JULY 28th: The Browns officially announced that Bryant has been ruled out for the season. To fill his roster spot, Cleveland signed tight end David Reeves.
JULY 13th: The Browns announced that Bryant will be forced to miss the 2016 season due to his pectoral injury.
JULY 12th: The Browns appear to have lost one of their best defensive players for the duration of the 2016 season, as defensive lineman Desmond Bryant underwent surgery today to correct a torn pectoral muscle, according to Anthony Lima of CBS Cleveland/92.3 The Fan (Twitter link). Given that he’s facing a five-to-six month recovery, Bryant is likely to miss the entire 2016 campaign.
Bryant, 30, had been expected to start at defensive end under new coordinator Ray Horton, but his absence will now open the door for younger players to see more snaps. Xavier Cooper, who appeared in 14 games last season but started none, is a candidate for an increased role, as are John Hughes and rookie pass-rusher Carl Nassib. The Browns had hoped that Nassib would add weight this summer in order to slide inside on passing downs, but with Bryant out of the picture, Nassib could see more snaps on the outside immediately.
Cleveland’s defense couldn’t afford any more losses, as the club had already ranked 29th in defensive DVOA in 2015 before losing starters Tashaun Gipson, Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby, and Craig Robertson over the past few months. Bryant, for his part, was likely the best player remaining on the defense outside of cornerback Joe Haden, as he led the Browns in sacks last season with six. Pro Football Focus assigned Bryant a middle-of-the-pack rank among interior defenders, though he did grade much better as a pass-rusher than against the run.
Bryant is signed through the 2017 season, but the Browns can easily get out of his contract once he gets healthy. Bryant is due a $7MM base salary in 2017, and will only have $1MM remaining in signing bonus proration. Therefore, if Cleveland doesn’t think Bryant is going to be worth his salary next season, it can release Bryant and save $6MM against the salary cap.
For a majority of clubs in the NFL, the loss of a starter would spur a search of veteran free agents still left on the board, but that isn’t a calculation for the Browns. In the midst of a full-scale rebuild, Cleveland has no incentive to replace Bryant with an experienced player, both because the club is better served letting its young options see more playing time, and because adding a veteran won’t help the club’s long-term development (even if it would make the team a bit better in the present).
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