With Free Agency and the NFL Draft completed I thought I would look at the Browns roster and how many players are a lock to make it in each position room. Players listed alphabetically before I’m accused of rankings or subtle messages 😉
The first metric I will use is, does the players’ contract makes it highly unlikely they will be cut/traded. If a player costs more to move on than to keep or comes with a heavy dead cap cost then there is a very good chance they remain. This is the best thing for players, it means even if they perform badly at camp they are more likely to stay. I will include each players’ total (cut/trade) dead cap cost. Numbers as always, from Over The Cap.
The second metric for those whose contract doesn’t protect them is, does their skill level mean they are likely a lock for the roster. Beckham is a perfect example, he has no dead cap hit if traded but on the talent, he is a lock for the roster.
I will then list all the remaining players in the room. You might be surprised to see more names here than you assume. There is a lot of talent on this roster so don’t be surprised to see some senior players challenged for a roster spot, especially if someone’s special teams play impresses Priefer. Also day three draft picks are considered locks by many but sometimes bet beaten out by a UDFA, we’ve seen it before and could do again. This article isn’t about guessing the 53 man roster, just looking at how many players are locks to make it already.
Obviously there are always exceptions. It made no sense to move on from Zeitler based on the dead cap on his contract and his talent level but it did happen. The one massive move I could see is Clowney in and Vernon cut but for this exercise, Vernon would be a lock by talent.
How Many Roster Spots?
There has been lots of talk of 55 man rosters for the 2020 season. This isn’t actually the case, below are the confirmed rules as set out in the NFL CBA.
The practice squad will increase from 10 to 12 players. Then in the 2022 season, this will increase again to 14. Some teams will be assigned an additional practice squad player through the International Player program as the Browns previously were with Tigie Sankoh.
The Game Day active roster has been increased from 46 players to 48. Teams must carry a minimum of eight offensive linemen in that 48. I think the league is aware of a lack of quality offensive line talent. By making sure that at least 256 are active every week, it will mean more players are getting solid time to develop.
Team rosters will remain at 53 players. Each week, two Practice Squad players can be elevated. These players can then be signed by another team as all Practice Squad players can be. After the third time they are elevated they must go through the waiver system meaning they can be claimed to other teams Practice Squad before returning to the Browns Practice Squad. This means these two roster spots are likely special teams contributors on game day if that.
Roster By Positions
The first question when looking at roster construction is how many of each position on average make the roster. Here is the NFL average roster after they have been cut down by every team. This shows you the number by year from 2016 to 2019 plus the total average.
Quarterback – 2.5
Lock By Contract: Case Keenum ($8m/$4m), Baker Mayfield ($19.3m/$10.9m)
Lock By Talent:
Battling At Camp: Kevin Davidson ($0m), Garrett Gilbert ($0m)
Teams vary on having either three quarterbacks rostered or they go with two quarterbacks and usually stash one on the practice squad. If either quarterback stands out in camp and shows long term promise expect them to get a spot, my gut says neither will. Berry having spent time with the Eagles is likely to favor a three quarterback roster, so maybe they grab another team’s cut player.
Running Back/Fullback – 4.3
Lock By Contract: Nick Chubb ($2.3m/$1.7m)
Lock By Talent: Kareem Hunt ($0m), Andy Janovich ($1.2m/$0)
Battling At Camp: Brian Herrien ($0m), Dontrell Hilliard ($0m), D’Ernest Johnson ($0m), Benny Lemay ($0m), Johnny Stanton ($0m)
The Browns have two running backs and one fullback locked in. They can then decide if they add one or two more running backs from those listed in camp. This is a wide-open battle where anyone could stand out, special teams will play a massive factor here.
Wide Receiver – 5.7
Lock By Contract: Rashard Higgins (~$0.9m), Jarvis Landry ($17.5m/$4.5m)
Lock By Talent: Odell Beckham Jr. ($11.5m/$0m)
Battling At Camp: Ja’Marcus Bradley ($0.1m), Tony Brown ($0m), KhaDarel Hodge ($0m), J’Mon Moore ($0m), D.J. Montgomery ($0m), JoJo Natson ($0), Donovan Peoples-Jones ($0m), Damion Ratley ($0.1m), Taywan Taylor ($0m)
With Stefanski favoring multiple tight ends, it is likely the Browns have only five wide receivers rostered. If Higgins’ contract is fully guaranteed then those three players will be 100% locked in for roster cut down. We then have an open spot at wide receiver four and one for more special teams’ focus. This is possibly a battle between JoJo Natson and Donovan Peoples-Jones in the return game.
Tight End – 3.4
Lock By Contract: Harrison Bryant (~$0.8m), Austin Hooper ($18.5m/$17m), David Njoku ($1.7m/$1.3m)
Lock By Talent:
Battling At Camp: Pharaoh Brown ($0m), Stephen Carlson ($0m), Nate Wieting ($0m)
We will go above the NFL average at this position and roster four tight ends. Three are fully locked in and then the battle for spots four depends on the focus of the scheme more than quality. There is a chance another name is added to fill a void as the lead blocking tight end on the team.
