The Cleveland Browns didn't waste any time starting to make cuts to get down to the 75-man requirement today.
On Sunday, the team announced they'd waived the following players (ClevelandBrowns.com): Jake Anderson, OL; Matt Cleveland, OL; Emanuel Davis, DB; JoJo Dickson, LB; Spencer Lanning, P; Carlton Mitchell, WR; Bert Reed, WR; Jermaine Saffold, WR; Owen Spencer, WR.
That brings the roster down to 80 players. The league requires teams to get to 75 by 4 p.m. Monday.
But even with five more cuts, the real difficult choices don't come down until they have to move from a 75-man roster to the final 53-man by Friday night.
Over recent years, watching the roster cut down to a 53-man team for the Browns probably hasn't kept many fans awake at night, nervously questioning if star talent was slipping through the cracks. And this year probably won't be much different.
But in 2012 there are some notably more difficult decisions facing the Browns' brass than any other time in recent memory.
So let's take a look at six players representing the hardest decisions the Browns may have to make this week.
With LS Christian Yount, K Phil Dawson and P Reggie Hodges guaranteed spots on special teams, that leaves 25 men for offense and 25 men for defense.
Last year, HC Pat Shurmur kept 2 QBs, 3 RBs, 1 FB, 6 WRs, 4 TEs, and 9 OL on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, he kept 9 DL, 6 LBs, 5 Ss, and 5 CBs. (DawgsByNature.com)
Anticipating something similar, on offense the Browns will not be able to keep all of these following players: QBs Seneca Wallace and Thad Lewis, FBs Owen Marecic and Brad Smelley, WRs Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper, and TEs Alex Smith, Evan Moore and Dan Gronkowski.
Going simply off of last year's metrics, the odd men out here, according to rankings in Monday's depth chart (ClevelandBrowns.com), would most likely be Smelley, Wallace and Lewis, Cooper and Gronkowski.
The three toughest guys to lose would be Wallace, Smelley and Cooper.
Smelley and Cooper are tough losses because they were both brought in as complements to the Browns' two 2012 first-round selections RB Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden.
Cooper was Weeden's second-favorite target at Oklahoma State, and Smelley was Richardson's lead blocker at Alabama.
Most fans would probably like to see if those successful collegiate relationships would similarly translate into successful professional relationships.
But the fact of urgency in the NFL doesn't lend itself to too much experimentation and the fact is that both of those guys fall just below the bar on the 53-man pecking order.
Shurmur could of course drop an OL backup and save one of their heads, or get real creative and try to figure out a way to save both.
The best the Browns can hope is that they clear waivers and make it to the practice squad.
While it's been a solid competition for the backup QB spot, the Browns don't have a lot of reason to keep a third-string QB on who they have to pay over $2 million per year, leaving Wallace out.
On this side of the ball, the Browns again face a number of difficult choices, exacerbated by the facts of a few key injuries.
For instance, SS Usama Young has been sidelined most of the preseason while rookie SS David Sims has been flying around the field, making interceptions and generally getting himself noticed.
If the Browns keep five safeties again, they should be able to keep both, with the lineup there consisting of TJ Ward, Eric Hagg, Ray Ventrone, Young and Sims.
Keeping five CBs again, however, is more difficult as rookie Trevin Wade and second-year player James Dockery would be fighting for that fifth spot.
The LB situation is a bit more clear, with starters SLB Scott Fujita, MLB D'Qwell Jackson and WLB Kaluka Maiava solidified, and L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson earning backup roles along with rookie James-Michael Johnson.
But fellow drafted rookie Emmanuel Acho may find himself on the losing end being the odd man out if Shurmur decides to keep only six LBs again.
LDE Jabaal Sheard and RDE Frostee Rucker are good to go. In the middle, Shurmur has DT Ahtyba Rubin and DT John Hughes put in.
Backing up Sheard and Rucker are Juqua Parker and Emmanuel Stephens, respectively.
But this is where it gets tough. Rookie DT Billy Winn has shown enough to make the squad. And it would be a surprise to see the Browns let DT Ronnie Cameron go so quickly after picking him up off waivers from the Chicago Bears.
That leaves Scott Paxson, Marcus Bernard and Brian Schaefering battling for the last of nine spots.
The edge goes to Schaefering simply because Paxson and Bernard, who have both been solid players in the past, are facing injuries. At least in the case of Bernard, it looks serious too.
The three hardest players to lose are Dockery, Paxson and Bernard.
Dockery and Bernard have both flashed intriguing potential in their time in Cleveland. Paxson teamed up with Schaefering to blast and hobble Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger last season.
But the 53-man is a fickle and demanding beast, and these guys—as hard as it is to lose them—just don't look to be above the cusp.
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