Players come and go with any team. Everyone expects that. And sometimes, a young buck develops on the roster of another club who has picked him up and becomes a star player. That is just fate coupled with hard work and perhaps now in the right system.
But it’s another thing to have players who were once roster members of your club that are proven and then suddenly are shipped off – or cut – and become stars with their new teams; while at the same time are players at positions that you need badly.
Here are five former players cashing paychecks from other NFL clubs that the Browns could have used this season - all at positions of need.
5. Right Tackle Zach Banner
The Browns have been plagued by poor play on the offensive line all season. Part of the issues are at both tackles spots, plus right guard. Banner is a huge man standing 6’, 8” while weighing 360 pounds. He is a natural right tackle.
Banner was originally drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft out of USC. While in college, he started 37 games mainly at right tackle. He also played college basketball, so he is an athlete. He made the Colts’ final 53-man roster, but the next day was waived when Indianapolis claimed five players off waivers and subsequently cut five – one of which was Banner.
The Browns claimed him the next day and placed him on the active roster. From there, he played in eight games for head coach Hue Jackson. Against the Detroit Lions, he saw 24 snaps in a 38-24 loss. For the remainder of the season, Banner played offensive line for only three more snaps and 18 plays on special teams as a blocker. In March of 2018, Cleveland cut him.
In the summer of 2018, the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed him and now he is their backup right guard and right tackle, two positions that the Browns have had issues with all year.
Banner plays occasionally, and is a blocker on the punt and field goal units and continually gets more snaps on the offensive line. He has a cult following in Pittsburgh, and the fans love him. Often, he reports in as an eligible receiver on “heavy packages.” His first-team snaps increase in practices each week and the coaching staff views him as a starter in waiting while Banner feels he is ready now. Every time he comes into the game and the stadium announcer states that “number 72 reports in as an eligible receiver” the place goes nuts.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told Banner that one day he would become a $50 million tackle in this league. Just not with the Browns.
4. Cornerback Joe Haden
The plight of Haden from the Browns was a curious move, and is still unexplained fully. Unanimous All-American out of Florida, First Team All-SEC, National Champion, seventh overall draft pick by the Browns in 2010, two-time Pro Bowler, and then after seven seasons with Cleveland, he was cut August 30, 2017.
In 2014, Cleveland signed him to a five-year $68 million extension of which $45 million was guaranteed. Fast-forward to 2017, and now the Browns wanted him to take a pay cut of $4 million annually - to which Haden said no thank you. After several failed attempts to trade the cornerback, despite his talented resume, he was waived. Four clubs immediately gave him offers.
Now, he is one of the veteran leaders of division foe Pittsburgh Steelers. They scooped him up the very same day the Browns waived him and subsequently inked him to a three-year $27 million contract with a signing bonus of $5.75 million. He has started 36 games and has five interceptions, the last one was in Sunday’s game in which the Browns were attempting to drive for the tying touchdown.
The cornerback position for the Browns this season was supposed to be one of the franchise’s strongest units. But Pro Bowler Denzel Ward has struggled recently, rookie Greedy Williams is a roller coaster with his talent, and veteran T.J. Carrie has played spotty.
Haden still plays in the AFC North Division, just not with Cleveland.
3. Right guard Kevin Zeitler
General Manager John Dorsey traded Zeitler for defensive end Olivier Vernon straight up in the off-season. Some reports have stated that the swap was part of the Odell Beckham, Jr. trade while other sources have said it was a separate transaction altogether. Regardless, the right guard situation hasn’t been the same since he left.
Zeitler played like a Pro Bowler. With the Browns he was the highest paid guard in the league. He is extremely durable as evidenced by the fact that he started 71 of 72 games. He worked extremely well with center J.C. Tretter and with the workload shared with left guard Joel Bitonio, Cleveland boasted one of the league’s best offensive line cores. This year, the rightside of the offensive line is in shambles.
And Vernon? When he is in the game he is a force to be sure, but mostly he has been sidelined with various injuries. Plus, he is not playing up to his “elite player” billing. The Browns would have been better off than to simply stand pat and help the offense better protect quarterback Baker Mayfield.
This year, the right guard position has been a turnstile of players, First, it was Austin Corbett’s position to lose, which he did. Then it was possibly rookie Drew Forbes but he became injured. Finally, Eric Kush became the starter but he was decent in pass protection and a horrid run blocker. Currently, Wyatt Teller is the caretaker of the position.
And every Browns’ fan realizes that in this year’s draft, a right guard must be taken at some point. But yet, Cleveland once possessed one of the league’s best.
2. Safety Jabrill Peppers
The Browns’ secondary really misses Peppers. He was a first-round pick in the 2017 draft and came decorated out of Michigan where he was named a unanimous All-American, Heisman finalist, two-time All-Big Ten Team plus the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
He was part of the trade this past off-season that allowed the Browns to obtain wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. Before his departure he was Cleveland’s starting strong safety, punt and kick returner. He quickly became the anchor to the defensive backfield along with the acquisition of Damarious Randall.
In two seasons with Cleveland, he had 136 tackles, one sack, eight pass defenses, and two interceptions on defense.
Now with the New York Football Giants, Peppers is arguably their best defensive player and leads their club in forced fumbles. He already has 76 tackles; which if he were still a Cleveland Brown would make him the second leading tackler behind linebacker Joe Schobert.
More significantly, he is a leader. And as far as Beckham? 57 receptions, 805 yards, a mere two touchdowns and listed as the league’s 28th best receiver. Teammate Jarvis Landry has more catches, more yardage and more touchdowns; which all means OBJ is not even the best receiver on his own team much less the league.
1. Linebacker Jamie Collins
Last season, Collins led the Browns in tackles with 103 just ahead of Schobert’s 102. And then he was abruptly waived. Not traded – outright cut. Now, he is one of the main ingredients in the New England Patriots’ defensive prowess and is considered a stud on their defense. He currently has 61 tackles, six sacks, eight pass defenses, three interceptions, one touchdown, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Originally, Collins was selected by the Patriots in the second round of the 2013 draft. He won a ring in Super Bowl XLIX. Cleveland gave up a third-round pick in a trade for the linebacker/pass rushing defensive end.
Simply put: Collins is a tackling machine. He showed that while in Cleveland, and yet he was shown the door for nothing – no draft picks, no bag of footballs, no Krispy Kreme. So what has Collins done differently in New England? Basically – nothing. He remains a viable defensive force. This year he will receive playoff checks and quite possibly another Super Bowl ring. And yes, he has temperamental and injury issues, but what pass rusher doesn’t?
Add the fact that Cleveland defensive end Olivier Vernon has been injured for most of the year, with Myles Garrett on one side and Collins on the other, the Browns would certainly have one of the league’s most fearsome defensive fronts.
Or least some “Hot donuts now.”