The Browns announced the release of five players today including defensive back Vernon Kearney, wide receiver Cordell Roberson, linebacker Tommy Smith, defensive end Dave Kruger, and the most notable of the group was Jordan Norwood. There are many focusing on the release of Norwood or Kruger, but the most surprising for me was Roberson.
Norwood is an absolute grinder and has just worked himself to the bone to make the roster the past few years. He would have a nice performance like and then get injured, so he could never get a rhythm and build on success. It finally came down to a numbers game and the Browns gave him the opportunity to find a team elsewhere earlier. Upon receiving the news that he was released, Norwood tweeted the following:
Jordan Norwood @jordaNorwood
What an awesome 3 yrs in CLE!? I thank God for the people I’ve had the pleasure of coming in contact with. Continued blessings to you all
Kruger’s most notable accomplishment as a Brown has been being the brother of Paul Kruger. The undrafted rookie out of Utah was brought into a team with a ton of defensive line depth, so he was always going to have a tough time making the final 53. He could be a player that ends up on the practice squad while he just works out and builds up his body for next season, but should he have an NFL future, it is likely going to be elsewhere. Right now, the Browns just have a ton of talent along the defensive line and that fact is never going to get old.
Roberson, on the other hand, was surprising to me. It seemed like he would get the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears to see what he could do in that game. He has made some plays and offers sized at 6’4” 205lbs. All things being honest, I actually thought he would make the final roster. However, that comes with the caveat that it would have required the Browns to decide they could not count on David Nelson. Right now, the Browns appear to be confident he will be healthy enough to contribute and help the team going into the regular season. Nelson is practicing now and is expected to play Thursday.
In what is sure to go wrong, here are my predictions for the final 53 players on the roster with a few explanations on what could happen.
Quarterbacks(3) – Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer
No surprises here.
Running Backs (4) – Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson, Jamaine Cook
The only guy who appears to be a lock for the final roster is Richardson. After that, there are a few things that could happen that could change the number of backs as well as the other backs on the roster. The Browns seem to like Hardesty’s talent while being frustrated with the fact he is hurt quite a bit. Brandon Jackson is in his seventh year in the league and is not likely to suddenly become a better player than he has been in his career, even though he has had a decent camp. The Browns seem to really want a back in the mold of Dion Lewis (who was placed on injured reserve today) and Cook is awfully similar, albeit not as talented. Cook had a nice debut Saturday with 5 touches for 35 yards, 3 of which were receptions.
Depending on waivers, the Browns could dump one or possibly two backs depending on what is available. If there is a more talented back in the mold of Cook and Lewis, they could opt to bring them in and if there is a similar talent to a player like Jackson, they could bet on the youth and upside. And again, it is unclear what the opinion is on Hardesty.
The other part of this is they could cut a back to keep another tight end or extra offensive lineman. Due to injuries and the questionable depth going into the regular season, the Browns could be forced to cut a back for a couple weeks and then bring them back when they get a player like Shawn Lauvao back. The guy who makes sense to lose in that situation is Jackson, because the demand for him is likely to be low. He seems like the best candidate as someone they could cut and get back should they want to go that route. Lastly, the other question is how they calculate Chris Ogbannaya into that mix. If they look at him as both of a fullback and someone who can play halfback in a pinch, they will probably be comfortable losing one of the halfbacks. Again, I think Jackson is likely to be the guy in that scenario, but it could be Hardesty as well. Miquel Maysonet appears to be someone the Browns would like to be able to get to the practice squad.
Fullbacks (2) – Chris Ogbannaya, Brad Smelley
Ogbannaya has made a great transition to fullback and gives them someone who can block as well as carry the ball or go out and catch the ball. He has become the West Coast Fullback Pat Shurmur was unable to find in Owen Marecic. Smelley’s value is largely in his ability to play fullback in a pinch but being able to contribute as a tight end. The more a player can do.
Wide Receivers (5) – Josh Gordon, Greg Little Davone Bess, Travis Benjamin, David Nelson
Gordon’s suspension puts the Browns in an awkward position if Nelson is not healthy. The good news is that Nelson appears to be healthy at the moment with 13 days until the Browns kickoff. Beyond that, there are no surprises here. In addition to potentially Roberson, the other wide receiver may try to put on the practice squad is Dominique Croom.
Tight Ends (4) – Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, Brad Smelley, Dan Gronkowski
The tight end position is thin and not where it needs to be. Kellen Davis and is not good and Travis Tannahill might be someone they try to put on the practice squad. Smelley’s ability to play fullback and tight end makes him worth holding onto, but the Browns should be looking at the players that are cut. Gronkowski just needs to be big and block. If someone worthwhile is out there, the Browns could easily add them and drop Gronkowski to give them more depth and hopefully someone more talented. He could also be dumped in favor of an extra guard.
