In looking for a new home, Willie McGinest will start by meeting with an old friend.
The linebacker, released last week for salary cap reasons after 12 years with the New England Patriots, will visit with Cleveland Browns coaches and club officials. The Browns' second-year head coach is Romeo Crennel, who was a New England assistant for seven years of McGinest's long tenure with the Pats.
Several other teams have contacted agent Gary Uberstine to inquire about McGinest, but it is not known with how many more of them the veteran linebacker will meet. It is certainly no coincidence, though, that his initial trip is to Cleveland, a team that has been among the NFL's most aggressive in the opening days of the free agency period.
Beyond the presence of Crennel, who was a defensive line coach (1993-96) and coordinator (2001-2004) for the Patriots, the Browns play a 3-4 defense, an alignment in which McGinest has enjoyed great success. McGinest told ESPN.com over the weekend that, while he is confident he could play in a 4-3 front, he is most comfortable as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
The Browns, who have added five veterans since Saturday, including nose tackle Ted Washington on the defensive side, still have sufficient salary cap room and financial wherewithal to craft a contract proposal that might interest McGinest, who was scheduled to make $7 million in 2006 between his base salary and a roster bonus. And the Browns, who have posted just one winning season since returning to the league in 1999, and who were 6-10 under Crennel in 2005, certainly present the kind of challenge that McGinest seems to be seeking at this late juncture of his career.
"That's part of what excites me, really, is the chance to maybe help a team and help other players achieve some of their goals," McGinest said Saturday. "You name it and I've pretty much been there and done that. At this point in my career, the individual [accomplishments] aren't as important, not any more. I'm developed. I'm primed. I'm a team guy who knows his role. If that role is with a new team, well, so be it."
McGinest, 34, has 78 career sacks and his six sacks in 2005 were one more than any Cleveland player managed in Crennel's first season.
As a team, the Browns registered just 23 sacks, the fewest in the NFL. Crennel and general manager Phil Savage have publicly reiterated the need to improve the Cleveland pass rush.
In addition to the meeting with McGinest, the Browns have been negotiating with unrestricted free agent Kalimba Edwards, a defensive end with the Detroit Lions who would likely move to linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.