hillis, who changed agents three times in the past year as he tried to work out a long-term deal with Cleveland. Hillis' contract issues bled into the regular season, when he was sidelined with a hamstring injury and angered his teammates by sitting out a game with strep throat.
He's run away on start anew.
Steinbach proved to be money well spent by the Browns. He played in 62 of 64 games - every offensive snap in 2009 and 2010 - before hurting his back during training camp and undergoing surgery. Steinbach, who played four seasons in Cincinnati before signing with Cleveland, has been working hard to get back in shape and believes he can still play at a high level.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Steinbach was a presence on and off the field for the Browns. He and his wife, Caroline, have been active in the Cleveland community.
Steinbach released a statement thanking the Browns, owner Randy Lerner and Cleveland's fans.
''It has been a good ride in Cleveland and I hope it can continue,'' he said. ''I'm proud to say that the offensive line has been a bright spot through the past few seasons. It has been a privilege to play for the city of Cleveland and its rich tradition. Mr. Lerner has always treated me with respect and I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to work for him and his organization.
''I will continue to work with the Browns through my agent in hopes of striking a deal that is practical and fair for both sides. In the meantime, I will explore other opportunities. If I do move on, I want to thank the people and fans of Cleveland who have treated my family and I with great support and hospitality. If my time here comes to an end, I want the people of this great city to remember one thing; `You stay classy Cleveland!'''
Also, the Browns are on the verge of signing free agent defensive end Frostee Rucker, stealing him away from AFC North rival Cincinnati.
The team has an agreement in place with Rucker pending a physical.
Rucker recorded four sacks in 11 games last season for the Bengals, who drafted him in the third round in 2006. The 28-year-old is the first signing in free agency for the Browns, who entered the period about $17 million under the salary cap.
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Rucker will likely start at right end opposite Jabaal Sheard, who had a team-leading 8.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011. Rucker is an upgrade over Jayme Mitchell, who was benched for his poor play last season.
Once a major weakness, Cleveland's defensive line has been strengthened the past two seasons. The Browns drafted Sheard and Phil Taylor last year and signed underrated tackle Ahtyba Rubin to a long-term contract.