As he continues to mull over the Cleveland Browns' possible first-round selection with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, star-crossed general manager Phil Savage might want to consider tabbing an exorcist with the franchise's top pick.
The eerie curse that seems to haunt high-profile veteran free agents signed by the Browns, along with the team's first-round draft picks, continued Thursday when the club announced that guard Eric Steinbach has undergone an appendectomy that will force him to miss time in the offseason conditioning program.
The procedure was performed on Wednesday and Steinbach was released from the Cleveland Clinic on Thursday. But the appendectomy is the latest incident to befall a key unrestricted free agent signed by Cleveland in recent years.
Two-time Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, projected as the anchor of the offensive line when he signed a landmark contract last spring, tore the patella tendon of his left knee in the first practice of 2006 training camp. Bentley missed the entire '06 season and, because of complications and the need for further surgery, will miss all of 2007 as well.
Cornerback Gary Baxter, who joined the Browns as their big unrestricted acquisition in '05, tore a pectoral muscle in his first season in Cleveland, and appeared in only five games. Last October, in a freak incident, Baxter ruptured the patella tendons in both knees and doctors originally feared he might never walk normally. Baxter is making solid progress now, but it is uncertain when he will return to the playing field.
Cleveland has also seen several former first-round choices -- including quarterback Tim Couch, defensive end Courtney Brown, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards -- suffer debilitating injuries during their tenures with the team. In addition, several players have contracted severe staph infections the past two years and the team's complex has been inspected by authorities attempting to locate any source of contamination.
Steinbach, 26, signed a seven-year, $49.5 million contract with the Browns in early March, leaving the division rival Cincinnati Bengals as an unrestricted free agent. The deal was one of the most lucrative ever signed by an offensive guard.
Projected as the team's starting left guard, Steinbach will be limited for the next 3-6 weeks, according to Browns' team physician Dr. Anthony Miniaci. The team said in a statement that Steinbach, who missed just one game in four seasons with the Bengals, should be recovered in time for a June minicamp.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.