Pryor got the nod over training camp and preseason standouts Darius Jennings and Josh Lenz, with the former heading to the Browns' practice squad and the latter being cut outright. He also earned a spot over 2015 fourth-round draft pick Vince Mayle.
He did this after missing the majority of the Browns' training camp and preseason games with a hamstring injury. And when he did make his debut in Cleveland's fourth preseason contest against the Chicago Bears, he did not appear until the second half. He had zero passing targets, instead taking two direct snaps in the Wildcat, earning him nine rushing yards. He also worked as the personal punt protector.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine acknowledged before final roster cuts that hanging on to Pryor would be an embarking into the unknown, saying, per Mary Kay Cabot of Northeast Ohio Media Group:
It is a project to take a guy that has played quarterback for the vast majority of his football career. Even if he had stayed completely healthy, I don't know if we would have all the results in or feel 100 percent comfortable. Even if he had gone the whole time and not gotten injured, it certainly it would be a leap of faith.
But ultimately, Pettine, his coaching staff and general manager Ray Farmer chose to take that leap of faith and retained Pryor's services for 2015. And that leap had better pay off.
The Browns don't lack for receivers. They have Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel to handle the bulk of the receiving duties until the coaches deem Pryor ready for on-field work. And other receivers could be added to the roster as the season unfolds.
But it cannot be denied that NFL roster spots are a finite resource, and giving a spot to an untested commodity like Pryor means taking one away from either another receiver who would have otherwise taken it or another position that may prove to need more attention.
Pryor himself said that he wanted to make the Browns roster not based on his potential, but by earning it, per Cabot. Yet Pettine did acknowledge on Monday that potential was the driving factor on the decision, saying in his press conference, per ClevelandBrowns.com:
That spot is largely because of his potential, but as the season goes on, I mean it's sooner than later that that's going to have to translate, that's he's going to have to be a productive member of this team. You walk that fine line between 'Hey, we think this guy can do it,' but as we all know, the NFL is a win now business and we need our players to be productive.
It's clear that Pryor's roster spot isn't cemented in stone for the duration of the 2015 season. If he cannot eventually prove to be productive, he will give way to someone else who can actively help the team, if Pettine's Monday comments are correct.
But the Browns need playmakers immediately, not a high-upside athlete who may or may not get to that point in an as-yet-to-be-determined time frame. Yes, Jennings is on the practice squad, but he could be signed away at any moment by a team that would like him on its 53-man roster—not a far-fetched hypothetical considering Jennings has proven kick and punt return capabilities.
Lenz, while currently unclaimed, could at least contribute to Cleveland's offense much more quickly than Pryor. He caught all seven preseason passes thrown his way and does not have to learn the smaller, fundamental nuances of the position in the same way Pryor does.
And even if the Browns do not view Lenz or Jennings as highly as outside observers do, there's also the matter of the team's thin offensive line depth or other roster needs that could have been addressed without having Pryor be the team's sixth or seventh (of seven) receivers.
There is room to gamble on an NFL roster, but it is also a luxury for teams like the Browns that are trying to improve in the win column in both the short and long terms. Cleveland may believe that Pryor can do the latter, at the very least, but if he cannot assist in the former, the Browns might just have wasted a roster spot on a project for nothing.