Tuesday was the NFL’s annual first day of attrition. Teams were required to have their rosters cut down to 75 players by 4 PM EST, ending a dream for many young players and bringing about an ignominious conclusion to the seasons or careers of some veterans.
The Cleveland Browns made their own cuts and – while it would take a particularly soulless individual to not feel some sympathy for the players released – it should be noted that some of the players let go never had a real shot to make the team. If fans were unfamiliar with linebackers Tommy Smith and Kendrick Adams, receivers Dominique Croom and Cordell Roberson, defensive lineman Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, defensive back Vernon Kearney, and tight end Travis Tannahill, they’re forgiven. These players were training camp bodies, plain and simple. The Browns organization surely wishes them all well and hopes that they are able to catch on with another team, but they were clearly never in Rob Chudzinski and staff’s plans.
While the writing was on the wall from an early point for the aforementioned players, some more notable names fell victim to Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner’s axe. Defensive lineman Dave Kruger was signed as an undrafted free agent from Utah in April. That alone does not make him notable, but when you’re the younger brother of the Browns’ most prized offseason acquisition – linebacker Paul Kruger – then you gain at least a modicum of name recognition. The younger Kruger was hampered by a concussion in training camp. Another player whose fate was decided by a head injury was second-year offensive lineman Ryan Miller. The guard, drafted in the 2012 5th round out of Colorado, suffered a scary injury early in training camp that required hospitalization. He was cut on Tuesday, but would still be eligible to remain on the practice squad.
Wide receiver Jordan Norwood was also a casualty of the cruelties of NFL roster rules. A 2009 undrafted free agent from Penn State, Norwood initially signed with the Browns before being cut and joining the Eagles. He spent the 2009 season on their practice squad and earned a three-year contract in January 2010 before being waived in September, after which he returned to Cleveland. In the three seasons since, he has seen limited action on offense and on special teams, compiling 36 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown as well as four punt returns for an 8.8 yard average. Last year’s additions of two new receivers who play a similar role in undrafted rookie Josh Cooper – a teammate of Brandon Weeden’s at Oklahoma State – and third round pick Travis Benjamin from Miami (FL), as well as the acquisition of Davone Bess this offseason to play in the slot, made the diminutive and injury-prone Norwood expendable. This year, he has missed the last two preseason games with a hamstring injury. Norwood was cut on Tuesday, but has already found a new home with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who signed him Wednesday afternoon.
While Norwood had the most experienced, he is not the most shocking – and joyous – cut that the Browns made this week. Yes, what I’m talking about is Owen Marecic Liberation Day. August 27, 2013 will forever by a day when I remember the grass being just a littler greener and the sky being just a little bluer. I have previously made my feelings about Marecic clear in this space. He couldn’t catch frostbite at the South Pole in shorts and wasn’t a particularly talented lead blocker. Since those are the two main functions of a fullback in Norv Turner’s offense that loves pass-catching backs, it became untenable to keep him on the roster. Teams almost never keep two fullbacks on the roster and Marecic was quickly passed by converted running back Chris Ogbonnaya in training camp, so he had to go. I would wager that the number of Browns fans upset at this move approaches the number who hold Art Modell in high esteem. The Browns are a better football team today for Marecic’s absence.
One late cut came Wednesday as the Browns waived Trevin Wade, a cornerback drafted in the 2012 seventh round. He appeared in 13 games last season, recording 17 tackles, but the combination of Chris Owens, Leon McFadden and a shoulder injury stamped his ticket out of Cleveland.
While Marecic’s release was a positive step for the Browns backfield, all the news was not good for the running game. In a highly unexpected move, running back Montario Hardesty was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday. Hardesty injured his thumb during training camp and then underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on August 15 that ended his season. He was initially expected to miss only two or three regular season games, but suddenly that number ballooned to 16 with the IR announcement on Tuesday.
Hardesty was drafted in the second round back in 2010 but has never lived up to that high pick. Injuries have hampered him at every turn of his career. He missed the 2010 season after tearing his ACL in the offseason then was slowed by a calf injury for half of the 2011 season. This trip to the IR is the just the latest blow to the once promising back, who was drafted two coaches ago and is looking at a steep uphill battle to make the Browns roster in 2014.
The Browns also lost Dion Lewis to injured reserve as he recovers from a fractured left fibula. The fact that the leg was fractured instead of broken gave the team some hope that he could potentially be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and return for Week 7, but the surgically repaired leg will take longer to heal.
With these two losses, the Browns will be left with journeyman Brandon Jackson and Ogbonnaya, who will see most of his playing time at fullback, as the primary backups to Trent Richardson. Undrafted rookie Miguel Maysonet out of Stony Brook remains on the roster, but the Browns may sign another back as teams cut their rosters down to 53 by the league-imposed deadline of this Saturday.
After cutting down the roster Tuesday, the Cleveland front office added two new faces to their roster of 75 allowed by the NFL. The Browns were awarded Paul Hazel (formerly of Jacksonville) and Colton Schmidt (San Francisco) off waivers. Both are undrafted free agents from the 2013 draft class.
Hazel, 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds, is an outside linebacker out of Western Michigan University. A two-sport athlete while at WMU, he also saw action for the Broncos basketball game. Thus far in Jacksonville’s preseason he has recorded four tackles.
Schmidt (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) is a punter signed by the 49ers out of the University of California-Davis. In three preseason games with San Francisco, he had four punts for an average of 50.3 yards (47.0 yards net), including two that he downed inside the 20.
After releasing Wade on Wednesday, Cleveland signed waived Saints linebacker Eric Martin, an undrafted rookie from Nebraska. He is expected to be available for Thursday’s preseason finale in Chicago against the Bears.
Starters To Sit
Rob Chudzinski announced Wednesday that most of the Browns starters would not take the field during the Browns fourth preseason game against the Bears. Brandon Weeden will be wearing a hat on the sidelines while Jason Campbell gets the start. Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin will start at receiver, and offseason acquisition David Nelson will also see his first preseason action after missing time to recover from the torn ACL that cut his 2012 season short.
Oniel Cousins will make his case to start the season at right guard. He will play that spot on Thursday. With injuries to Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao, Cousins and rookie Garrett Gilkey figure to be the competition to start at right guard.
On defense, end Billy Winn and outside linebacker Quentin Groves were the only two regular contributors Chudzinski mentioned who would see significant action.
Spencer Lanning and the newly acquired Schmidt will share the punting duties. Schmidt will hold for field goals and extra points as well as handlin