Cleveland Browns might finally catch a COVID break

Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

After weeks of bad news, the Cleveland Browns might catch a long-overdue break

It’s been a rough few weeks for the Cleveland Browns.

Heading into their week 16 contest against the New York Jets, the Browns lost their entire wide receiver corps due to close contact to a COVID-positive player. The team didn’t get the news until they were preparing to board the plane to New York late Saturday afternoon, and only had time for a walkthrough in the hotel parking garage before taking the field on Sunday.

In week 17 against the Pittsburgh Steelers the team was without two of its starting linebackers, its best cornerback, and a starting safety, leaving the defense to get picked apart by Mason Rudolph in the second half. And the bad news didn’t stop in the days leading up to the game, as WR Donovan Peoples-Jones suffered a concussion and DE Olivier Vernon was lost for the season due to a ruptured Achilles.

This week should’ve been a celebration for Browns fans everywhere, with the team preparing for its first playoff game in 18 years against one of their biggest rivals. Instead, the wind seemed to be taken out of their sails once again as the COVID outbreak in Berea continued to pull players and coaches out of the lineup.

First, it was head coach Kevin Stefanski who tested positive leaving the team without their leader and the frontrunner for NFL Coach of the Year. Next, it was LG Joel Bitonio, the longest-tenured Cleveland Brown and one of the best guards in the league.

After Bitonio came the news of WR KhaDarel Hodge who has struggled to stay on the field this season, but has been a key contributor when he’s been healthy. And last was the loss of S Ronnie Harrison, a standout at the safety position and a difference-maker on a defense that doesn’t have very many players capable of making a difference.

The last few weeks have done little to quiet the noise about the Browns being a cursed franchise, and it has certainly felt as if the NFL wasn’t exactly working hard to help the team overcome its challenges.

But despite the rough stretch of news, Saturday morning brought a glimmer of hope with regard to the Browns chances on Sunday night in Pittsburgh. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the Browns might get Harrison and practice squad S Jovante Moffatt after a string of negative tests led the league to believe that their tests on Thursday may have been a false positive.

Harrison has been a key cog on the back end of Cleveland’s defense and having him on the field could make a huge difference against Pittsburgh’s talented wide receivers. But that wasn’t the only report that came out on Saturday that may be of interest to Browns fans.

The NFL has seemed thus far to be extremely rigid and inflexible with regard to their rules about sideline communication, meaning that it wouldn’t be possible for Kevin Stefanski to have any input into the gameplan after kickoff on Sunday night. The league seemed to be more open to the idea after a bit of public criticism this week, as CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora tweeted that the NFL’s competition committee was discussing the possibility of remote coaching.

There is no doubt that this would be a huge advantage for the Browns as Stefanski has been a key reason for the team’s success all season long. Whether he was to call plays from afar or simply be available for input and game-management tips, having his voice heard on the sideline would be a massive positive for the coaching staff.

Next. 3 keys to a Browns victory in Pittsburgh. dark

Neither of these situations has been settled yet, with more information needed to draw anything definitive from these two reports. But despite the lingering uncertainty, the Browns look like they might be on their way to getting the first lucky break they’ve seen in quite some time.

Update: The Browns have now added Harrison Bryant, Ronnie Harrison, and Malcolm Smith to the active roster. Some great news for Cleveland ahead of the big game.