Browns make cuts, but roster still not set
CLEVELAND – It’s misleading to say the Browns announced their final roster cuts Saturday.
Check back soon. There will be more acquisitions and cuts in coming days as general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine tweak the roster in preparation for the season opener a week from today against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following is a breakdown of who’s staying, who’s going, what Pettine is saying and what it all means going forward.
THE MOVES: The contracts of receiver Nate Burleson, linebacker Zac Diles, linebacker Jamal Westerman and running back Chris Ogbonnaya were terminated. Cornerback Isaiah Trufant was placed on injured reserve and will miss the entire season.
Players waived were defensive backs Josh Aubrey and Leon McFadden; defensive linemen Calvin Barnett, Jacobbi McDaniel and Justin Staples; offensive linemen Reid Fragel, Garrett Gilkey, Donald Hawkins, Alex Parsons and Abasi Salimu; quarterback Connor Shaw; tight end/fullback MarQueis Gray; running back Dion Lewis; tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi and receiver Willie Snead.
THE OFFENSE (23): Quarterbacks (3): Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel and Rex Grossman; running backs (3): Ben Tate, Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell; fullback (1): Ray Agnew; receivers (5): Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel and Charles Johnson; tight ends (3): Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray; linemen (8): Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, Joel Bitonio, Paul McQuistan, Martin Wallace and Karim Barton.
THE DEFENSE: (27): Lineman (7): Desmond Bryant, Armonty Bryant, John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Phil Taylor, Billy Winn and Ahtyba Rubin; linebackers (8): Karlos Dansby, Barkevious Mingo, Craig Robertson, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Kirksey, Tank Carder and Eric Martin; defensive backs (12): Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Justin Gilbert, Aaron Berry, Pierre Desir, Robert Nelson, K’Waun Williams, Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson, Jim Leonhard, Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Poyer.
SPECIALISTS (3): Kicker (1): Billy Cundiff; punter (1): Spencer Lanning; long snapper (1): Christian Yount.
THE THINKING: There’s always plenty of speculation in the days leading up to the final cuts, and this year was no different. The suspension of Josh Gordon hovered over the receivers all preseason, forcing coaches to study with discerning eyes a group of unproven players. Farmer loaded up on defensive backs, but would he keep more than eight to 10?
What exactly happened, and why?
A BIT CROWDED: Farmer bought into Pettine’s belief that you can’t have enough defensive backs by keeping 12. Surprises are Williams and Nelson both rookie free agents. They join draft picks Gilbert and Desir to give the secondary a youthful look. There are veterans at the corners in Haden, Skrine and Barry.
“It’s a big part of the system, just with how it’s become such a passing league,” Pettine said. “You need to carry a high number of DBs, especially corners.”
Starting safeties Whitner and Gipson will be joined by steady veteran Leonard, Bademosi and Poyer. The odd man out was Aubrey. Bademosi is strong on special teams and can play corner. Poyer impressed when he was signed late last season, and Leonhard might know the defense better than coordinator Jim O’Neil.
SLIM PICKINGS: You knew it would be bleak at receiver when Farmer didn’t select one in the draft despite knowing that Gordon might be gone. Austin, Hawkins and Burleson were signed, but only Hawkins has stepped up. Austin was quiet after a good start to camp, and Burleson couldn’t stay healthy.
The result is a group of five, which is small by the standards of most teams. Inexperience is a factor with Johnson (no playing time with Browns and Packers last season) and the rookie Gabriel, who edged out Snead.
“Gabriel’s an explosive athlete,” Pettine said. “He’s very strong for his size (5-foot-8 and 172 pounds). He has the ability to get off the line against press, which a lot of times you don’t find with smaller guys. A lot of times, you have to put them off the ball or have him on the move (before the snap).”
Farmer was smart not to include more receivers simply because it’s the normal thing to do. There will be new names on the depth chart, perhaps as soon as today, when wire acquisitions are announced.
RAGS TO RICHES: No one surprised more than Crowell, a rookie free agent from Alabama State. Crowell was dismissed from the University of Georgia’s roster after being arrested on weapons’ charges. He was the SEC Freshman of the Year for the Bulldogs.
Few people talked much about Crowell when camp opened. As the dog days dragged on, he began to surface. He topped off preseason with a 102-yard rushing effort against the Bears, placing his name into consideration for time behind the starter Tate.
“It wasn’t something where he was on the outside looking in and all of a sudden he had that big night,” Pettine said. “He had flashed at practice and was a guy that we knew had that type of ability. But you still have to show it in games, and we had kind of earmarked (the Bears’) game as one where we were going to feature him a little bit more. To his credit, he went out and performed.”
Throw Agnew into the same category as Crowell. He made the jump from Southern Illinois to the NFL as a rookie free agent. Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system requires a solid blocking fullback, something the Browns have lacked for years. Agnew’s value kicking out the unblocked defensive end will accelerate when Manziel runs the read option.
“Ray was another guy that I’d put in that category with Gabriel in the sense that if you watched how he handled himself, you’d never know he was a rookie, especially an undrafted one,” Pettine said. “But he fits our commitment to wanting to run the football. He fits that classic mold where he brings an air of toughness.”
NOT THIS TIME: Gilkey made the roster last year as a seventh-round pick out of tiny Chadron State. He appeared a lock to make the roster this year after sharing first-team reps at right guard with Greco. He could find a spot on the 10-man practice squad.
NOT A SHOCK: There was conjecture that Farmer might keep just three quarterbacks, but that conversation probably lasted all of two minutes. Three quarterbacks are needed, especially in a case where the starter is an unproven veteran (Hoyer) and the backup is a rookie (Manziel).
“Rex has played in this system,” Pettine said. “He’s good for the guys in the (quarterback) room, and he also showed that he can still throw it. That’s the most important thing. He can still play.”
ALWAYS CHANGING: Pettine knows the roster will change before Sunday.
“I think the 53 is always going to be fluid, especially at the start of the season,” Pettine said. “Ray and his staff have done an outstanding job of keeping tabs on the league, and I’m confident they will continue to make any moves that are necessary to give us the best possible 53.”