Northcutt can't become unrestricted free agent

CLEVELAND -- About to finally make his run through NFL free
agency, Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt and his agent dropped
the ball.

Northcutt, who has spent four years waiting to cash in as a free
agent, failed to file the proper paperwork with Cleveland in time.
He is under contract with the Browns for three more seasons, the
team said.


In July 2000, Northcutt signed a seven-year contract that
required him to notify the Browns by Feb. 19 if he planned to void
the final three years of his deal.

According to the Browns, neither Northcutt nor his agent, Jerome
Stanley, complied with the stipulation they inform the club by
certified mail of their intentions to void the remaining three
years of his deal.

So instead of signing a multimillion dollar deal elsewhere,
Northcutt is stuck in Cleveland.

Team president Carmen Policy said Thursday the NFL Management
Council verified Northcutt is under contract with the Browns
through the 2006 season.

Northcutt wasn't the only player to miss a deadline. Pro Bowl
receiver Terrell Owens failed to file papers voiding the final two
years of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers and may miss out
on free agency.

After last season, Northcutt said he anticipated getting a
five-year contract with a $5 million signing bonus.

As he cleaned out his locker following Cleveland's disappointing
5-11 season, Northcutt was asked what it would take for him to be
back with the Browns.

"This is what's going to keep me here," he said, rubbing his
thumb and finger together in the universal sign for money. "Let's
be real about it. This is a business."

Stanley did not immediately return a phone message seeking
comment. He also represents Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn
Johnson and Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Johnson.

Northcutt made $450,000 last season. The Browns' second-round
draft pick in 2000 led the club with 62 catches for 729 yards and
two touchdowns last season. In 2002, he scored a team-high eight
touchdowns and averaged 14.7 yards on punt returns, taking two back
for TDs.