Despite apparent depth issues at wide receiver, the Cleveland Browns released three-year veteran Greg Little Friday, the Browns announced.
The Cleveland Browns have released WR Greg Little— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) May 16, 2014
ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the news Friday morning.
Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports provided reports a reason behind Little's release:
For the "do you watch Browns games" crowd, sources say the Browns parted with Little in part because of character concerns. Bye now.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) May 16, 2014
The Browns are in the midst of a total organizational change with new general manager Ray Farmer and new head coach Mike Pettine now running things. The transformation continued with Little's surprising release.
After racking up at least 647 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, Little's production took a hit in 2013 as he finished with just 465 yards. That may have had something to do with the quarterback carousel that saw Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer play hot potato with the starting job, but Little wasn't given the benefit of the doubt.
The decision to cut Little is particularly curious due to the uncertainty surrounding star receiver Josh Gordon. According to T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN, Gordon faces a possible year-long suspension stemming from a failed drug test.
As pointed out by Schefter, the Browns braced for that possible reality by signing Miles Austin and Earl Bennett:
So instead of throwing to Josh Gordon and Greg Little, Browns QB Johnny Manziel will be throwing to Miles Austin and Earl Bennett.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 16, 2014
After those signings, Pettine seemed comfortable with what the Browns have at the position, per Tom Reed of Cleveland.com.
We're confident that we have a plan. The situation didn't call for panic. That's something that we weren't going to do. The league obviously prohibits me from speaking on that specifically but, just in general, I know that I agree with Ray 1,000 percent, we have to build this team so that no one player drives the ship. That we can be insulated losing players for extended periods of time potentially is part of the game.
Austin has been great in the past, but he has been hampered by injuries, while Bennett has never proved to be more than a depth receiver. Cleveland also has veteran receiver Nate Burleson on the roster, but he is recovering from a broken arm.
With so many issues surrounding the Browns' receiving corps, Scott Petrak of the Medina Gazette commented that Little's release was essentially an indictment from the franchise:
New #Browns regime really must not have liked Greg Little. Gordon and burleson question marks, but still release him.— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) May 16, 2014
Having selected former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 22nd-overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, it is entirely possible that the Browns will start the season with a rookie signal-caller under center.
Is cutting Greg Little a smart decision by the Browns?
Johnny Football will have to beat out Hoyer, but he certainly has the talent to do so. Unfortunately for Manziel, a skeleton receiver crew of Austin, Bennett and perhaps Burleson is what awaits him. Tight end Jordan Cameron would become Manziel's favorite target in all likelihood.
It is true that Little failed to live up to his second-round billing and he regressed last season, but it is difficult to not question this choice.
Little may ultimately catch on elsewhere, however, the Browns took away his opportunity to prove that he can be a quality starting NFL receiver. Little may not be a top-flight receiver by any means, but the Browns will be hard pressed to find a better option at this juncture.
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