Browns wide receivers: Stay or go in 2018?
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns have several roster decisions to make for 2018, with the wide receivers deserving a hard look.
The Cleveland Browns are in the opening months of yet another one of their “most important off seasons ever” as the franchise navigates through its latest rebuilding project.
But unlike their past attempts to turn themselves into an actual NFL franchise, this rebuild is taking on a different look and feel.
Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown did a considerable amount of work before he was fired in December, and because of that general manager John Dorsey has a solid foundation to build on.
In addition to sound offensive and defensive lines, along with young, promising players at tight end, linebacker and in the secondary, Dorsey has somewhere north of $100 million in cap space at his disposal, along with 12 selections in the 2018 NFL Draft – including picks No. 1 and No. 4 in the first round, plus another three selections in the second round.
Dorsey needs to hold onto some of that cap space to start re-signing players nearing the end of their rookie deals, running back Duke Johnson comes to mind, but the cap dollars, draft picks and unwritten NFL rule that a new general manager needs “his players” to make things work means that the roster will undergo changes between now and Week 1 of the regular season in September.
To that end, let’s take a look at the wide receivers currently on the roster to determine who will likely still be running routes in Orange and Brown come the fall, and who will be seeking employment elsewhere.
Current wide receivers
C.J. Board, Sammie Coates, Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon, Matt Hazel, Rashard Higgins, Bug Howard, Ricardo Louis and Kasen Williams
Coleman is signed through 2019, Louis is signed through 2019, Coates is signed through 2018, Hazel is signed through 2018, Higgins is signed through 2018, Board is signed through 2019, Howard is signed through 2019, Williams is signed through 2019, Gordon is an exclusive rights free agent (it’s complicated). (Per spotrac.com)
- Louis – 27 receptions, 61 targets, 357 yards, 0 touchdowns
- Gordon – 18 receptions on 43 targets, 335 yards, 1 touchdown
- Higgins – 27 receptions on 53 targets, 312 yards, 2 touchdowns
- Coleman – 23 receptions on 56 targets, 305 yards and 2 touchdowns
- Williams – 9 receptions on 18 targets, 84 yards, 0 touchdowns
- Coates – 6 receptions on 11 targets, 70 yards, 0 touchdowns
- Howard – no stats
- Hazel – no stats
Stay or Go?
There are two stats that stand out from the group of wide receivers that took the field for the Browns in 2017:
- Kenny Britt, who only played nine games with the Browns, tied for the team lead among the wide receivers with two touchdown receptions
- Collectively, the Browns paid their wide receivers just a tick more than $8.4 million (once Gordon’s salary is included), which ranks the group near the bottom of the NFL, according to spotrac.com.
Needless to say, outside of quarterback, this is one position group that should see the most change heading into the new season.
Coleman and Gordon are the only locks among the group to return, but both have question marks that need answered.
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For Coleman, he simply needs to play a full season so that he can get into a groove and show whether or not he is a viable NFL receiver. He has had his first two seasons cut short by a broken hand, and struggled to find a rhythm both seasons after returning from his injuries.
Gordon needs to stay on the right side of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and put in a full off-season of work. While he showed flashes of his potential — most notably in the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers with four receptions for 115 yards — Gordon also showed the difference between being “in shape” and being in “NFL shape.”
The opportunity to go through the full off-season conditioning program, OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason should do wonders for Gordon.
As for the rest of the group, stay or go — does it really matter? Howard and Hazel are practice squad guys, Coates is simply not that good, and Louis and Higgins are not consistent enough to feel secure about that place on the roster.
Next: Browns front office taking on a green-and-gold tint
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Browns pick up two or three new wide receivers between free agency and the draft to add to Gordon and Coleman, especially given the fact that head coach Hue Jackson insists on throwing the ball no matter who is on the receiving end.