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The saga of Cris Carter

The Cris Carter saga had to be one of the wildest in free agency this year.

Carter now is a man with one possible team, the Miami Dolphins. When free agency began, he had three pursuing him: Miami, St. Louis and Cleveland. One decision on his visit to Cleveland, though, cost him an opportunity to play for the Rams or the Browns, and it cost him some stature nationwide.

Carter is a sure-fire Hall of Fame receiver, one of the best ever to play. He also is an emotional player who last season was criticized for ripping teammates on the Minnesota Vikings sideline. Finally, there have been whispers that Carter can be selfish.

The Browns saw Carter as a veteran who could teach their young receivers how to play and how to win. It was a perfect role for Carter, who has the respect of many present and former Vikings teammates, including Browns cornerback Corey Fuller.

Carter visited the Browns on March 6 _ the same day Rams coach Mike Martz had made plans for Carter to go out to dinner with quarterback Kurt Warner and other players.

To make sure Carter got to St. Louis from Cleveland on time, he chartered a plane.

"When we first talked and he said he wanted to play for us, I thought, "This would be pretty neat,' " Martz said recently at the annual NFL meetings. "He said he wasn't coming for the money. He wanted to win a Super Bowl, and we would afford him that opportunity."

Carter visited Miami in the morning and told reporters there how much he loved the team and the organization. He hopped on his plane, arrived in Cleveland and charmed the Browns' brass.

"Boy, did he have a lot of charisma," said Dwight Clark, Browns director of football operations. "He was entertaining, and he really kept the troops going. We were laughing."

The Browns made it clear to Carter that they wanted to sign him, and Carter thought that he heard that the Browns would offer him $4-million a year. Carter called the Rams to tell them he'd be late, and he called friends to say the money was too good and he was going to be with the Browns.

But when negotiations started, Carter learned that the Browns were talking $4-million total for two seasons.

"I think if we had offered him what he wanted, he would have done it right there," Clark said. "But he wanted a lot."

What Carter wanted was too much for the team to swallow.

So Carter called the Rams again and said he'd be arriving, but late. Martz told Carter to forget it.

"The way things happened just didn't sit well," Martz said.

Martz put no judgment on what Carter did but said his actions did not match his words.

The day after things fell apart with the Browns, Carter tried to make amends with Martz through national reporters, saying there was "no comparison" between the Rams and Browns. It didn't help; Martz still wasn't interested.

"He'll be a good fit somewhere," Martz said. "But not with us. I just thought what happened was not appropriate."

His attempt to make up cost Carter his chance to be with the Browns, as well. Team president Carmen Policy and the Browns did not appreciate the way their team was described.

"To say he wanted to be a Ram and there was no comparison between the two, that was disappointing," Clark said.

"That's not what he told us (during the visit)," Policy said.

LIONS: Kevin Warren is one of the most low-key members of the team's front office, but he was seething mad over an Internet report that accused him of botching the negotiations for receiver Johnnie Morton.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with those negotiations," said Warren, a senior vice president. "I don't know where that information came from, but none of it is true."

CBS reported that Morton was released, in part, because the Lions botched the handling of his negotiations. According to the report, Morton's agent, David Dunn, wanted to postpone the March 14 deadline when the Lions would have to pay Morton a $1-million roster bonus. The report said Warren told Dunn that it would be against league rules to put the deadline back two weeks. When Dunn insisted it wasn't against the rules, Warren still refused to listen and Morton was ultimately released.

Dunn confirmed Warren's account and said nothing close to the reported story took place.