Harrison Bryant

Browns To Pursue Tight Ends?

The Browns may have committed to David Njoku this offseason, but that won’t stop the organization from seeking additional depth at the position. ESPN.com’s Jake Trotter writes that the Browns are “a good bet” to pursue another tight end.

Despite Njoku’s wavering commitment to the organization, the Browns inked the tight end to a four-year, $56.75MM extension. In recent seasons, the former first-round pick has struggled to put together a year that’s come close to his 2018 campaign (639 receiving yards…he’s collected 729 receiving yards since). Still, he’ll sit atop Cleveland’s depth chart for the foreseeable future.

The Browns also sound like they’re committed to 2020 fourth-round pick Harrison Bryant. In two seasons with the team, the tight end has hauled in 45 receptions for 471 yards and six touchdowns in 31 games (12 starts). Bryant earned PFWA All-Rookie Team honors in 2020.

After those two, the Browns lack experienced depth. The team moved on from both Austin Hooper and Stephen Carlson this offseason, leaving practice squad TE Miller Forristall as the third tight end. The team added Nakia Griffin-Stewart as a free agent, and they signed a pair of UDFAs in Zaire Mitchell-Paden and Marcus Santos.

Jared Cook, Eric Ebron, and Kyle Rudolph are among the notable TEs still available in free agency. However, Trotter implies that the organization could ultimately make their addition following preseason cuts.

Latest On Browns’ Wide Receiver Situation

Fans of the Browns may have been hoping to add a few more veteran bodies to the wide receiver room this offseason, but, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, the Browns “don’t feel compelled to add a bona fide No. 2 just for the sake of it.” 

Cleveland’s receiving stats last year were nothing short of disappointing. Their wide receiver room was headed by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry coming into the season with youngsters Anthony Schwartz and Donovan Peoples-Jones eager to contribute. Paired with a three-headed tight end attack comprised of David Njoku, Austin Hooper, and Harrison Bryant, the Browns’ offensive weapons looked poised for success.

Several factors contributed to the team’s lack of production in the passing game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield played throughout the season with a torn labrum, missing some time due to the injury and leading to starts by backups Case Keenum and Nick Mullens. A disgruntled Beckham parted ways with the franchise following a frustrating first half of the season and Landry saw injuries limit his action to 12 games. Peoples-Jones made an impact, leading the team in receiving yards, but without the two leaders of the room, his efforts look less like an impressive No. 3 receiver and more like a disappointing No. 1 target. After Landry and Peoples-Jones, Mayfield mostly targeted his tight ends, with Njoku, Hooper, and Bryant making up half of the team’s top-6 players in receiving yards. Again, much like with Peoples-Jones, the tight end room’s contribution was welcomed, but without a productive 1-2 punch from the receiving corps, it only helped so much.

With veterans Beckham, Landry, and Rashard Higgins all finding their way to the NFC this offseason, the Browns lost their entire veteran presence. To offset the losses, Cleveland brought in Amari Cooper, who immediately slots in as WR1, and the diminutive Jakeem Grant, an expert in the return game. They retain youngsters Schwartz, Peoples-Jones, and Ja’Marcus Bradley, while bringing in an unproven pass catcher in Javon Wims. Through the Draft, Cleveland brought in Purdue’s David Bell and Oklahoma’s Michael Woods II. They also signed a number of undrafted college players in Isaiah Weston, Travell Harris, and Mike Harley. At tight end, the departure of Hooper leaves Cleveland with Njoku, Bryant, and unproven projects like Miller Forristall, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Zaire Mitchell-Paden, and college basketball player Marcus Santos-Silva.

It seems Cleveland is comfortable moving forward with Cooper and Peoples-Jones as their top two receivers while counting on Grant, Schwartz, and the rookie, Bell, to contribute behind them. They’ll continue to rely on tight ends Njoku and Bryant, leaning on them slightly more now that Hooper is out of the picture.

If the Browns were able to luck into a mutually beneficial deal, they may find themselves reconsidering their mindset on a veteran No.2 receiver. The free agent market still houses distinguished names like Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders, and DeSean Jackson. Past contributors like Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Albert Wilson remain on the market, as well. Beckham is currently a free agent who has expressed interest in returning to his most recent home in Los Angeles, but he recently claimed he wouldn’t rule out a return to Cleveland. Former Texan Will Fuller is also available to sign and has expressed interest in rejoining his former quarterback.

Regardless of whether or not they choose to add another weapon to their receiving corps, the Browns are hoping for a different outcome simply by changing the composition of personnel. Perhaps more important than any of the additions and subtractions noted above is the acquisition of quarterback Deshaun Watson. It’s unclear how soon he’ll be able to contribute, but the prospect, alone, of having the three-time Pro Bowler under center is enough to instill confidence in the receiving room as it is for the Cleveland staff.

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.

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

[POLL: Which AFC Contender Will Miss Playoffs?]

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.

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.

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.