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Browns crawl into free agency

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CLEVELAND (AP)

The Browns entered free agency with a whimper.

Moments after the NFL's signing period opened Tuesday, the club announced that it had released starting right tackle Tony Pashos, who played with a torn tendon in his left foot last season.

The Browns also tendered contracts to wide receiver Jordan Norwood and defensive lineman Brian Schaefering and signed backup offensive lineman John Greco to a contract extension.

Along with Pashos, the team released punter Richmond McGee, who spent 15 weeks on injured reserve last season after injuring his back during warm-ups before the opener.

On Tuesday night, agent Kevin Richardson announced on Twitter that tight end Alex Smith has agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Browns. The team had no immediate comment.

Pashos had two injury-plagued seasons with the Browns, who signed him as a free agent in 2010. He ruptured a tendon in his foot during Cleveland's final preseason game, but instead of going on IR or having surgery, the 31-year-old Pashos decided to tough it out and play. He never let on how badly he was hurt and Pashos underwent surgery last week, a procedure that will sideline him for up to 10 months.

Although they're coming off a 4-12 season and have plenty of needs, the Browns are not expected to be big players in free agency.

But that could change.

General manager Tom Heckert believes in building through the draft and adding key free-agent pieces to fill roles. That's how he did it in Philadelphia and it's been his method so far with Cleveland.

''We're not going to go crazy in free agency,'' Heckert said last week. ''We're not going to do it. Are there guys that we're targeting? Certainly. Now are we going to get them? That remains to be seen.''

The Browns have not announced if they have any free agents visiting in the coming days.

After being outbid by Washington to move up in the draft and potentially select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Browns were assumed to be interested in Green Bay backup Matt Flynn, after Peyton Manning the star of this year's free-agent quarterbacks class. Heckert said it was unlikely the Browns would find their starting quarterback in free agency and Flynn, who has two career starts, might be out of Cleveland's price range anyway.

As Aaron Rodgers' backup, Flynn doesn't get much playing time, but he made the most of his one start last season. He passed for 480 yards and six touchdowns in Green Bay's win over Detroit in the regular-season finale.

Flynn has experience running the West Coast offense coach Pat Shurmur installed last season. Flynn could replace incumbent Colt McCoy as Cleveland's starter. However, Heckert said last week he still believes McCoy can be a good quarterback.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Browns running back Peyton Hillis became a free agent and can sign with any team. Heckert said the club would consider re-signing Hillis, who followed up a strong season in 2010 by becoming a distraction last season. Hillis battled injuries but it was his other antics - he sat out with strep throat, skipped treatments during a game week to get married in Arkansas, and changed agents several times - that led his teammates to pull him aside for a talk.

''I think it's more of a wait-and-see-type thing,'' Heckert said of re-signing Hillis. ''After the season when we talked, we said if we can work things out and he said the same thing - if we can work things out - he'd like to be here and we'd like him to be here. If he has to see what happens in free agency, that's fine with us. We're willing to do that. We'll have to wait to see how things go, probably after Tuesday.''

The Browns have also expressed an interest in re-signing cornerback Dimitri Patterson.

Though undersized, Norwood showed some playmaking potential last season. He made four starts and finished with a career-high 23 receptions for 268 yards and one touchdown.

Schaefering provided depth to the Browns' defensive line. He played in 16 games, recording 29 tackles.

Greco, who was acquired in training camp after Floyd Womack retired, played in 15 games.

Tagged: Browns, Packers, Tony Pashos, Matt Flynn, Peyton Hillis

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