The Cleveland Browns have their final 53-man roster for 2020 set, and, as always, there were some surprises, both in players who made the team and those who did not. The current global situation has changed many things about this past offseason, but Sunday finally marks the beginning of a new 16-game schedule for the Browns. Let’s look at some of the most impactful decisions that general manager Andrew Berry just made.
How does the Brown roster shape up on offense in 2020?
There wasn’t much surprise on the offensive side of the ball. The team initially kept five tight ends but waived Pharaoh Brown on Sunday to make room for edge rusher Joe Jackson. Austin Hooper is entrenched as the starter, and despite plenty of unfounded trade talk, David Njoku is primed to have a potential breakout year. Head coach Kevin Stefanski loves his tight ends, which is why, despite not intending to draft one, the Browns could not pass on Harrison Bryant in the fourth round. The rookie was named Cleveland’s most outstanding training camp player and should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact.
Stephen Carlson is the team’s fourth-string TE, and while he doesn’t offer much in terms of blocking, he showed flashes in limited playing time last year. He played wide receiver at Princeton, and that background is apparent when watching him play.
Evan Brown as the backup swing interior offensive lineman
Cleveland decided to go with nine offensive linemen. Four are tackles, two are guards, and three are listed as centers. Evan Brown also practiced at guard during training camp and will serve as the team’s swing interior OL. With J.C. Tretter’s status for Week 1 still in doubt, Brown will need to be ready at a moment’s notice if anything were to happen to rookie Nick Harris.
What does the defensive side of the roster look like for the Browns in 2020?
Two waiver claims add depth on the defensive line
Only 17 players were claimed off waivers after final cuts, a number way down from years past. It’s easy to see why; teams have minimal film of other organizations’ players, and unknowns are risky. Still, the Browns managed to add two defenders, at least one of which should play a key role.
Jackson was a fifth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and was reliable in limited action. At Miami, he was a much better pass-rusher than Chad Thomas, whom the Browns just moved on from. Jackson isn’t a great athlete, but his collegiate production is encouraging. As the fifth rusher, he likely won’t see the field too much but is presumably an upgrade over Thomas, who could not do much in two seasons.
Vincent Taylor is a more exciting player. A 2017 fifth-rounder, he spent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins and one with the Buffalo Bills. He’s never been a full-time player, but his limited snaps have been impressive. The Bills are incredibly deep on the defensive line and couldn’t afford to roster a sixth defensive tackle. Taylor will fill the nose tackle role for the Browns and will likely see the field more in obvious run situations and down by the goal line. He will provide good depth this season with an excellent chance to stick around long-term.
The Browns sprung a surprise in keeping six linebackers
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods has previously stated that he envisions eventually using the dime package (One linebacker and six defensive backs) as his base look. That isn’t likely to happen in 2020, as the Browns don’t have the personnel just yet. A base nickel look, on the other hand, was expected. That would indicate the team keeping only five or perhaps even four LBs, but the Browns are rostering six.
Mack Wilson may end up being placed on short-term injured reserve, which would sideline him for at least three weeks. NFL teams were able to start putting players on IR beginning at 4 PM Eastern on Sunday, but at the time of writing, the Browns have yet to make a move there.
Both Donovan Olumba and A.J. Green cut
The Browns thought highly of Green, making him the highest-paid undrafted free agent in NFL history. This would have seemed almost to guarantee him a roster spot, but that was not the case. Despite a strong camp that earned the praise of Denzel Ward, Green was waived on Saturday. He went unclaimed and is now on the practice squad. He’ll likely see game action at some point this year.
Donovan Olumba had a stellar camp, punctuated by a great pass breakup in the end zone during Friday’s scrimmage. Many expected either Green or Olumba to make the final roster, but neither ended up sticking.
Therefore, only 10 defensive backs were retained on the Browns roster
With both Green and Olumba waived, the Browns roster for 2020 currently has just six cornerbacks and four safeties. It’s still possible this number could increase, but right now, it’s very odd. Kevin Johnson, Greedy Williams, and M.J. Stewart have all missed time with injury, and the full extent of Johnson’s lacerated kidney is still unknown. Again, given the defensive scheme the Browns are running, having just 10 DBs is strange. Perhaps the Grant Delpit injury forced the team to reevaluate completely, but that seems unlikely.
In the event of a roster spot opening up, the secondary would seem to be the obvious place to add some depth. Olumba was not claimed, and as of now, has not signed with any team’s practice squad, meaning he could return to Cleveland if the opportunity were to present itself.
In other news…
The Browns were also reportedly working on a blockbuster deal Saturday night that would have been the first of its kind, bringing the sign-and-trade strategy from the NBA to the NFL. Cleveland would have signed pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year $15 million deal, paid him a $5 million signing bonus, and then traded him to the New Orleans Saints for a second-round pick. It’s very similar to what the Browns did in 2017 with Brock Osweiler, which netted them the selection that turned into Nick Chubb.
The league would have apparently vetoed the trade, which is why it didn’t end up happening. It’s clear that Andrew Berry will leave no stone unturned in his quest to turn this roster into a Super Bowl-caliber team, and Browns fans should be thrilled to have one of the most brilliant young minds in the game at the helm.