After an offseason full of front office turnover and roster rearrangements, the Cleveland Browns have now officially made the transition to the 53-man roster phase of the preseason. With just one week remaining before the Browns’ season opener against Miami, the front office is still doing everything in its power to finally put a winning team on the field at the newly-named FirstEnergy Stadium.
Here’s a look at some of the key headlines to take away from the Browns’ recent roster moves.
Throughout all of training camp and the preseason, Brandon Bogotay and Shayne Graham battled it out to see who would emerge as the Browns’ starting kicker. Fans knew that replacing the iconic Phil Dawson would be an uphill battle all along, but now the team has left people scratching their heads by deciding to part ways with both Bogotay and Graham. So, now what?
The notion of punter Spencer Lanning – who made a game-winning 40-yard field goal for the Browns against Chicago this past week – serving double duty during the regular season was quickly dismissed by head coach Rob Chudzinski.
And, although the news that both kickers were released is very odd, expect the Browns to adjust their roster accordingly within the next few days. A few free agent candidates to keep an eye on: Neil Rackers, Dan Carpenter, and Billy Cundiff.
Rookies, rookies, and more rookies
The team did release draft pick Jamoris Slaughter, but the rest of the drafted rookies (Barkevious Mingo, Leon McFadden, Armonty Bryant, and Garrett Gilkey) made the cut. A number of undrafted rookies made the team, as well, including offensive lineman Martin Wallace, linebackers Paul Hazel and Eric Martin, and defensive back Josh Aubrey.
Aubrey has been a frequent play-maker during the preseason, likely earning him a decent amount of regular season playing time in a very young Browns secondary. Obviously, Mingo and McFadden (the team’s top two draft picks) are expected to have the biggest impacts among the team’s first-year players, but look for Aubrey to establish a niche as one of the Browns’ better young players in the defensive backfield.
Also signed to help out fill out the roster were five more undrafted rookies: tight end Marqueis Gray, running back Dennis Johnson, linebacker Brandon Magee, and tight end Keavon Milton.
Besides waiving Bogotay and Slaughter, as well as terminating the contract of Graham, the Browns let a number of other notable players go over the weekend, including wideout David Nelson and defensive lineman Brian Sanford.
Nelson was acquired as a free agent this past offseason after spending his first three seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. Nelson amassed 92 total catches over his first two seasons but only played in one game in 2012 after suffering an ACL tear. The Browns were hoping he could recover well enough from his injury to provide quarterback Brandon Weeden with another promising red-zone target, but the 6-foot-5 Nelson couldn’t stay on the field long enough during training camp or the preseason to convince the Browns that he was worthy of hanging on to heading into the regular season.
Sanford was supposed to be gone two weeks ago, as the Browns attempted to trade the defensive lineman for extra guard depth by acquiring the Seahawks’ John Moffitt. The trade fell through, though, after Moffitt failed a physical. Sanford was one of the odd men out in a crowded Browns defensive line.
Four corners, four safeties
Joe Haden and T.J. Ward are excellent, but the rest of the Browns secondary remains relatively unproven. The Browns did little to ease the concerns surrounding their secondary by releasing Slaughter and only retaining four cornerbacks and safeties each on the “final” roster.
Haden, McFadden, Buster Skrine, and Chris Owens are the only corners listed on the roster. Chudzinski has said that Skrine will enter the season as the starter opposite Haden, which is not something many Browns fans would like to hear. The pickings were slim, though, so hopefully Skrine can serve as at least a stopgap until McFadden has progressed enough to take on a starter’s role.
The four safeties who made the final cut were Ward, Aubrey, Johnson Bademosi, and Tashaun Gipson. Ward and Gipson are the expected starters, although Aubrey could make a push at Gipson’s spot.