The Browns’ have definitely had their issues this year with the majority of their news surrounded around QB Deshaun Watson.
The receiving corps is all banged up. The defensive tackle group is missing veteran presence. The club brought in a new kicker plus a new punter plus a new return specialist, who is now on IR.
The offensive line is considered one of the best in the league. This unit features two Pro Bowlers in guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller. During the off-season, center J.C. Tretter was cut due to his pending $8.2 million salary. With Cleveland being an analytics team, this process says to not pay centers that much but instead get in somebody cheaper.
Which fortunately for the Browns, that somebody cheaper was already on the roster in Nick Harris; a 2020 fifth round pick out of Washington who had been named a Two Time First Team All-Pac 12 recipient.
Harris has been groomed for the starting center position since last training camp. This year, he stepped in admirably and won the position over others in camp. He worked hard and appeared he was able to step into Tretter’s shoes as he was preparing for the season. He had taken literally thousands of practice reps with the first team offense.
#Browns starting center Nick Harris is likely going to need surgery which will end his season, Kevin Stefanski says— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) August 13, 2022
In the Browns first preseason game against Jacksonville, Harris was carted off on the second play of the game with an apparent knee injury. He did not return to the contest.
And now, it appears Harris’ season is done before it even started.
According to Chris Easterling of the Akron Beacon Journal, Harris was slated for an MRI on his injured knee today. That result stated that Harris will likely need season-ending knee surgery.
Since coming to Cleveland, Harris has played sporadically in two seasons with two starts at guard and tackle. He was listed behind Tretter both years as the backup center and played that position in preseason last year, but not in a regular season game.
The backup to Harris is Ethan Pocic who played the majority of the Jaguars game.
Next man up? Or call Tretter?
Pocic (6’-8”, 320 pounds) was a standout center while at LSU where he started 37 games (27 at center, nine at right guard, one at left tackle). He was named First Team All-SEC as well as First Team All-American and made a name for himself at the Senior Bowl. He was also a finalist for the Rimington Trophy given to the nation’s most outstanding center.
“We’re excited to bring Ethan into the mix,” Browns Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry said. “He’s really played, from his time at LSU and into the pros, up and down the offensive line. We always want guys who are versatile, so we think it’ll be a good veteran signing for us.”
He was a second round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2017.He then made the NFL All-Rookie Team where he started five games at left guard and six games at right guard.
Last year he experienced several injury issues including a back issue as well as a knee sprain. Both injuries landed him on IR. He also missed time in training camp with a hamstring injury. He did start the Seahawks final 10 games and earned the highest run blocking grade of his career (76.0) from Pro Football Focus. The veteran center had only one penalty all year.
On the flipside, his pass protection took a hit from 2020 to 2021. Pocic allowed more QB hits and the same number of pressures (18) compared to the season before. His pass protection grade of 43.8 wasn’t pretty and ranked him at #31 out of 33 qualified centers with 500 or more snaps.
Pocic has 40 NFL starts on his resume among five seasons so the experience is there. Although versatile, his tenure at playing center is why the Browns signed him during the free agency period on a one-year deal for $1.1875 million.
Also on the depth chart at center is seventh round draft pick Dawson Deaton of Texas Tech, plus undrafted rookie Brock Hoffman from Virginia Tech.
Deaton (6’-6”, 305 pounds) is very versatile in that he can line up at all five offensive line positions but excels at center. Deaton is a lot bigger than the prototypical center prospect, being listed at 6’6”. His ability won’t necessarily jump off the page, but his consistency will be noticed. The fact he can play all five positions on the offensive line will be valued at the next level when you combine that with his well-rounded ability.
Hoffman (6’-3”, 310 pounds) offers good size, mobility, and experience with sufficient power and foot work. He is a competitive blocker with sufficient body control and has proven to be a reliable player. Solid run blocker that is fluid getting to the next level. Started 46 college games including 32 at the center position.
What would solve this situation is to simply call Tretter and offer him a job. Tretter was paid $9.1 million in 2021 and was due to make $8.2 million in 2022 and count $9.86 million against the salary cap.
Currently, Tretter is unsigned.
It was assumed that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would bring Tretter in when their starting Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen had a knee injury on his own in late July during a team practice period and is expected to miss several months. Then his backup, Robert Hainsey, was carted off the field after suffering a lower body injury on August 10.
While the #Bucs await final word, the fear is Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen has suffered a season-ending knee injury, sources say. A likely frustrating end to his 2022.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 29, 2022
Tampa’s options include internal — Robert Hainsey — or external — JC Tretter, Matt Paradis, Billy Price, etc.
Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted out two weeks ago that sources told him that the Buccaneers were going to sign Tretter. Yet, Tretter remains unsigned and is the best free agent center available over veterans Billy Price or Matt Paradis.
Now that Harris is down and most likely out for the season, shouldn’t Tretter be on GM Andrew Berry’s speed dial?
Perhaps since Tretter was cut from Cleveland, he might be hesitant to play again for the Browns. And if Tampa Bay gets into a bidding war with Berry, Tretter may have better options. The Bucs are one of three NFC clubs that have been linked to playing in this year’s Super Bowl. There is no telling where Cleveland will end up.
Tretter is 31-years old. Maybe he has had enough of football and is ready for what’s next especially since all this time he has been away from the game. He was cut on March 15. But his playing skills were never in question.
Plus with Tampa, Tretter would have the opportunity to play with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. With the Browns, it just may become the flavor of the month under center this year.
It would be great to have Tretter back and would make the most sense for the Browns. He already knows this offense and has a very good bond with his line mates.
Make the call Berry. Make the call, please sir.
Put on your GM hat. What do you do now?
This poll is closed
Start Ethan Pocic
Work the two rookies and see if they are starting material
Offer J.C. Tretter his job back and pay the man