The Cleveland Browns continue to go young in their latest rebuild. Does that put veteran guard John Greco on the endangered list?
The Cleveland Browns went into the offseason looking to upgrade an offensive line that was actually better than it was given credit for in 2016.
The team fixed the most glaring hole by signing center JC Tretter in free agency, and also solidified the right guard position by inking Kevin Zeitler to a free agent deal.
That Zeitler signing puts a target on incumbent right guard John Greco as the next veteran over the age of 30 that may be in danger of losing his roster spot.
Greco has been a solid member of the offensive line since joining the Browns in 2011, appearing in 85 games and making 66 starts. He missed the final four games of last season, however, after suffering a Lisfranc injury — the same injury that knocked left guard Joel Bitonio out for the year.
In the offseason the Browns rewarded Bitonio with a contract extension and signed Zeitler to take over Greco’s position at right guard. The team also continued to purge its older players, leaving Greco as one of just four players over the age of 30 on the roster, joining punter Britton Colquitt, left tackle Joe Thomas and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant in the “old man’s club.”
Thomas and Colquitt are not going anywhere, so where does that leave Greco?
While the 10-year veteran’s play has slipped some, he can still be a valuable member of the offensive line, especially in the run game, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked Greco as the 20th best guard in the league in 2016. In addition, the site highlights that:
"Where Greco has shined throughout his career is as a run blocker. Last year he ranked 19th among guards with an 80.8 run blocking grade. His two best seasons were in 2014 when he earned an 86.0 run blocking grade (ranked sixth that year) and in 2012 when he put up an 85.6 run blocking grade (eighth)."
The Browns are going young, but that doesn’t mean there is not room for a handful of older veterans and Greco’s versatility may be his saving grace.
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In addition to playing guard, Greco has filled in at center and done a solid job. While Tretter is the unquestioned starter, if he were to go down with an injury the last thing the Browns will want to do is make a return to Cameron Erving at center. Having Greco on hand to back up both the center and guard positions could be a nice luxury to have.
The big unanswered question is where Greco stands on his recovery from the Lisfranc injury. Since he suffered the injury so late in the season he is likely not as far along in his rehab as Bitonio, and it is still a bit of an unknown when he will be able to get back on the field.
One path the Browns may take is to place Greco on the Physically Unable to Perform list to open the season. That would mean that Greco would not be able to play in Cleveland’s first six games, but he would also not count against the final roster. Once those first six weeks are up, the Browns would have three weeks to decide if they want to add Greco to the roster.
That could buy the team some time to see how the new offensive line is working together, give Greco time to recover from his injury, and buy some valuable insurance in case Bitonio, Tretter or Zeitler go down with an injury.
Greco’s age may be an obstacle in Cleveland’s youth movement, but his versatility may be enough to help him be one of the rare players over the age of 30 who will still be wearing the Orange and Brown come the fall.