McKenzie still waiting for call from Browns

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

CLEVELAND - When Keith McKenzie suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a Week 7 loss at Chicago, the veteran defensive end said he hoped he had not played his last game in a Cleveland Browns' uniform. "I'd like to come back, and I think we are already trying to work something out," said McKenzie, who will become an unrestricted free agent March 1. Early rumblings from the front office implied that the Browns were just as interested in seeing McKenzie return. Just two weeks ago, teammate Jamir Miller said he believed the Browns were actively negotiating with McKenzie. While McKenzie's agent, Gary Uberstine, has had some preliminary discussions with the Browns, the two sides are not currently talking. "We are not actively in discussions with the Browns at this point," said Joel Corry, an agent at Premier Management in Los Angeles, who represents McKenzie with Uberstein. "If there is to be a meeting of the minds, first there has to be a desire for the team to have the player return, and then there has to be a desire for the player to return. I know that Keith would like to return. His hometown is Detroit, so he's from the midwest, and he likes it in Cleveland." McKenzie made $1.6 million in base salary in the second year of his two-year deal with the Browns. Even though he is recovering from a broken left ankle, you can bet he'll want more money and more years on his next deal. "He signed a two-year deal (in 2000) in part because there were some concerns of whether he could be a full-time starter and some questions in terms of his playing the run and his durability," said Corry. "We think he's satisfied those questions." McKenzie led the Browns in sacks with eight in the 2000 season _ his first year as a full-time starter after serving as a third-down, pass-rush specialist in his first four years with the Green Bay Packers. Prior to being injured in 2001, McKenzie posted three sacks and a whopping 32 quarterback pressures. According to Corry, the broken left ankle should have no bearing on the contract negotiations. "That was a freak injury," said Corry. "It was a broken bone, so it is not like there is any ligament damage where he could have diminished skill. He'll be back at 100 percent. He's on schedule to recover at the appropriate time. In fact, right know he is on schedule to be ready for any of the team's offseason activity. "I think it would be interesting to see what type of pass rush the Browns could have with Courtney Brown, Jamir Miller, Gerard Warren and Keith McKenzie all on the field at the same time for an extended time." With Brown missing the first six games of the year and McKenzie missing the last nine, that star-studded group was only on the field together for one quarter this season. It was arguably the best defensive quarter of the year. If the Browns want to see that unit together again in 2002, they might have to act quickly. "As you get closer to unrestricted free agency, you have to take a chance and see what the market is going to bear," said Corry.

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