Now that Browns training camp is in full-swing, many eyes will be upon which youthful guys the club will retain for development. Many young players, such as DT Danny Shelton and WR Corey Coleman, played quite a bit in their first and second seasons and have since blossomed into productive athletes.
And with this year’s draft crop coupled with several undrafted free-agent hopefuls, it is inevitable that there will be veteran cuts at some point. With some of the vets that will appear on the transaction wire, most fans will simply nod their heads and press on; yet there are those players who were earmarked at one point in time as becoming a key contributor, yet have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another.
What potential veteran players are most likely to get cut by the Browns this year? Let’s take a look.
DE Desmond Bryant
Bryant was an eighth round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2009, meaning the draft is only seven rounds and he was a free-agent signing. Extremely bright with good size (6-6, 310 lbs.), his four-year term with the Raiders provided 106 tackles and 11 ½ sacks. When he tested the free-agent market, the Browns decided those numbers equated to the five-year $34 million contract they offered and signed him to.
With the ability to play inside or outside, his first season in Cleveland netted 12 starts, 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He increased the number of tackles and sacks each of his last two healthy seasons, but is 114 total tackles and 14 ½ sacks worth the money they are paying him?
Now, he is 31 years old and coming off of a season-long injury. Bryant’s cap hit of $4 million is a good reason to cut him loose. If he can’t crack the starting lineup, why exactly would they pay him a $3 million salary just to give other players a blow? Add to the mix him missing the entire 2016 season with a torn pectoral muscle.
The club drafted three defensive linemen this past April including top pick Myles Garrett. The roster is full of younger, cheaper athletes such as Carl Nassib ($840,548), Tyrone Holmes ($540,000) and Jamie Meder ($615,000).
LB Tank Carder
Carder currently excels on special teams and is a valuable asset. But how many clubs reserve roster spots for players that have a single function? Is it worth a cap hit of $1.4 million for a special teams performer?
When Carder was snagged off the Buffalo Bills waiver wire in 2012, the Browns envisioned a talented outside backer who had a good sense for the ballcarrier. He was named the Mountain West Conference’s Defensive Player-of-the-Year his last two seasons and a fierce tackler. “Big role” were words tossed around for this man when the Browns signed him. Needless to say, that has never materialized.
So far, he has only started two games at his natural defensive position but is a mainstay in special teams play. And at age 28, his career clock is slowly clicking away. Yes, he does play LB in games at times, but he isn’t a starter – and its five years later by the way. LB Christian Kirksey is a fine outside LB to be fair, only 24 years old and had 148 tackles last season (good enough for third in the league). If the club is content on a pass situation linebacker who is good on special teams, then maybe they decide that James Burgess is younger and a whole lot cheaper ($465,000).
RG John Greco
When the Browns inked Cincinnati Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler to a five-year $60 million contract this past off-season, the signing placed a target directly on the chest of last year’s starter John Greco.
A former third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, Greco came to the Browns in a trade for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2011. After an injury to starter Jason Pinkston, he started the final 12 games and was ranked as one of the top guards in the NFL. The club then offered him a contract extension worth $1,794,000. Although he has started quite a few games, he has also sustained numerous injuries including a foot injury last season and he also sprained his MCL in 2015 which warranted him being placed on IR.
It would appear his cap hit of $3.075 million might be needed to off-set the higher salaries of starting guards Zeitler ($8.4 million) and Joel Bitoni ($12.238 million). Greco certainly has the talent and could play for a number of NFL clubs, but unfortunately for him the current lineup already has arguably two of the best guards in the league who just happen to be high-priced as well.
CB Jason McCourty
Jason McCourty has had his ups and downs as an NFL cornerback. As a co-defensive captain with the Tennessee Titans, he was once signed to a six-year $43 million contract. When he was released this past April after eight seasons, the Browns decided his leadership and experience would help out younger players such as Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Darius Hillary and signed him to a two-year deal worth $6 million.
The club did draft Howard Wilson in the fourth round out of Houston this year. They were high on what they had seen so far with his top-two corner upside until he fractured his kneecap at rookie minicamp. McCourty, whose brother is Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots, has little chance of usurping either starting CBs Joe Haden or Jamar Taylor.
