Pettine is meeting Thursday with the Browns for a third time, sources said. If the meeting goes well and the two sides can work out a contract, then Cleveland will proceed with its plan to hire Pettine, sources said.
Negotiations between the two sides have yet to begin, however, according to sources. But both sides are highly motivated to get a deal done. Pettine wants to be the Browns' head coach, and Cleveland has few candidates left to choose from.
A team spokesman, asked by ESPN.com about a report out of Cleveland that the decision to hire Pettine has already been made, said the Browns have yet to make a decision on a coach.
The 47-year-old Pettine spent four seasons as a defensive coordinator under Rex Ryan with the New York Jets before joining the Bills. Pettine also has worked as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Browns are in the fourth week of their search for their seventh full-time coach since 1999.
The Browns do not plan to hire former Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, whom they met with Wednesday, and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has not been willing to re-enter the race to become the Cleveland coach. Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is considered nothing more than a long shot, and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase already has withdrawn from consideration.
McDaniels was believed to be the Browns' first choice and was among the first interviewed. He announced before the Patriots' postseason opener against the Colts that he was withdrawing his name from consideration for the Browns position.
But sources told ESPN that the Browns contacted McDaniels again soon after the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship Game in an attempt to convince him to change his mind.
ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon and ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder contributed to this report.