Ethan Pocic is Browns answer at center, not J.C. Tretter

Browns, Ethan Pocic. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Browns, Ethan Pocic. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Browns like Ethan Pocic enough that they will probably not bring back their former starter J.C. Tretter, who is still a free agent. 

The Cleveland Browns were dealt a nasty blow in their first preseason game when starting center Nick Harris suffered a right knee injury that will end his season. The immediate thought flashed through every dawg’s mind that it was time to call Jared Fox of SportStars, the agent who represents J.C. Tretter, the longtime star center for the Browns who is still a free agent.

Cleveland got great play from Tretter over the years, but they felt that they would rather save $8.2 million in cap space and part ways with the 31-year-old center. This fan believes that Tretter is the individual who more than anyone else helped the NFL establish a workable Covid policy that saved the 2020 season.

However, that’s old news. History may look on Tretter kindly, but at any moment in time, the truth is nobody really likes to have the NFLPA president on their team. He is perceived to be the center of controversy who spreads discontent in the locker room.

Without Harris, the Browns still have another solid option in Ethan Pocic who is a very credible player. He was a former second-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks and has 40 NFL starts in five years. He ranked somewhere in the middle among NFL starting centers according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed two sacks last season and committed one penalty. The Browns can probably live with that.

Pocic is the best option, but he’s not the only option. Brock Hoffman, a rookie from Virginia Tech, was buried in the depth chart, but popped up somehow to play 27 snaps (49 percent of the offensive snaps) and performed credibly well, especially as a pass blocker. Let’s keep an eye on him this preseason.

Although Pocic and Hoffman are the only healthy true centers on the roster for the moment, everybody and his brother has at least some experience at center, including nominal guards Drew Forbes, Blake Hance, Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Dunn, and Dawson Deaton. Forbes has nearly disappeared from view after being injury-riddled the past few years, but he and Froholdt both played more than 50 percent of the offensive snaps.

Froholdt, incidentally, was a fourth-round pick of the Patriots, so he’s not just a random guy. At any rate, that makes them eight deep at center. It’s not time to panic and send out an SOS for a high-priced 31-year-old veteran center.

From the Browns point of view, Tretter and the NFLPA are the villains for granting the Commissioner way too much power to decide moral discipline in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. If you step back and forget the Browns’ quarterback for a minute, the Commissioner has been granted unilateral power to meddle in a lawsuit in a civil court against an NFL player.

Before that lawsuit is concluded, the NFL can conduct its own investigation on behalf of the plaintiff(s) and can assess penalties and fines (giving the money to itself, rather than the plaintiffs) even though there are no specific rules that govern these penalties and fines. The intention is to show the world that the NFL is making sure that its players are a group of highly principled young men.

However, in reality, to many outside observers, it’s an illogical system and seemingly grants almost unlimited power to one person over the livelihood of the employees of the organization. Like, is it legal to establish a kangaroo court of this magnitude just because they have conceded it in the CBA?

At any rate, although the Haslams have generally been out in front in terms of labor relations, they may not be all that anxious to have Andrew Berry bring Tretter back to the Browns.

In addition, Tretter’s unique methods concerning practice (or lack of it) during the season may not sit well with the coaching staff. In recent years he has developed the unorthodox strategy of sitting out from most of the practices during the week in order to stay fresh for the games. It seems to have worked well for him personally.

He didn’t miss a snap for the Browns until Covid got him, and he played at a very high level. He has never been selected for the Pro Bowl, but he has been consistently in the top-10 according to Pro Football Focus. However, teams need to have regular practice, and not having the starting center available during the week was perhaps frustrating for the Browns.

Hence Cleveland might be right that $8.2 million might be too much to spend if other, younger players can do an adequate job at center and ultimately help them fit a $55 million per year quarterback within their salary cap starting next year. Hence Harris and Pocic, who carries a $1.1 million dollar cap hit this season, are much better values.

The reflex to run out and sign an expensive star when something goes wrong is probably not the right answer, especially when there are in-house options. There’s no reason to panic and assume that all candidates are unacceptable.

Tretter is a compelling character and this fan will continue to follow his career in the NFL and when his playing days are over, but it doesn’t appear that there’s a good match with the Browns at this point. The torch is being passed to Ethan Pocic. Run with it, kid.

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