White will arrive in Cleveland today, and sources said Modell plans to roll out the red carpet tomorrow for Byars, White and Harry Galbreath, the veteran Miami Dolphins guard.
Cleveland coach Bill Belichick and pro personnel director Mike Lombardi appear to have carefully planned this weekend, using Byars and Galbreath as the perfect lures for White. Byars, a running back-tight end, is one of White's closest friends, with similar involvement in religious and community projects. Galbreath, like White, is a native of Tennessee and also attended the University of Tennessee. Galbreath lives in Clarksville, Tenn., and is friendly with White, who lives near Knoxville.
Brig Owens, Byars's agent, confirmed that the 29-year-old who has spent his seven-year pro career with the Eagles would be visiting the Browns.
"Keith, not surprisingly, has drawn a lot of attention," Owens said. ''We've had a lot of calls and invitations, some of which Keith has turned down. Cleveland has shown sincere interest, and it's a team that is high on Keith's list."
A highlight of the weekend visit is expected to be a tour of the Browns' new, state-of-the-art practice facility and headquarters in Berea, Ohio.
Unfortunately for the Browns, Cleveland was hit with a major snowstorm yesterday, with more blizzard conditions expected through the weekend. It would be hard to imagine White or Byars signing with a team that practices most of the season on indoor artificial turf due to freezing weather, and plays half of its home season on frozen tundra at Cleveland Stadium.
Cleveland appears prepared to let veteran fullback Kevin Mack, an unrestricted free agent, go his merry way. Mack earned $875,000 last year. Byars earned $900,000 and is expected to command a free-agent salary in excess of $1.2 million a year.
Byars, according to his agent, was not thrilled with the Eagles' decision to leave him unprotected, instead naming cornerback Eric Allen, who is a plaintiff in a free-agency lawsuit against the league and signed through 1994, as one of their "transition" (right of first refusal) players. As a plaintiff, Allen can not be restricted from leaving, but the Eagles would be entitled to compensation. The same is true of White. Byars is unrestricted.
Byars was unavailable for comment.
"He was disappointed," Owens said, "but at the same time, after speaking with the Eagles (president Harry Gamble), he also understands that they protected the others (Allen and Seth Joyner) because they were plaintiffs, and it was something they felt they had to do.
"But the Eagles spoke to him and made their intentions clear. It surprised me, but it did leave Keith with an opportunity to shop around freely."
Gamble said he made it clear during his conversation with Byars last Thursday that the decision to protect Allen over him shouldn't be interpreted as an indication that he is anything but a vital part of the Eagles. The Eagles can ill afford to lose White or Byars, the two most influential team leaders.
"All I said to Keith was that this was in no way a slap in the face," Gamble said. "By that, I mean, our decision not to designate him as the franchise or transition player. We feel what we did was the best thing to do.
Because if we were to lose a named player (plaintiff) we'd at least receive compensation. I told Keith that we wanted him back, and I hope he understands that. He told me he'd like to be back."
Gamble said that Owens's associate, Richard Bennett, has contacted Bob Wallace, the Eagles' legal counsel and chief negotiator, to begin contract discussions.