This is a tough move for the Browns because they could use Steinbach on an offensive line that already needs a new right tackle. But Cleveland couldn't keep Steinbach at his $6 million salary for 2012 considering his injury status. This was an unwanted but necessary decision.
Steinbach, 31, was a four-year starter for the Browns but he missed all of last season after having a disk fragment removed from his spinal nerve in August. He is expected to be cleared to participate in football activities by April 15.
While Steinbach has left open the possibility of returning, he said he will explore free agency.
"It has been a good ride in Cleveland, and I hope it can continue," he said in a statement. "I'm proud to say that the offensive line has been a bright spot through the past few seasons. 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."
Steinbach then channeled his inner "Anchorman" when he added, "If my time here comes to an end, I want the people of this great city to remember one thing: 'You stay classy Cleveland!'"
The real issue is whether Steinbach will ever play like he did previously. Before the injury, he was one of the most durable linemen, missing three games in eight years. But a back injury can be tricky, especially for linemen.
“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 a statement. “Eric exhibited tremendous leadership and passion for the game during his time here. We want to thank him for his contributions.”
If Steinbach is healthy again, the Browns could certainly use him at left guard and move Jason Pinkston, who played left guard last year as a rookie, to right guard. But you could also see Steinbach going back to Cincinnati, where he played from 2003 to 2006. Adding a guard is one of the Bengals' top free-agent priorities.
Here are some other Browns notes from today: