Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers moves are noted below.
Here are Wednesday’s AFC North transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day.
Browns linebacker Jacob Phillips is likely done for the year with a biceps tear (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Philips will know more about his outlook following surgery to repair the tendon.
Phillips, a 2020 3rd-round pick of the Browns, was expected to be a core contributor on defense. He was in the midst of a solid camp and trending in the right direction after missing a good chunk of his rookie year with a knee sprain. The Browns planned on using him as Anthony Walker‘s primary backup at middle linebacker with some possible action on the weakside.
Without Phillips, the Browns will be counting on 2021 second-rounder Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to pick things up quickly. They’ll also be keeping their fingers crossed for fellow ‘backer Sione Takitaki as he recovers from a (less severe) hamstring injury.
December 31st, 2020 at 3:15pm CST by Zachary Links
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.
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.
Dec. 27: There were no new positive tests overnight, so this afternoon’s contest with the Jets will go forward, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports (via Twitter). The Browns will be without their top four wideouts and two linebackers, and while they did activate left tackle Jedrick Wills from the reserve/COVID-19 list as expected, Wills has been ruled out of the game with an illness. Cleveland has elevated Willies and Bradley from the practice squad, along with LB Montrel Meander.
The close contact with Goodson occurred in the team’s recovery pool area, according to Pelissero (hold your jokes, please). Sharing the pool isn’t a protocol violation in and of itself, but at least one player wasn’t wearing a mask as required, and the league may choose investigate further.
Dec. 26: Some fallout is emerging from B.J. Goodson‘s positive COVID-19 test. Contact tracing deemed several Browns wide receivers high-risk close contacts, according to Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).
A fourth wideout, KhaDarel Hodge, will also be placed on the virus list, Cabot reports (on Twitter). Linebacker Jacob Phillips is also out. Hodge is Cleveland’s fourth-leading wide receiver this season.
The Browns have not yet left Cleveland and have yet to learn how many players will be unable to travel with the team to New Jersey. The Browns are also likely to be without at least one tight end against the Jets, according to ESPN. The game remains on as scheduled for noon CT Sunday.
While this is not as dire of a situation, functionality-wise, as what the Broncos encountered earlier this season at quarterback, the Browns are in a higher-profile spot. The Browns still have a chance to win the AFC North, with two wins and two Steelers losses, and have yet to clinch a wild-card spot yet. The Jets are 1-13 but coming off a 23-20 win over the Rams.
Already down Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns do not have much in the way of receiving talent beyond their top three healthy targets. Few teams do. Landry’s 789 receiving yards lead the team, while Higgins has contributed 544 and four receiving TDs. This will be Landry’s first absence with the Browns.
Cleveland’s remaining wideouts: Marvin Halland practice squad cogs Derrick Willies and Ja’Marcus Bradley. None of them have a catch with Cleveland this season. Hall caught 17 passes for 290 yards and two scores with the Lions this year. The Browns claimed Hall off waivers from the Lions earlier this month.
The Browns now have both their third-round picks under contract. They reached with the No. 97 overall pick — linebacker Jacob Phillips — on Sunday, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus (Twitter link).
Cleveland exited the 2018 season with two high-priced linebackers and a proven starter, but the team has fully transitioned at linebacker entering the 2020 campaign. After the Browns released Jamie Collins last year, they cut the now-injury-prone Christian Kirksey earlier this year. They then let Joe Schobert sign with the Jaguars in free agency. Younger cogs have taken their places.
Phillips joins 2019 draftees Sione Takitaki (a third-rounder) and Mack Wilson (Round 5) on the Browns’ defensive second level, where ex-Giants starter B.J. Goodson also resides. Most of the Browns’ expenses on defense have gone up front, with younger players populating Cleveland’s linebacker and secondary sections of the depth chart.
One of 14 LSU draftees — a total that matched a record for one school — Phillips joined first-round Ravens pick Patrick Queen as a Tigers linebacker starter. Phillips outproduced Queen in tackles in both 2018 and ’19, totaling 200 stops between his sophomore and junior seasons. Phillips declared for the draft early.
Here is how the Browns’ draft class looks as of mid-July. Only one player, a fellow LSU draftee, remains unsigned.
After winning the national championship, a number of LSU players are planning their next move. Center Lloyd Cushenberry III, linebacker Jacob Phillips, and offensive tackle Saahdiq Charles were among the notable members of the squad to declare for the NFL Draft today.
This past season, Cushenberry helped lead a unit that earned the Joe Moore Award for best offensive line. The six-foot-four, 315-pound center started 28-straight games during his time with the Tigers. Thanks in part to the consistency and durability, the lineman could end up being a first- or second-round pick.
Phillips is projected to go around the same range as his teammate. The linebacker had a standout season for LSU, compiling 113 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Charles doesn’t have the same draft stock as Cushenberry or Phillips, but he was still a major part of the award-winning offensive line. He missed six games this past season due to disciplinary issues.