Packers head list of suitors for Couch

No team was probably more excited Wednesday by the Cleveland Browns decision to finally release former starting quarterback Tim Couch than the Green Bay Packers.

Having courted Couch for nearly two months, but unable to close a deal with him, the Packers are clearly in a better position now to consummate an agreement.

Certainly the release of Couch removes two obstacles: The Packers, or any other team for that matter, no longer have to surrender a mid-level draft choice to secure his rights. And with no draft choice compensation involved now, Green Bay is more apt to settle on the one-year deal that Couch has preferred all along, a short-term contract that will permit the first overall choice in the 1999 draft to explore the free agent market next spring.

Given that they have come to know and to understand Couch, and that the coaching staff genuinely likes him, the Packers remain the early favorites for the services of a veteran who now moves to the top of the wish list for clubs still unsettled at the quarterback spot. But as a totally unfettered free agent, with compensation to the Browns no longer needed, it will not be surprising if the list of suitors grows.

Couch could strike a quick deal in Green Bay, since he is further along with the Packers than with other franchises, but the odds are that he will take a few days to at least explore potential other options and to see if the phone rings. Just 26 years of age, with a resume that includes 59 regular-season starts, the quick consensus of a few personnel directors contacted on Wednesday afternoon is that Couch will have some alternatives.

Sources close to Couch suggested on Wednesday that Kansas City might have some interest, but the Chiefs recently signed Damon Huard and have never demonstrated an urgency to bring in a tested veteran as Trent Green's backup. Couch would seem a good fit in San Francisco and Arizona, too, as a starter even, but both the Cardinals and the 49ers have had earlier opportunities to sign veterans this spring, and passed every time.

So here is a look, equal parts educated guess and rampant speculation, about where Couch might land:

  • Green Bay: There have been times, in their dealings with Couch, that the Packers' collective patience has worn very thin. Green Bay has come close at times, in fact, to placing a deadline on its proposals to Couch, but hung tough, believing that he might eventually be released. The Packers balked in the past at signing Couch to a one-year contract, because they felt that investing a draft choice to get him, should mean they ought to be able to retain his rights for at least two seasons. That one-year deal for about $1.5 million is probably a bit more palatable to Green Bay officials now.

  • San Diego: The current depth chart already features Drew Brees, first-round choice Philip Rivers and the venerable Doug Flutie. The Chargers love Rivers but, like every young quarterback, he is going to struggle. Couch could come in on a short-term deal and be the "bridge" to the Chargers' future. Plus, signing him would allow the Chargers to trade Brees to Atlanta, which still covets him as the backup to Michael Vick. Brees is in the final year of his contract, so San Diego would do well to get something in return for him now, rather than nothing when he departs as an unrestricted free agent next spring. Oh, yeah, coach Marty Schottenheimer is represented by IMG, and so is Couch.

  • Chicago: The Bears seem content with journeyman Jonathan Quinn as the top backup to Rex Grossman, haven't made a legitimate effort to sign any of the other veterans who went into the market before Couch, and will probably ignore his availability. They don't want Grossman looking over his shoulder, apparently, and that rationale is a sound one for a team rebuilding under a rookie head coach. But Couch wouldn't be that much of a distraction and he might actually win a few games.

  • Indianapolis: The recent signing of former Georgia Tech star and Tampa Bay backup means the Colts now have four quarterbacks behind Peyton Manning who have averaged 2.25 regular-season pass attempts each. As with Favre, the durable Manning is an iron man, and has never missed a start. But does anyone really believe that if Manning ever goes down, the Colts will be the same? Sorry, but current No. 2 Cory Sauter isn't the answer. Manning and Couch are good friends and, notably, they share an agent.

  • New York Jets: Another case where the starter, Chad Pennington, has the same agent as does Couch. And since Pennington is in the final year of his contract, and agent Tom Condon would like to get a megadeal extension completed in the next few months, there isn't much likelihood of him providing the Jets a fallback guy. That said, the Jets are banking on Brooks Bollinger, a sixth-round pick in 2003, and former CFL star Ricky Ray to fill out the depth chart. Uh, right. Now that Vinny Testaverde is gone, another veteran security blanket mightn't be a bad idea.

  • Denver: There's been a lot of positive buzz in recent days about Danny Kanell, who was plucked from the scrap heap by the Broncos when the team desperately needed a veteran last fall. But c'mon. Danny Kanell versus Tim Couch? It defines the term "no brainer."

  • New England: Sure, it's got to be the longest of long shots, right? But think about it: Wouldn't it be just like the always-active Patriots, where coach Bill Belichick is always so persuasive in laying out the possibilities and roles for veterans, to sweet-talk Couch into a deal. After all, no matter where Couch lands, it will probably be as a backup. So why not spend one season with the NFL's best team and, just maybe, pick up a Super Bowl ring on the way out the door next spring?

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.