The Associated Press
CLEVELAND Ä Phil Simms might be heading out of the television studio and back behind center.
Simms, who worked for ESPN last season after he was cut by the New York Giants, has met with the Cleveland Browns on a possible return as a player.
Simms told the New York Daily News late Wednesday night that he would be signed by today ''at the latest'' and ESPN, citing a source close to the Browns, said he would join the team as a backup to Vinny Testaverde.
''I'm extremely excited,'' Simms told the Daily News. ''I have no second thoughts about doing this at all. I feel I'm doing the right thing. I think it's the perfect situation.
''It was a quick decision and I made it. It's something I have to do.''
Art Modell, Browns owner and president, said Wednesday night the team is interested in Simms, but has not decided on signing him. Modell confirmed the quarterback would meet with Browns officials yesterday.
New York Newsday reported yesterday that Simms, Browns coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Mike Lombardi had preliminary discussions earlier in the week.
Asked to characterize Simms' reactions, Lombardi told Newsday, ''I think he's in a thinking mode. He's got his thinking cap on.''
Testaverde's backup last season was veteran Mark Rypien, who is a free agent and isn't likely to return to Cleveland.
Belichick was the defensive coordinator for the Giants when Simms helped them win the 1990 NFL title.
Simms, 39, spent 15 seasons with the Giants, passing for 33,462 yards and 199 touchdowns. He was the most valuable player of the 1987 Super Bowl, hitting 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
''He'll come in and look us over and we'll take it from there,'' Modell said. ''Nothing is definite yet. We're going to meet with him and see where we stand. He'll see what we have to offer, and we'll see where he stands.''
Simms blamed the salary cap after being cut by Giants coach Dan Reeves last June. When he retired, Simms was coming off one of his best seasons in 1993, leading the Giants to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
''Right from the get-go, I never liked the salary cap. I knew that was another bomb on the players' heads. I knew it spelled trouble for me, unless you played well to warrant your salary,'' Simms said.
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