1. Chris Hubbard, the glue for the offensive line
Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard is the “glue guy” of the offensive line. He has started NFL games at tackle, guard, center and tight end. He has the reputation of being extremely intelligent and a quick learner, which compensates for his relatively small size at six-foot-four and 295 pounds.
Former Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley basically brought Hubbard with him from Pittsburgh after Haley took the blame when the Steeler offense started to stall out. Hubbard started every down for the Browns at right tackle in 2018, though in the mind of this observer, he is better suited for a guard position. He is one of the smallest guards in the NFL, which is probably better than being one of the smallest tackles.
He will be a coach somewhere when he retires as an active player, either in college or in the NFL. Hubs is a football lifer, based on everything we know about him.
In the win against the Giants last season, however, he went down with a knee injury that sent him to the Injured Reserve. He tore ligaments in his knee and had a dislocated knee cap that required surgery.
Without knowing the details, guessing is that this is a procedure that can heal by the start of the season. It’s not great that he had a knee injury, but he can probably report for duty and be prepared to start. One problem is that he has Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio and top-rated Wyatt “Pancake Man” Teller ahead of him.
Other problems are that the Browns drafted a young player in the fourth round in James Hudson III. Plus they have center/guard Nick Harris; guards Michael Dunn and Blake Hance who both filled in and looked good against Pittsburgh; and; Drew Forbes who was on the Covid-19 opt-out list last season. The young dudes are coming after his job and they work cheap.
The Browns can recover upwards of $3.7 million if they cut Hubbard. That may be too much money to pay a high-class backup. That means they almost certainly need to restructure his contract or he will be cut. If he is let go, he can go wherever he wants, but the two organizations that know him best are the Browns and the Steelers.
He would likely be welcome to stay if he and his agent can tolerate the concept of a major pay cut. Or, he might have a chance to start for the Steelers, based on their losses to free agency and retirement this off-season. That would suck for the Browns, frankly, but Hubbard has earned the right to move to a more favorable situation. Hubbard has a lot of friends in both organizations.
Bottom line: Hubbard will be successful in coming back, but probably not at his former rate of pay. Everyone has mad respect for Hubbard, but he probably cannot crack the starting lineup here.