Cleveland Browns: 8 Observations As The Team Gets Down to 53
The Cleveland Browns got down to their 53-man roster limit and they have a team that could go out and play a game on Sunday, but as so many are quick to point out, the roster is constantly evolving and churning. There are a couple players that stand out as possibilities to ship out if the team sees someone they want on waivers, in a trade or down the road as necessary.
There are usually two shoes to drop with free agency. The first is the initial cuts and the second is waiver claims and trades as teams react to the decisions made by other teams. Last year, the Browns claimed KhaDarel Hodge, Ricky Seals-Jones and Malik Jefferson on waivers on September 1st. Hodge's spot on the roster this year appears to be secured.
The 2018 Draft was a disastrous waste of resources. Chad Thomas couldn't play dead when he was on the Browns, but when he was released along with Damion Ratley, it left the Browns with just three players of the nine selections the team made from the 2018 NFL Draft.
Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb are all that's left of that class and those three players can make that draft worthwhile, but the Browns have basically nothing to show for the rest of the draft, which included two more second round picks, two third round picks (one of which was traded for Tyrod Taylor), a fourth, fifth and two sixth round picks. If the pick gained in the trade for Austin Corbett was sent in the deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars for Ronnie Harrison, they have Harrison and the fourth round pick they got in the deal for Genard Avery from the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Browns also acquired Jarvis Landry with a fourth round pick that year, but the 2018 NFL Draft encapsulates the entire John Dorsey experience.
The Browns are carrying just two quarterbacks on the active roster. This is due to the way the rules are structured when it comes to the practice squad, which allows teams to activate two on games. One of those will almost certainly be a quarterback. The question that remains to be answered is which one will be on the practice squad they want to activate. The team would almost certainly prefer Garrett Gilbert, but they may get Kevin Davidson as well.
The Browns currently have five tight ends. When so many thought it was a decision between Pharaoh Brown or Stephen Carlson, the Browns simply answered 'yes', keeping both. Tight end is a critically important position for the Browns and their offense, but if the Browns see someone they really like, this could be a position where they let go of someone to get them.
That would also enable them to wait for the dust to clear a little bit before letting one of their tight ends go, making it easier for them to get them to their practice squad. It's possible the Browns will simply keep five tight ends, having a backup for their true Y's in Austin Hooper and David Njoku and one for their space tight end/H-back in Harrison Bryant. In a perfect world, the Browns could identify someone they like enough that could do both jobs.
One tight end that interests me is Jared Pinkney, who was released by the Atlanta Falcons. An undrafted rookie, Pinkey was a dominant blocker at Vanderbilt, who had dominant production as a junior. His testing was poor, but he might prove to be an upgrade to Brown as a backup Y.
Jojo Natson made the team, unlikely to immediately be released. I'm surprised Natson made the team. He's a punt returner only and while they have tried to get him into their offense, it never seemed to work. If they were going to let Natson go, it seems like it would've been in this first wave of cuts as there don't appear to be much of a market for him currently.
Until Donovan Peoples-Jones can demonstrate he's ready to take over the punt returning duties, Natson's job seems to be safe. Mike Priefer's imprint is all over the Browns roster with players like Tavierre Thomas, Tae Davis and KhaDarel Hodge on the team. Davis and Hodge can help at other spots but their primary function is special teams, where the Browns now have substantial expectations to perform. They were good in coverage units last year, but their return game was putrid.
The three most intriguing cuts to keep an eye on from the Browns are Donovan Olumba, A.J. Green and Alex Taylor. The corner position was the most difficult cut this team had to make. They just happened to be carrying a significant number of players that shined in camp in this scheme under Joe Woods. Given the investment made to Green as an undrafted rookie and the progress of Olumba, the Browns have to be hoping they can get them on the practice squad, but must brace for the possibility that could contribute on teams this year.
In particular, it seemed as though Olumba was the more difficult cut. He had gotten experience playing against Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry as injuries piled up and his length is a huge asset. He's not as fast as Greedy Williams, but he's heavier and extremely quick.
I projected the Browns to trade Terrance Mitchell, because seeing some of the deals made around the league, including the trade the Browns made for Ronnie Harrison, he has real value right now that he likely won't have after this season. The Browns could still trade him after teams get settled and some find they haven't been able to address their secondary needs, but for now, I have to eat it.
It's important to point out that none of this was ever a criticism of Mitchell or his ability. He's been great in camp. That was in large part the point. For the moment, it seems like the Browns are content to keep him and the value he brings, both as a defensive back and the the most veteran presence in the secondary.
Taylor was waived with an injury designation. Clearly, they would like him to get to the practice squad, but it's no different than Curtis Weaver. Someone could claim Taylor and then put him on injured reserve as the Browns did when the Miami Dolphins waived Weaver. In order to do that, the team claiming Taylor will have to make room on their active roster to get him there, but there are some teams at the bottom of the league that could easily make that happen if they wish.
Taylor made substantial strides in camp this year and had he stayed healthy, he had an argument to make the team over Kendall Lamm. Willie Wright appears to have been the tenth man on the line and they only kept nine. He might get to the practice squad pretty painlessly.
Speaking of the offensive line, the Browns opted to keep nine. The Browns have two backup tackles and only one backup interior offensive linemen in Evan Brown, who can play both guard and center. Unless of course J.C. Tretter is close to returning, which would make Nick Harris another backup interior player.
Tretter's toughness is above reproach, but not to be taken for granted. The amount of pain he played through has made it easy to assume he will play when so little is known about the nature of the knee surgery he had. Nevertheless, it would appear the Browns are confident he will return quickly.
The practice squad could be a source of relief as well as they can use one or both of their activations on game day to have backup linemen ready to go if Tretter can't.
The Browns might still look for help on the defensive line. Between end and tackle, the Browns have eight defensive linemen. It's a pretty solid group, but it could get thin in a hurry if they suffer an injury. The Philadelphia Eagles, the team Andrew Berry spent last season, released both Shareef Miller and Joe Ostman due to the sheer amount of talent they had. He has familiarity and might be inclined to add one of them to fill out the Browns defensive line rotation.
The pickings are slim at defensive tackle. Some of the most notable releases have all been on the Browns at one point or another, including Trevon Coley, Devaroe Lawrence, Justin Zimmer and Brandin Bryant. Tanzel Smart might be worth a look, but none of them warrant cutting anyone on the Browns currently.