Offensive Line – 9.0
Lock By Contract: Jack Conklin ($30m/$15m), Chris Hubbard ($4.4m/$3.4m), J.C. Tretter ($12.9m/$4.9m), Jedrick Wills (~$11.9m)
Lock By Talent: Joel Bitonio ($0)
Battling At Camp: Evan Brown ($0m), Drake Dorbeck ($0m), Drew Forbes ($0.2m), Colby Gossett ($0m), Nick Harris (~$0.3m), Kendall Lamm ($0.3m), Malcolm Pridgeon ($0m), Alex Taylor ($0m), Wyatt Teller ($0m), Willie Wright ($0m)
We have five players that are guaranteed locks for the offensive line. After that, there is lots of competition in the room. I would expect four offensive Tackles and five on the interior offensive line. Forbes, Harris, Lamm, and Teller would be the favorites but a rookie can certainly wow them in camp.
Defensive Line – 9.1
Lock By Contract: Andrew Billings ($3.5m/$1.5m), Adrian Clayborn ($2.8m/$1m), Jordan Elliott (~$0.8m), Myles Garrett ($5.1m), Sheldon Richardson ($11.8m/$3.3m)
Lock By Talent: Larry Ogunjobi ($0.2m), Olivier Vernon ($0)
Battling At Camp: Eli Ankou ($0m), Brandin Bryant ($0m), Daniel Ekuale ($0m), Porter Gustin ($0m), Robert McCray ($0m), George Obinna ($0m), Chad Thomas ($0.5m), Jeffrey Whatley ($0m), Trevon Young ($0m), Justin Zimmer ($0m)
On the defensive line, we are likely to see five edge defender and four interior defenders. The interior is all locked in on the roster. Then on the outside, we have the top three spots locked and open practice for the next two. The wildcard here could be a Clowney signing in free agency with Vernon likely being moved on.
Linebacker – 5.9
Lock By Contract: B.J. Goodson ($2.3m/$1.3m), Jacob Phillips (~$0.8m)
Lock By Talent:
Battling At Camp: Solomon Ajayi ($0.1m), Tae Davis ($0m), Jermaine Grace ($0m), Willie Harvey ($0m), Sione Takitaki ($0.7m), Mack Wilson ($0.2m)
Why the NFL average is to hold six linebackers I expect the Browns to have this much lower at five. It is not a strength for the team, so adding more defensive backs and playing a base of nickel/dime is the obvious step. We know that Goodson and Phillips will be roster locks due to contract and draft capital. Takitaki and Wilson should easily make the roster. More due to a desperate lack of talent rather than either being of NFL caliber after year one. The fifth spot will be an open tryout with Special Teams likely being the deciding factor in who makes the cut. The biggest name in free agency remains Nigel Bradham, an upgrade an instant starter for the Browns.
Defensive Backs – 10.0
Lock By Contract: Grant Delpit ($3m), Kevin Johnson ($1m), Andrew Sendejo ($2m/$1m), Denzel Ward ($17.2m/$9.6m), Greedy Williams ($2.8m/$2m)
Lock By Talent: Karl Joseph ($0.5m), Sheldrick Redwine ($0.5m)
Battling At Camp: Elijah Benton ($0m), AJ Green ($0.1m), J.T. Hassell ($0m), Jameson Houston ($0.1m), Robert Jackson ($0m), Donnie Lewis Jr. ($0m), Montrel Meander ($0m), Terrance Mitchell ($0.7m), Jovante Moffatt ($0m), Donovan Olumba ($0m) Tavierre Thomas ($0m)
Teams will carry an average of six cornerbacks and four safeties. I would expect the Browns to carry a fifth safety to compensate for fewer linebackers. With three cornerbacks and four safeties locked into the roster, there will be open spots. Cornerback is a position that teams really struggle to evaluate so expect some movement here. AJ Green is a favorite based on the UDFA guaranteed money he was given and also Terrance Mitchell due to his previous solid performances. Rumors are the Browns could look to trade or cut him, saving $3m, so don’t be surprised.
Special Teams – 3.0
Lock By Contract:
Lock By Talent: Jamie Gillan ($0m), Charley Hughlett ($0)
Battling At Camp: Austin Seibert ($0.2m)
According to PFF, the Browns had the third-best punter last season in the Scottish Hammer. A move very unpopular with the majority of Browns’ fans at the time, moving on from the proven Britton Colquitt who finished fourth. The Browns long snapper finished a respectable seventh according to PFF’s Special Teams grades. The one position here under threat from a UDFA is Seibert who finished a disappointing 30th in PFF’s kicking grades.
It is still far too early to start guessing who will be on the final 53 man Browns roster as we don’t even know who has made the 90-man roster yet. From what we can tell 34 of those players are locked in. The challenge for Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry is to work out who the best remaining 19 players are. Also, they will no doubt be working hard to find other talented players that are free agents or cut by other teams.
I hope you enjoyed the piece, if you have any questions feel free to ask me on Twitter at @JackDuffin, my DM’s are always open.