Offensive Line (8) – Joe Thomas, Jon Greco, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Shawn Lauvao, Jason Pinkston, Garrett Gilkey, Ryan Miller
This is a prediction likely to go wrong. In my opinion, those are the eight linemen most worth keeping. Schwartz is the swing tackle, so if needed, he kicks over to left tackle while Miller goes to right tackle. The Browns like the guards they have; they just need them to get healthy. The Browns will likely be looking to see if a better guard option is out there that would allow them not to run Gilkey out there until Lauvao gets healthy. To me, Oneil Cousins is not that guy, but they could opt to keep him as a ninth lineman or as a replacement for Miller. Chris Faulk looks like someone they will place on injured reserve due to his knee issue and hope he can recover enough to compete for a spot next year. Caylin Hauptmann and Martin Wallace could be two players they try to put on the practice squad.
That would give the Browns 24 offensive players in total, which is a little iffy with the injury situation. They could easily keep 25 or even 26 but doing so would require losing some decent talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive Line (7) – Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, Athyba Rubin, John Hughes, Billy Winn, Armonty Bryant, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
This is where the Browns clearly have the most talent and would require them to cut a solid player in Brian Sanford. They have tried to trade him once, so they are comfortable with the idea of losing him and he is extremely likely to catch on with another team as a rotational player. The Browns would love to make a trade with Sanford and are likely still pursuing that angle, but they may ultimately be forced to cut him. If the Browns are caught in a situation where they need a roster spot, they could tempt fate by releasing Kitchen or Bryant. They like Kitchen and would love to keep him, but the numbers may not work out initially. Bryant has character questions but has looked promising in preseason. In either case, they would want to resign the player when the roster spot was no longer needed to help elsewhere, but they could easily be swooped up by another team. There are likely several teams that are looking for the Browns to release a talented defensive lineman. They could try to get Kruger back on the practice squad.
Outside Linebackers (5) – Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Quentin Groves, Justin Cole
The top were obvious. The injury to Mingo and the concern over his lung may force them to keep Cole to keep them with four in their outside backer rotation. That said, Cole has been a pleasant surprise in preseason and it would be nice to be forced to hold onto him. In addition, Ray Horton has pointed out he would rather keep talent at the linebacker position and just move them around.
Inside Linebackers (4) – D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, James-Michael Johnson, L.J. Fort
Outside of Jackson, no one is so good they cannot be let go. Robertson is the starter next to Jackson and they have depth in Johnson and Fort who have been good on special teams. This move would cause them to lose Tank Carder who has also been effective on special teams. It could come down to who is the ninth linebacker between Cole and Carder. Or, they could only keep eight to help the offensive side of the ball but with Mingo’s situation still unclear, it seems like they need an outside linebacker. Tommy Smith is someone they could want for the practice squad.
Cornerbacks (4) – Joe Haden, Chris Owens, Buster Skrine, Leon McFadden
Four of these guys are pretty clear even if only one of them is truly good at this point. I may be higher on Wade than the Browns are. I think he gives them someone who can play the nickel spot effectively, but he might not be good enough for them to keep with the other three they have on the team. The Browns could certainly only keep four corners and let Wade go or they could like someone who ends up on waivers. Abdul Kanneh seems like the best candidate to end up on the practice squad. Wade might be brought back in a couple weeks or if the Browns suffer an injury.
Safeties (5) – T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, Johnson Bademosi, Josh Aubrey, Jamoris Slaughter
It seems likely that the Browns will only keep 9 defensive backs and either Wade or Slaughter will be let go in some form or fashion. Slaughter might be put on injured reserve when all is said and done with all of the injury frustrations he has had which would let them keep Wade. After recovering from the Achilles tear, he had a hamstring issue and went down in the Colts game, went down with a groin injury. If not, they may try to put him on the practice squad but it all depends just how much talent they think he has when healthy. Initially, I had both undrafted rookies from Stephen F. Austin making the team, but with Roberson down, I think Aubrey will make it. They could try to get him to the practice squad but he has been good in preseason and it could be tough to get him there without getting swooped up by another team.
The Browns have talent on defense. It is not all developed or good talent, but if they go below 26 players on the defensive side of the ball, it is likely to be someone who is picked up by another team and could potentially contribute down the road. The Browns have gotten to the point where they are not losing guys who are immediately out of the league and teams can legitimately look at this team when cuts are announced and want to pick up some of their players.
Kicker – Shayne Graham
I have made it pretty clear I would opt to keep Brendan Bogotay. He is a rookie with a huge leg that is a guaranteed touchback on every kickoff with the potential to kick it from 60. Graham is a 35 year old kicker who is more consistent from inside 40, but his kickoffs are weak. The Browns could try to get Bogotay on the practice squad in hopes of using him later.
Punter – Spencer Lanning
The model of inconsistency, Lanning has a leg that can kick it 60+ but will have some that are in the 30 range. It seems like the Browns like him as long as no one better comes available on waivers. The one to keep an eye on is Ryan Allen, currently on the Patriots roster. He was one of the better rookie punters available and he is competing with Zoltan Mesko for the punting job there. Mesko is likely to win, which would make Allen available and potentially a better option for the Browns.
Long Snapper – Christian Yount
Most people do not know his name, which means he is doing a good job.