Cleveland Browns expect intense competition for roster spots

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 23: Dontrell Hilliard #25 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 23: Dontrell Hilliard #25 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

This year it will be very difficult for even very good football players to make the Cleveland Browns 53-man roster

The Cleveland Browns roster is not only top heavy with superstar talent, but it’s also much deeper than it has been since the Schottenheimer days. That may be hard to wrap your brain around, because there really has not been an abundance of good players since 1999. Hence creating a 53 person roster was not really much of a challenge. Until now.

General Manager John Dorsey took over the reins in 2017 and immediately angered some of the players by observing that did not have enough “real players.” Unfortunately, that was the truth. Guys, if you are 0-16, you are not a real football team, it is as simple as that. The 2018 offseason was shocking because of how many players were sent packing.

Overall, only 22 players from the 2017 team made the 2018 opening day roster. 31 players who thought they were real players were proven otherwise. This year there will be much less turnover. Even so, given that the Browns will draft eight players and probably have another handful make the team as undrafted rookies or late additions, only about 40 players on the current roster will survive to the final 53.

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Table 1 shows a guess — and it’s really just a guess — on who has the inside track to be among the 40 survivors. It’s partly based on the team’s commitment via salary guarantees and partly based on the perceived team needs this season.

The players at greater risk of not making the team are listed in the 30-player “Bubble List.”  Kareem Hunt is listed in the top group, even though he will not count as a roster spot due to being suspended for eight games.

The number in the first column corresponds to the order of highest cap charge for 2019.  On the right appears the cap charge in dollars, as well as the amount of money that could be recovered if the Browns were to cut that player immediately.

These numbers are taken from In some cases, the savings is negative (red numbers in parentheses), which means due to guaranteed money the Browns would actually be charged additional money against the 2019 cap to get rid of the player. Duke Johnson and Emmanuel Ogbah are listed among the probable holdovers, even though there is a good chance that one or the other will be traded.

Readers are invited to make their own list. I can already feel the heat from readers’ comments, namely “How could you even think of cutting this guy?” And it’s true.  But tell me who do you want to cut instead? There are some darn good players that are on the outside looking in. The roster is deep and roster cuts will be very difficult to make.

Several players on the Bubble List have NFL starting experience, including Carl Davis, Desmond Harrison, Ricardo Louis, and Anthony Zettel.

Others have been successful situational players, such as undersized linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, defensive tackle Brian Price, cornerback Phillip Gaines wide receiver Jalen Strong, and others.  None of these players are a threat for the Hall of Fame, but they have definite ability and will very likely play in the NFL in 2019 even if the Browns cannot find space for them.

Dontrell Hilliard had the best kick return average (24.0 yards per return) for the Browns and was good enough to take snaps away from Duke Johnson last year, and caught nine out of ten balls that came his way. Perhaps he can keep a roster spot warm for Kareem Hunt while he is off serving his suspension. It’s insane to think Hilliard may not make the team, but the competition is that tough this year.

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Chad Thomas was a third-round pick last year, and CB Howard Wilson was a fourth-round pick two years ago but has gone on IR two years in a row. Presumably, these guys are healthy now, and in past years the Browns would be looking for these young players to step up and claim starting jobs.  Now, the Browns may feel forced to give up on them.

Surely there is a case for many of the Bubble List players to make the final roster.  But who would you cut instead?  It is not an easy problem this year.

Think of it this way.  Suppose you are an agent, and you’re representing an undrafted player, hoping to get a shot at the NFL team. You have two offers on the table, one from the Steelers and one from the Browns. This year you probably recommend that he accept the Steelers’ offer because it may be too hard or your client to make the Browns roster this year.  There is not only talent here now, but also depth.

As for the players on the bubble:

In a short period of time, John Dorsey has overhauled this roster, and the results are easy to see.

Next. OBJ is obviously excited to be in Cleveland. dark

This is a new era of Cleveland Browns football thanks to all the talent he has brought in. And that talent will make it hard for anyone to make the 53-man roster ‚— which is a great problem to have.