Harrison Bryant

Denzel Ward To Miss Wild-Card Game

The Browns’ uphill battle in their first playoff game in 18 years became steeper Saturday. The team announced it will be without top cornerback Denzel Ward in Pittsburgh.

Ward will remain on the Browns’ reserve/COVID-19 list. So will fellow starting cornerback Kevin Johnson, who also tested positive last week. Both missing last week limited a Browns secondary in a game when Mason Rudolph threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

Based on his timeline, coronavirus protocols would have allowed Ward to suit up against the Steelers. But this would have required Ward being asymptomatic and passing the necessary tests. The third-year corner has not hit the necessary checkpoints, which will leave the Browns shorthanded Sunday night. The NFL found some COVID-19 spread within the Browns but did not move to postpone the AFC North playoff matchup.

However, the Browns will have some players back for their Steelers tilt. The team activated safety Ronnie Harrison, linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant from its virus list. Harrison tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, but the NFL deemed it a false positive, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. Browns corner Terrance Mitchell was held out of practice Friday after testing positive, per Cabot, but that has also since been deemed a false positive.

The returns of Harrison, Smith and Bryant leave Ward, Johnson, Joel Bitonio and KhaDarel Hodge on Cleveland’s COVID list. Several coaches, however, will miss the game. Kevin Stefanski, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, assistant O-line coach Scott Peters, tight ends coach Drew Petzing and DBs coach Jeff Howard are out Sunday night. After coaching the Browns’ wide receivers last week, first-year Cleveland assistant Callie Brownson will coach tight ends this week, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets.

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Latest On Browns’ COVID-19 Situation

The Browns’ COVID-19 situation will keep at least four players out of their crucial Week 17 game. Linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant are the players who tested positive for the coronavirus, sources tell NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). They’ll be held out of Sunday’s tilt against the Steelers, along with linebacker B.J. Goodson and safety Andrew Sendejo

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Although the team reopened its facility after a contact tracing effort Wednesday, the Browns closed it again Thursday. They will, however, have their top four receivers back this week. Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge are off the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list. So is linebacker Jacob Phillips. The Steelers-Browns rematch remains on schedule for 1pm ET Sunday.

Denzel Ward, however, is the latest Browns player to run into COVID trouble. The Browns’ No. 1 cornerback tested positive for the coronavirus and is out Sunday, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports (on Twitter). He is out for Sunday’s game and would be a long shot to play in the Browns’ playoff opener, should they qualify.

The Browns are playing to snap the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. If they win, they’re in. If they lose, they’ll need the Colts to do the same, but that would hinge on a quality performance from the lowly Jaguars. If the Browns lose and the Colts win, they’ll need a Titans loss, plus wins from the Ravens and Dolphins to sneak into the postseason.

On the plus side, the Steelers indicated they will rest Ben Roethlisberger this weekend. Plus, they’ll be without top defenders Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, who limited the Browns to just six points in their October meeting. As it stands, Football Outsiders gives the Browns a 44% chance to hold at the No. 6 seed and a 20% chance to make it as the No. 7 seed.

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Browns Close Facility Due To COVID-19

3:13pm: While several Browns remain on the coronavirus list, they have completed a contact tracing effort and reopened their facility, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com tweets. They also added center Javon Patterson to the practice squad COVID list, Cabot adds (via Twitter).

11:06am: On Wednesday, the Browns closed their team facility due to a positive COVID-19 test. This comes after the Browns learned that a coach and a practice-squad player have tested positive for COVID-19 (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero).

The Browns have also placed safety Karl Joseph, Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Bryant on the reserve/COVID-19 list, a sign that he was likely in close contact with one or both of those individuals.

The Browns were in similar territory last week with the ripple effect of B.J. Goodson‘s positive COVID-19 test. Contact tracing deemed several Browns wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones to be high-risk close contacts, keeping them out of Sunday’s game against the Jets. The Jets went on to win 23-16, bumping the Browns to 10-5 and knocking themselves out of the No. 1 draft pick sweepstakes.

The Browns can make the playoffs for the first time in a long time with a win over the Steelers in Week 17. Alternatively, they can still reach the postseason if the Colts fall to the Jaguars. There’s also a third scenario that would give them a playoff berth, though that would be dependent on the outcome of three different games.

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NFL Draft Signings: 5/20/20

We’ll keep track of today’s late-round signings here:

  • The Browns signed fourth-round tight end Harrison Bryant and sixth-round wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). They were the Browns’ final two selections in the draft, but they’re the first picks to sign in Cleveland. Peoples-Jones was one of the country’s hottest WR recruits coming out of high school and he selected Michigan over roughly 30 other schools. However, he failed to top 650 yards in any of his three seasons with the Wolverines. On the plus side, he tallied 14 touchdowns between 2018 and 2019 and the potential is still there.

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