With his cap hit of $2.344 million and being 29 years old, a non-starting role imminent, plus the emergence of younger players, it is difficult to see the team keeping him unless his mentor aspect and leadership comes through in a productive way or younger players fail to live up to expectations.
QB Kevin Hogan
The Browns have a quagmire of premier talent at the quarterback position. Former USC signalcaller Cody Kessler (6-1, 215 lbs.) is the incumbent, but newly acquired Brock Osweiler (6-8, 235 lbs.) is going to fight for that starting position and could very well be the Day One starter. Add the fact that Cleveland landed Notre Dame’s talented DeShone Kizer (6-4, 233 lbs.) in the second round of last April’s college draft with Kevin Hogan (6-3, 218 lbs.) already on the roster, all that is left to do this training camp is watch the fireworks.
Obviously, the franchise is not going to carry four QBs; and Kizer will probably enjoy sitting back and waiting his turn while learning, holding a clipboard or being inactive each week. Kessler and Osweiler are viewed as starting-caliber players. So, where does that leave Hogan?
Hogan had a stellar career while at Stanford and was a four-year starter. Three times his team won the Pac-12 Championship. He was named Second Team All-Pac 12 his senior season and finished with 9,385 yards, 75 TDs and only 29 INTs. He also rushed for 1,249 yards with an additional 15 TDs. He has the pedigree to succeed on the next level, and he is playing for a head coach who prides himself on quarterback development.
The Kansas City Chiefs took him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, but he was cut before the season opener. The Browns claimed him and instantly placed him on the practice squad.
Last NFL season showed everyone that you need a very capable backup because of injuries to starter Robert Griffin III then his backup Josh McCown. Next was Kessler, Terrelle Pryor and Charlie Whitehurst all taking snaps under center. When Hogan was finally inserted, that was his time to shine as a possible starting QB, but he had limited success with twice as many INTs as TD passes.
Now the club is full of young guys at the QB position including Hogan. If it was just him against Kizer or someone like Whitehurst, his chances would increase. But, Kessler and now Osweiler?
One thing seems a certainty: the only way Hogan remains on the active roster is if the club trades Osweiler or Kessler. And with this league you need a capable backup; so why wouldn’t they simply keep the potential of two starting QBs? Of course with Osweiler’s huge 2017 salary, if he indeed has a tremendous camp (and limits his mistakes) this may mean the club might be able to send him packing for more draft picks and a more friendly cap situation. And Kessler seems to have a stronger arm than he did last year. Hogan is certainly a possibility to again ride the practice squad.
Cap hits for the four QBs are as follows: Osweiler - $16,000,000; Kizer - $899,712; Kessler - $770,246; Hogan - $540,000.
K Cody Parkey
How unlucky do you have to be when you are the starting kicker of an NFL team and then the franchise drafts one of the greatest who ever played? Cody Parkey now knows.
Rookie Zane Gonzalez is an absolute stud at the kicker position. He once booted three 50-yard FGs in one game. He has the capabilities to be the Browns’ kicker for a decade.
Not that Parkey is any slouch. He set rookie kicking records while with the Philadelphia Eagles with 150 points scored in 2014. But a lingering groin injury limited him which eventually placed him on IR. He was eventually beat out by veteran Caleb Sturgis and waived in the last cut down last year. For the Browns, he kicked 20 of 25 FG attempts. Unfortunately, he was the 25th rated field goal kicker in the league last year. Was that the result of playing for an anemic offense or simply not being able to sustain huge numbers over a run of consecutive seasons?
Parkey was also 25th in touchbacks (34) among all kickers. In today’s NFL, you must get this category’s number way up. 59.6 percent of kickoffs is just too many kick runbacks.
Gonzalez is college football’s all-time leader in field goals made and points scored, a four-year starter, unanimous All-American, 75.9 touchback average, and made 92 percent of field goal attempts this past season. He also averaged 9.7 points per game in his career. Unless he has a horrible camp, he should be the kicker of the present as well as the future.
Parkey has a cap hit of $690,000 whereas Gonzalez’ is $487,289.