As was made pretty clear yesterday, the Browns were not done shuffling their roster after the cut to get down to 53 players. The team kept a remarkable 12 offensive linemen and no kicker. Today, the Browns made a number of moves to reshape their roster and appear to have improved their situations at some key spots, including running back, tight end and inside linebacker.
The Browns claimed Bobby Rainey from the Baltimore Ravens and Dennis Johnson from the Houston Texans. For those who read yesterday’s article, these were the two backs mentioned that were possible targets for the Browns and they went ahead and grabbed both of them.
Rainey was stuck on the bottom of a loaded roster with the Ravens, but he comes in as a shorter back that gets everything out of what he has athletically. He is efficient as a runner, can catch the ball out of the backfield, and can return kicks. His overall athletic ability is average but his technique and grit allow him to be effective. Rainey can help this team as a running back, but the fact he has been a Raven for the last two years is not lost on the front office of the Browns. Not only do the Browns see the Ravens twice per year, but they see them week 2 on the road. The more a player can do to make a team, in this case, could also include information about an opponent.
Johnson was on a Texans roster that seemed to bring in every undrafted free agent running back body they could in addition to having Adrian Foster and Ben Tate. They were never going to be able to keep everyone and Johnson was one of the backs they let go. At Arkansas, Johnson was an intriguing all around talent who did a little of everything for the Razorbacks. Johnson has good size at 5’9” 213lbs, has power and quickness that he can use to get past defenders and is not afraid to run between the tackles. He is able to catch passes and also has experience returning kicks. He has to do a better job of holding onto the football, but Johnson is legitimately someone that could come in and be a nice surprise addition for the Browns.
With these two moves, the Browns let go of Brandon Jackson. The journeyman back just never found much success going into his seventh year of the NFL. The fact that Chris Ogbannaya, in addition to being able to function as a fullback, can also do everything that Jackson can as a half back certainly made that move easier. As disappointing as the losses of Dion Lewis and Montario Hardesty are, the Browns should legitimately be better at the position than they were going into the Indianapolis Colts game.
The Browns also decided to try to upgrade the inside linebacker position further after parting ways with James-Michael Johnson yesterday. In addition to Eric Martin who was brought in last week, the Browns claimed Brandon Magee from the Dallas Cowboys off of waivers. Magee was the running mate of fellow Corona, California native Vontaze Burfict at Arizona State when both had impressive years in 2010. In 2011, Magee missed the season with an injury and Burfict got fat and dive bombed the draft process. Magee rebounded in 2012 with his best year for the Sun Devils. It is nevertheless interesting that the Browns have decided to bring in a 6’ 230lb linebacker in place of L.J. Fort, who was released. Fort is another player who had some average physical ability but left everything he had out on the field. Ray Horton really seems to like these smaller linebackers on the inside of his scheme. They really do not have a prototype thumper in the middle of that defense with guys like Craig Robertson, Tank Carder and now Magee. They have a bunch of smaller guys who just fight to get to the football. The defensive line has to be great and really take up blocks for these guys to be effective. Magee should also be a fixture on special teams for the Browns.
The Browns also attempted to improve their situation at tight end by picking up MarQueis Gray and Keavon Milton . Gray was a quarterback at Minnesota before the 49ers brought him in for a try out as a tight end. He was ultimately cut but one theory floating around was the idea that the 49ers actually tried to avoid getting him the ball in their last preseason game to try to sneak him onto the practice squad. Whether there is any truth there or not, the Browns signed him to the active roster. Milton is a 6’4” 293lb tight end. The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawk is a blocking tight end the size of a tackle. He did catch 22 passes in his previous 21 games but he was brought in to be a hammer in the running game.
Both of these players are still young and especially in the case of Gray, quite raw, but the Browns have three coaches on staff who have a tremendous reputation with the tight end position in Jon Embree, Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski, so this could be something to keep an eye on going forward. Of the two, Milton looks more likely to get on the field quicker in a blocking capacity while Gray is more of a special teams component and development player behind Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge.
Kellen Davis was released to make room on the roster and the only surprise with Davis was that it took as long as it did. Davis really struggled in preseason as a blocker and his entire career has been questionable when it comes to his hands. They also released Brad Smelley who now becomes the fifth member of the draft from last year that is no longer on the active roster. Smelley was Richardson’s backfield mate at Alabama and gave the Browns someone who could conceivably play at fullback and tight end. He spent all of last season on the practice squad and it could be a similar deal this year.
The Browns did add another offensive lineman by claiming Patrick Lewis off of waivers from the Green Bay Packers. Lewis played center at Texas A&M, but was used as a guard for the Packers, so conceivably he can help at a couple spots. Lewis has size but other than the fact he has had Johnny Manziel’s hands under his butt, it remains to be seen what the Browns like about him.
Braxton Cave, who was trying out with the Browns out of Notre Dame was picked up by the New England Patriots. This might highlight just how thin the offensive line is around the NFL, especially when it comes to depth. The Browns released two offensive linemen today. They let go of undrafted free agent Caylin Hauptmann and Jarrod Shaw, but still have 11 offensive line on the roster at the moment.
Obviously, the Browns are not done making moves as they still do not have a kicker. The fact is the kicker is not a huge concern in the moment. The position players were of much larger concern. The Browns are virtually the only team not already settled at the kicker spot, so their options are not going anywhere right now. They will look to see if other options are better but Shayne Graham could end up back on this roster in the end. It might not seem smart to let him go right now if they are just going to bring them back, but it does give the Browns an extra roster spot for flexibility and ability to take on players or sit on players hoping to get a deal. The Browns put Brandon Bogotay on injured reserve, so he will be stashed for a year and have a chance to win the job next season.
The Browns might also be looking for another punter as Spencer Lanning was anything but consistent in preseason. Zoltan Mesko might be an option in that respect. He went unclaimed on waivers, but that is because of his contract situation. He would have cost more than anyone wanted to pay him if they grabbed him off of waivers. Once he clears, the team that takes him can negotiate the contact they want to pay, which is when Mesko would likely be signed.
The full practice squad still has not been released to this point, but reports have Jamoris Slaughter, the team’s sixth round pick and Jasper Collins, the wide receiver out of Mount Union, both on it. Slaughter just was not ready to contribute with the injury setbacks he dealt with coming into this season but could still be a productive member of this team if he can get back to 100% and work to get ready for next year. Collins is an average player in terms of tools, but really understands the position and how to get open to make plays, not unlike Josh Cooper, though Collins appears to have slightly more upside. This list will be updated as the rest of the practice squad becomes available.
The 53 man roster is getting closer to getting to as final a product as a 53 man squad ever is. While they still have roster spots to sort out, especially when it comes to their special teams, the Browns appear to have gotten better today. The question is how much better and where are the issues they still need to address. If this waiver wire was an indication of anything, it was that the Browns were anything but satisfied with their situations at tight end, running back, and inside linebacker. Perhaps a few of these additions will work out for this year, but these could be issues that are concerns all year long in addition to the secondary.