Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry has kept busy these past few weeks working to fill in the gaps on the roster.
The latest move came Sunday with the signing of veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith, which comes in the wake of a knee injury to linebacker Mack Wilson.
With the first game of the season now less than three weeks away, the pickings may be getting slim if Berry wants to add any more players before the final roster cutdown. But that could change if Berry wants to look to the north.
Starting today, players in the Canadian Football League can opt out of their contracts and look for work in the NFL, potentially opening up a large pool of talent:
NFL players who opted out had their contracts toll, receiving a $350,000 stipend (high-risk) or $150,000 salary advance (voluntary). CFL players who opt out would be released outright, with veterans receiving a stipend of $6,600; players who don't opt out get additional stipends.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 22, 2020
The move comes after the CFL made the decision last seek to cancel the 2020 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Any player that opts out will be released by his team and become eligible for a workout with an NFL team.
The idea of the Browns looking to the CFL for help on such short notice sounds a bit fanciful at first, until you realize that the Miami Dolphins signed linebacker Nate Holley over the weekend. Holley is coming off a season that saw him pick up the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award with the Calgary Stampeders.
The Dolphins reportedly had Holley in for a 25-minute workout and immediately signed him to a one-year contract.
Cleveland’s front office is certainly at least as forward thinking as the Dolphins, so here are some players, courtesy of cfl.ca, that could be of interest if they decide to opt out of their contracts:
Mathieu Betts, DL, Edmonton Eskimos (Age: 23) - The Eskimos gushed over Mathieu Betts after drafting him third overall in the 2019 CFL Draft last spring — the Laval product probably would have gone first overall if not for the threat of losing him to the NFL. What matters is he’s here now, and could be a ratio-breaker for a long time in the three-down game after easing into his rookie season with six games and one start. Betts and Kwaku Boateng off the edge give the Eskimos a ton of ratio flexibility.
Kyle Saxelid, OL, Edmonton Eskimos (Age: 24): Pegged as a high first round prospect, UNLV offensive lineman Kyle Saxelid surprisingly fell to the second round (12th overall) for the Eskimos last spring. It worked out well for the Green and Gold, who saw tremendous growth from the 24-year-old in 2019 as he started five games at both guard and tackle, not including back to back starts at left tackle in the playoffs. The versatile 6-foot-7, 290-pound lineman should be a day one starter next season.
Micah Teitz, LB, Saskatchewan Roughriders (Age: 23) - The Riders’ 14th overall pick in 2018, Micah Teitz made his first career start last season, replacing an injured Cameron Judge and recording five tackles in a loss to Calgary. The 23-year-old is highly regarded in Saskatchewan and fits the profile of a future starter, especially if Judge, a pending free agent, doesn’t return next season. Even if he doesn’t earn a starting job soon, Teitz should still make an impact on coverage teams after making 11 special teams tackles in 2019.
Mike Jones, DB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Age: 24) - Despite making just one regular season start, Mike Jones became a fixture in the Bombers’ secondary in the post-season, starting all three games including the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw. The 24-year-old made his presence felt in the Grey Cup, breaking up a key deep ball to Hamilton receiver Mike Jones near the goal line while also adding four tackles and an interception. If Jones can emerge as a regular starter in 2020, a big year could be in store.
Cody Speller, OL, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Age: 25) - Despite playing a backup role the second half of the season, Cody Speller took over the starting centre job in the playoffs and never looked back, helping the Bombers capture the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw. The Blue and Gold boast a ton of Canadian depth on the interior of their offensive line, but it’ll be hard to deny Speller a starting job in 2020, especially with former draft pick Michael Couture pending free agency. After going undrafted, the arrow is pointing up for Speller.
Lorenzo Mauldin, DL, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Age: 27) - A former third round NFL Draft pick, Lorenzo Mauldin should be primed for a bigger role in 2020 after making just one start in his first season with the Ticats. Still, the former Louisville star managed to record three sacks in a rotational role, in addition to forcing a fumble in the Eastern Final vs. the Eskimos. With Adrian Tracy and Ja’Gared Davis both due to become free agents, Mauldin will compete for a chance to start next training camp and has the physical traits to be a star in the CFL.
Robbie Smith, DL, Toronto Argonauts (Age: 22) - One of the most talented prospects in the 2019 CFL Draft, Robbie Smith wasted no time in his rookie season, recording four sacks and a forced fumble in 14 games. Still just 22 years old, Smith has the chance to follow the path of Kwaku Boateng as a ratio-breaker at the defensive end position, and has barely scratched the surface of his potential. The 6-foot-2, 247-pound end out of Wilfrid Laurier should compete for a starting role next training camp.
Jamal Campbell, OL, Toronto Argonauts (Age: 26) - Three years after becoming the draft’s 22nd overall pick in 2016, Jamal Campbell made his first career start at tackle for the Argos in 2019. The York University product never looked back, finishing out the season as the team’s starting right tackle. The Argos have taken a slow, patient approach with the 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle, and it could pay off if he becomes a long-term answer — a potential ratio-breaker to replace departed longtime Argo Chris Van Zeyl.
There is no way of knowing if any of these players will actually opt out of the contracts, so this is all just a bit of fun speculation at this point.
But it may be worth watching the transaction wire in the coming days to see if the Browns show any interest in any players who decide to leave the CFL this year.