Making the Call on the Cleveland Browns' Hardest Camp Cuts
The Cleveland Browns are two games into the preseason and have less than a week to cut their roster down to 75 players. This is a tense time around practice.
Head coach Mike Pettine has named Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback and whoever else starts on Saturday against the St. Louis Rams is safe. Everyone else needs to fight on every snap like it’s for their job.
The fringe is where you will find the hardest personnel decisions. It is there that you will find guys who could probably play for many teams in the NFL but whether they find a place with the Browns in 2014 is right now very much up in the air.
Let’s take a look at five guys who will be very tough for the Browns to cut.
There is an old saying in the NFL: You can’t make the team from the trainer’s table. Wide receiver Nate Burleson is trying to become the exception to that rule.
The 12-year veteran has had two injury-riddled seasons leading into this year and now is battling yet another hamstring injury. If it weren’t for the fact that no one else has stepped up at his position, Burleson would be as good as gone.
Instead, the Browns will continue to wait and hope he can hit the field at some point during the preseason. Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer thinks the Browns will hang on to him more for his influence off the field than his production on it:
As long as Burleson is ready for the opener, the Browns need to hang on to him. What's more, he's a great locker room guy and mentor to the young receivers. The Browns contemplated signing former Jets and Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes, but he agreed to terms with the Bears on Saturday.
Burleson will make it through the first round of cuts, but if the Browns can find anyone else halfway decent that was let go by another team, then he will be packing his bags. If he gets cut in Cleveland I wouldn’t be surprised if Burleson calls it quits on his career.
The fact that we even have to discuss MarQueis Gray possibly being cut has to be a major disappointment to the Cleveland coaching staff. It gave Gray every opportunity to make the team and be a major contributor and he has failed to grab the bull by the horns.
Gray started camp as the first-string fullback and got the most reps and targets of anyone on the offense in the first preseason game. On Monday night against Washington, he was targeted three more times. He caught two passes for 29 yards but fumbled and was removed from the game.
This has opened the door for a more traditional fullback, Ray Agnew, to make the team. He is now listed as the starting fullback.
Gray will not make the team and it will have more to do with numbers than his talent. Gray can play in this league and someone will pick him up. Unfortunately he has not made himself undependable and the Browns are going to have to carry extra depth at positions of weakness elsewhere on the roster.
Despite the fact that Ray Agnew is listed as the first-team fullback, he is not safe. It will all depend on what Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan wants in his offense.
Does he want a traditional, power fullback like Agnew or a versatile weapon like MarQueis Gray?
Gray has fallen behind both Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray on the tight end depth chart but could still snag the roster spot ahead of Agnew because he is able to play multiple positions.
The fullback position has been dying for some time in the NFL and for a traditional blocker to make a team these days he better be very good at what he does. So far Agnew has been impressive but could end up being the victim of a roster that will need to carry extra bodies at wide receiver and on the defensive line.
Agnew will make the roster because Shanahan tends to lean towards traditional fullbacks. Agnew has shown that he is an above-average blocker, and the offense will need him to help the line which has struggled this preseason.
Coming into training camp the Browns had one of the most talented running back rooms in the NFL. A major reason for that was undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell who was just oozing with talent.
While he has gotten plenty of reps in training camp, it has not translated into reps during the preseason games. In the NFL, that is never a good sign.
Crowell did not play in the first preseason game and got just two carries for three yards against Washington. The third preseason game will feature the starters for an extended period of time and that means he probably won’t have many opportunities then either.
Time is running out and Crowell might have to make a huge impression in the very few carries he does get if he wants to make the team.
Verdict: It seems as though the Browns like Chris Ogbonnaya more than they like Crowell at this point. It is mind-boggling considering the natural talent that Crowell has but that doesn’t always translate into the classroom. If Crowell is struggling in the running backs room and with the playbook then it would explain the lack of playing time he is receiving.
It sounds odd that a guy who was drafted in the third round just one offseason ago could be on the chopping block, but it is true. That is what happens when there is a new general manager and coach in the building.
Cornerback Leon McFadden looks like he would definitely be the odd man out in the cornerback race this training camp. The team drafted Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir at his position, and he apparently did not fit the body type this regime likes for his position.
Fortunately for McFadden, he has been the beneficiary of extra playing time in preseason. Gilbert has missed time in camp. Desir has as well. And now Buster Skrine had to undergo surgery on his thumb. McFadden got a ton of reps on Monday night against Washington and played fairly well.
He has had five penalties through the two games, but then again, new rules have encouraged NFL officials this preseason to throw flags on defensive backs all around the league.
Mcfadden will be one the hardest cuts on the team, but I still think he will have to find a new home. If Skrine can play Week 1, then McFadden will probably be gone. His best hope is that Desir starts the season on the PUP list or IR. Then he could still make the team.