CHICAGO -- The National Football League last night reached a tentative accord with the city of Cleveland that will bring a renamed Browns franchise to Baltimore this year and a replacement team to Cleveland by 1999.
The agreement, if approved today by NFL owners, will fill a void left in
Baltimore by the departure of the Colts 12 years ago and preserve for the
league a market that has been as supportive as any in the country.
With the agreement, all sides in the conflict declared victory.
"We believe the agreement achieves what we set out to get three months
ago: our team, our name and our colors," said Cleveland Mayor Michael White.
Twenty-three of the NFL's 30 franchises must vote to approve the
agreement, but passage appeared likely with the endorsement of the city of
Cleveland and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
"I don't think it will have any trouble passing with the recommendation of
the stadium and the finance committees," said Robert Tisch, co-owner of the
New York Giants.
The agreement also must be translated into a final, written contract,
which must be approved by NFL owners at their meetings next month and by the
Cleveland City Council.
Mr. Tagliabue made no public comments last night, but issued a statement
saying, "This is a historic agreement."
Browns owner Art Modell said: "I am happy for the people of Cleveland. I
am happy for the people of Baltimore, and I am happy most of all for the
"It has been a long siege and I am happy it is almost over."
On Nov. 6, Mr. Modell announced his intention to move the Browns, citing
the inadequacy of Cleveland Stadium and frustration with negotiations to
replace the facility, which was built in 1931.
The announcement set off a firestorm of criticism nationwide of Mr. Modell
and the NFL, which has seen five clubs announce their intentions to move in
the past year.
"Baltimore is incredibly empathetic for what Cleveland went through. We
unfortunately didn't get that a dozen years ago," said Maryland Stadium
Authority chairman John Moag, who spent the past two days here helping to
hammer out the agreement.
"Football is a tough game to get back into town and I said from the
beginning that there would be bumps in the road, but I don't think that
tempers this," Mr. Moag said.
John W. Frece, a spokesman for Parris N. Glendening, said the Maryland
governor "is encouraged by today's action by NFL owners in Chicago. He is
optimistic that the owners will return an NFL franchise to Baltimore, where it
Mr. Moag, meanwhile, said the Maryland Stadium Authority will drop its $36
million antitrust suit against the league once the agreement is final.
Likewise, the deal calls for Cleveland to drop its lawsuit against the
Browns, a case that was scheduled for trial Monday. The city sought to force
the Browns to play the final three seasons of their lease at Cleveland
Instead, Cleveland will build a 72,000-seat stadium at the site of the
current facility. The city estimates this will cost between $220 million and
$230 million, and will be paid for by league financing and a $175 million
package of tax increases and borrowing already approved by Cleveland.
Cleveland also agreed not to lure a team itself, leaving its football
destiny in the NFL's hands.