Veteran tackle Verba becomes free agent

Having defined the cost of freedom, with a price tag set at $465,000, Cleveland Browns starting left offensive tackle Ross Verba was officially released Thursday afternoon.

In a move anticipated for the past two days, the Browns terminated the final two seasons of Verba's contract with the club after the eight-year veteran delivered to team officials a check for $465,000. That represented the amount of a roster bonus the Browns had paid Verba earlier in the offseason.

A resolution to Verba's situation in Cleveland, where he made it clear that he would not practice again until the Browns rewarded him with a lucrative extension, was brokered earlier in the week between the team and agent Tom Condon of IMG Football. Having bolstered their roster at tackle with two recent acquisitions, the Browns offered Verba a pair of scenarios.

They provided him the option of seeking potential trade scenarios with other clubs or of speeding the divorce by rebating his roster bonus, and he chose the latter.

Verba, 31, is now a free agent and free to sign with another club. Among the teams that are likely to be most interested in him are the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs. Condon has said that, assuming there are multiple teams interested in his client, Verba may want to visit with coaches and club officials before making a decision on his future.

"I would think," Condon said, "there will be considerable interest."

In recent days, the Browns girded themselves for the departure of Verba, signing a pair of veteran tackles to one-year contracts. On Saturday, former Arizona first-round choice L.J. Shelton signed a deal that included a $950,000 base salary for 2005. Then on Tuesday, the Browns added journeyman tackle Marcus Spears at a base salary of $765,000.

Shelton, who has already joined his new teammates for workouts, is projected now as Verba's replacement at left tackle. Spears probably will be the No. 3 tackle.

The only Cleveland offensive lineman to start all 16 games in 2004, Verba worked out at the team facility in the offseason but refused to participate in on-field activities. He made no secret of the fact his work stoppage was tied to his desire for a new contract, and even noted that he was seeking a deal that would make him one of the league's highest paid players at the position.

Verba insisted the Browns reneged on a gentleman's agreement to upgrade his contract, a promise he said was made when he restructured his deal in 2004 to aid the team's salary cap squeeze. That maneuver, in which he received a $2.75 million signing bonus and lowered his base salary to the minimum of $535,000, significantly reduced a salary cap number that would have been in excess of $6 million.

At the time, Verba said, he wanted just a one-year extension. He agreed to a longer deal, he said, only because Cleveland officials told him that, if he remained healthy and played well in 2004, they would revisit his contract status.

But those promises, if true, were made by the Browns' former football regime, headed by coach Butch Davis. New general manager Phil Savage has said, speaking generally, that he is not bound by the policies or promises of his predecessors.

"It's unfortunate that, on the business side, the organization did not uphold their part of the deal," Verba said earlier this week.

Verba was due total compensation of about $7.2 million for the two seasons he had left on his Cleveland contract, and was to have had base salaries of $2.975 million each in 2005 and 2006. Clearly, as a free agent, he and his representatives will be seeking a deal that will at least put him in that range.

The former Iowa standout, a first-round choice of the Green Bay Packers in 1997, has appeared in 106 games, and started 100 of them, in his career.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.