Offensive lineman John Greco has been a fixture for the Cleveland Browns since his arrival in 2011. He has been a starter for the majority of the games he has appeared in beginning in 2012 and has served as both guard and center, sometimes by design and sometimes because injuries or poor performance has forced him into the lineup. But the 32-year old is not guaranteed to remain with the Browns for the 2017 season.
Greco’s situation is a common one in the NFL—he’s a veteran coming off of an injury, he’s staring down a roster of younger and newer players who are ready to take his job, and he’s doing so in a contract year. A season ago, his 12 games played were all starts, with Greco working at right guard as well as center. However, the Browns have added two free agents at both of those positions, with Kevin Zeitler now Cleveland’s starting right guard and J.C. Tretter as their center.
As such, Greco is the odd man out, relegated to a depth role should he manage to keep his job at all.
The main concern is Greco’s injury status; he spent last week’s OTAs on the stationary bike, not a good sign that the Lisfranc injury to his foot that landed him on injured reserve last November is 100 percent healed. For Greco to play out the final year of his contract will depend heavily on the status of his health.
On one hand, the Browns should view Greco as highly valuable. With an offensive line that is still a work-in-progress—we’ve yet to see how the Tretter and Zeitler additions will affect or improve what was one of the league’s worst in both run-blocking and pass-protection in 2016—Greco’s continued presence on the roster gives the team a stable, experienced option.
His versatility is also an asset; should Tretter, Zeitler or left guard Joel Bitonio suffer any injuries this year, Greco would be an easy plug-and-play without much of a quality downgrade. Cleveland gave up 66 sacks a season ago, but only four were attributable to Greco and he has long shined as a run-blocking guard according to Pro Football Focus’ grades.
Financially, however, the Browns don’t have an incentive to keep Greco rostered in 2017. Greco signed a four-year, $6.42 million deal in 2013. Though his cap hit this year will be $3.075 million, none of that is part of the guaranteed-money portion of his contract. Releasing him would thus save the team that money while costing it nothing in dead cap cash. The Browns aren’t a cash-poor team and would not likely cut ties with Greco for economic reasons; however, Greco’s present contract situation does give the Browns a financially painless out should releasing him be of greater interest than keeping him.
Ultimately, Greco’s standing in Cleveland this season will depend on his health. The Browns should have no problem with retaining a veteran offensive lineman who has been in Cleveland as long as Greco has, given his experience as a starter and his ability to play multiple positions. But Greco will need to get off the bike and back on the field for that to happen.
The Browns may need what Greco can provide, but Greco can only provide it when healthy. Cleveland has a lot of young players who have been drafted over the last two years and want to retain as many of them as are worthy. Thus, the Browns’ roster spots are not only finite but precious. “The best ability is availability,” is the football cliche to keep in mind when it comes to Greco’s chances to stick in Cleveland for 2017.