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Browns Practice Squad Largely Goes According to Plan But Comes with Risk

The Cleveland Browns have been successful in retaining many of the players they hoped for to the practice squad, but it can be tricky to keep them there.
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The Cleveland Browns were overwhelmingly successful getting many of the more impactful players they waived back on the practice squad, but since players can be signed off the practice squad by other teams, that still leaves them exposed.

After clearing waivers, the Cleveland Browns were able to sign players like defensive tackle Sheldon Day, defensive ends Porter Gustin and Curtis Weaver, linebacker Elijah Lee and safety Jovante Moffatt to the practice squad. They still have five spots available and will continue to sign players, but they were able to sign many of the players they wanted back.

That provides insurance and depth at every level of the defense, including some players that might be necessary immediately like Day and Lee for special teams.

Because of the way the rules for the practice squad have evolved in light of the pandemic, it has become an extension of the active roster. Teams only get to have 48 players from the active roster on game day, but they also get to activate two players from the practice squad to play.

The practice squad is far more interesting and becomes an additional source of strategy for teams, which the Browns took full advantage of it last season.

For example, the Browns could activate Sheldon Day and Elijah Lee for the game against the Chiefs, giving them an extra defensive lineman and a linebacker primarily focused on special teams. If they have an injured tight end, they could activate Jordan Franks. Porter Gustin could provide additional edge depth for a team like the Chiefs to keep guys fresh and able to rush Patrick Mahomes.

All of this works out for the Browns unless other teams decide to sign those players off the practice squad. The good news is that if another team signs a player from the Browns practice squad, they must keep them on the active roster for three regular season games, which can work as a deterrent. However, if teams suffer injuries, that might not be an issue.

For example, last year the Dallas Cowboys signed offensive tackle Greg Senat off the practice squad.

Something else that works in the Browns favor is the ability to designate four of those players every week as protected. That would prevent them from being signed by another team. In effect, the Browns have a 57-man roster. That might be enough to avoid losing their most critical players in a given week, but still leaves 12 players exposed.

The last thing that helps the Browns is the amount of favoritism that seems to play out on the practice squad. The same way the Browns have signed ten of their own players out of the 11 they've signed, teams across the league have a tendency to keep their own players, only venturing out for a handful of players that spent time with other teams.

Familiarity and system fit undoubtedly play a role in this equation, but as illustrated by Marvin Wilson signing with the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, talent and upside will ultimately be a factor.

That may be why the Browns have only announced 11 signings as they reach out to players they might not have had in camp. Players, meanwhile, are weighing their options in an effort to try to find the best spot to help their own careers.

For the time being, the Browns look to be in fantastic shape between the talent on their active roster and the depth they've been able to retain on the practice squad. They hope they can sustain it over the course of the season.

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