The Cleveland Browns hope that, when it comes to the center position, nine is enough.
In the latest attempt to bolster a position ravaged by injuries and retirement, the Browns on Saturday acquired veteran lineman Hank Fraley from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a conditional pick in the 2008 draft. There have been rumors for several weeks that Cleveland officials were interested in adding Fraley, a six-year veteran with 71 career starts.
Fraley, 28, is now the ninth different center acquired by the Browns since the end of the 2005 season. And he is the third snapper added in a trade in less than a month. In early August, the Browns acquired Ross Tucker from New England and then, less than two weeks ago added Lennie Friedman from Chicago.
Tucker was among the players released Saturday by Cleveland as the team whittled its roster to the 53-player limit for the regular season. Fraley will compete with Friedman for the starting job. Certainly, it is a remarkable set of circumstances under which the Browns operated at center in training camp, a period in which the team seemingly considered every available center with a pulse.
Cleveland thought it had secured the center position for the long-term when it signed LeCharles Bentley, a two-time Pro Bowl player in New Orleans, as an unrestricted free agent early in the spring. But Bentley, regarded by some as the top player at any position in this year's unrestricted pool, was lost for the season when he suffered a ruptured patellar tendon on the first day of camp.
His backup, Bob Hallen, who was also added as a free agent this spring, abruptly retired, citing back problems. Another reinforcement, Todd Washington, also decided to retire only a few days after agreeing to a contract. Alonzo Ephraim, who had moved into the starting spot by default, was suspended by the NFL for four games for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
After securing Bentley in free agency, the Browns traded their starter, former first-round pick Jeff Faine, to New Orleans in a draft weekend deal.
In Fraley, the Browns are getting a tough, savvy, blue-collar center who carved out an excellent career in Philadelphia before suffering a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his 2005 season after just eight games. The man who replaced him last season, Jamaal Jackson, who is younger and bigger and signed a contract extension this spring, retained the starting job in a training camp competition with Fraley.
In the preseason, Fraley played some as a backup guard, but the Eagles are deep on the offensive line and Jackson's emergence eventually made him expendable.
There is some irony to the fact that Fraley might be the center who replaces the highly-regarded Bentley in the lineup. It is believed that the Browns outbid the Eagles in free agency for Bentley and that Philadelphia officials were upset at not landing the standout center.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.