While their best defensive player was still in jail, the Cleveland Browns got some help for one of the NFL’s worst units.
The Browns acquired cornerback Sheldon Brown and linebacker Chris Gocong in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Alex Hall and two draft picks on Friday. The fourth- and fifth-round selections are the Nos. 105 and 137 overall in this month’s three-day draft. The deal was announced as Browns nose tackle Shaun Rogers — a three-time Pro Bowler — was being held after his arrest for trying to carry a loaded hand gun onto a plane. But time stops for nothing in the NFL, and the Browns agreed to terms of the deal pending physicals.
A Browns spokesman confirmed the trade but said the team will not comment until the physicals are completed.
Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert, who spent the previous four seasons as Philadelphia’s GM, returned to his roots to continue an overhaul of the Browns’ defense, which ranked last in the AFC last season and gave up less yardage than only the Detroit Lions.
Brown, a former Pro Bowler who hasn’t missed a game since becoming a full-time starter in 2004, will likely move into Cleveland’s starting lineup on the opposite side of Eric Wright, who made 16 starts last season at left cornerback. Brandon McDonald made six starts on the right side, with Mike Adams getting the other six.
Brown wanted a new contract from Philadelphia last season, and it is believed the trade was contingent upon him getting a deal from the Browns. Despite his unhappiness over the contract, Brown played through a hamstring injury last year and recorded a career-best five interceptions.
A second-round pick in 2002, he and Lito Sheppard replaced veterans Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor after the 2003 season. They played a key role in helping the Eagles reach the 2005 Super Bowl.
Gocong started 35 games in four seasons with Philadelphia. He had just signed a one-year deal.
"Sheldon Brown has been a very good football player for the Eagles over the last eight years,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He’s a good person, a legitimate tough guy and he’ll do a good job helping the Browns. Chris did a good job converting from defensive end to linebacker and helped us win a lot of football games. We wish both of them all of the best.”
Coming off a 5-11 season under first-year coach Eric Mangini, Heckert and new team president Mike Holmgren have been busy reshaping the Browns. Hall’s departure follows those of quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, the team’s top pass rusher.
The Browns reached when they selected Hall out of Division II St. Augustine in the seventh round in 2008. Physically gifted, he showed promise in recording three sacks as a rookie but mostly played on special teams last season and finished with just four tackles.
"Alex Hall is a big, athletic linebacker who we’ve had our eyes on over the last couple of years and he’ll have a chance to compete at the SAM linebacker spot,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said.
The Browns still have 10 picks in the draft, but the arrival of Brown could change their early round strategy. The team has shown a strong interest in Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Florida cornerback Joe Haden and has visits planned with both players.
Brown is the latest veteran to depart Philadelphia this offseason. Former All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook, former All-Pro guard Shawn Andrews, linebacker Will Witherspoon, defensive end Darren Howard and wide receiver Kevin Curtis were released.
Despite that trend, Roseman insisted the Eagles aren’t rebuilding after an 11-5 finish and playoff loss to Dallas.
"We’re trying to win, we’re always trying to win,” Roseman said. "For us, this was a football decision. We’re excited about some of the players on our team and we’re excited about the quality of this draft.”
Ellis Hobbs, acquired last year from New England, steps into Brown’s spot. Hobbs is coming off neck surgery and probably will have to win the starting role in training camp. He started every game when the Patriots went 16-0 in 2007.
"It’s an opportunity for Ellis Hobbs to step up and contribute to our defense,” Roseman said. "We like Ellis Hobbs. We think he’s a good starting corner in this league and we feel we have other players on this team that can step into that spot and contribute.”