In the latest attempt to bolster a center position ravaged by injuries and retirement, the Cleveland Browns on Thursday acquired veteran offensive lineman Lennie Friedman from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a 2007 conditional draft choice.
By most measures, the addition of Friedman, a seven-year veteran who will now be playing for his fourth different franchise, would be considered a minor deal. But his acquisition takes on additional meaning because of the remarkable circumstances under which the Browns have operated at center in training camp.
Friedman, 30, is the eighth different center acquired by Cleveland since the end of the 2005 season. He is expected to serve as the backup to Ross Tucker, acquired from New England in a trade 2½ weeks ago, and provides the Browns a versatile lineman who can play center or guard.
"I'm going to have to put in a lot of overtime to catch up to
speed with everybody else that's been here," Friedman said.
"There's no question it's an exciting opportunity."
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.
Under league rules, Ephraim is permitted to continue practicing with the team and can participate in the preseason games, but his suspension begins with the start of the regular season.
The Cleveland coaches seem confident that Tucker will be a viable starter, and the former Princeton star has done a nice job of quickly assimilating the offense, but the Browns were still seeking another proven player at the position. And so Friedman is the latest player through the team's revolving door at center.
In stints with Denver (1999-2002), Washington (2003-2004) and Chicago (2005), the former Duke star has appeared in 65 games and started 32. His best season was in 2001, when he started 14 games at guard for the Broncos. He appeared in 11 games for the Bears last season, all as a reserve.
"It's good to have some experience and depth at the position,"
Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "He's a tough-minded guy who will
give everything he has."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.