Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Scorched Earth update: The gutting of the Browns’ 2015 roster has been comprehensive, typical of a regime change that included new front office executives and new coaches.
Nineteen players on the 53-player roster or on an injury list at the end of the 2015 season have been let go or allowed to leave. Those players combined for a total of 134 game starts on a team that went 3-13.
So, is it over?
As the Browns report this week for the first training camp of new coach Hue Jackson, the feeling is the roster purge may not be complete. Even in a year with a returning coach, there are surprise cuts at the end of summer. So there could be more to come.
Which veteran players could be in danger of losing their jobs?
Here is our list.
1. Cornerback Tramon Williams
Williams is 33 and his cap number of $6.981 million is fifth-highest on the team. He was signed to a three-year, $21 million contract in 2015 by former GM Ray Famer, and didn’t have a great year. Nobody in the new regime really has a connection to Williams. So how did he survive the roster purge? Simple answer: Joe Haden’s surprise ankle surgery in March. With Haden sidelined until sometime late in training camp, Williams is the only cornerback with quality NFL experience. When Haden returns, Williams’ spot may be vulnerable. It could come down to the performance of potential starting replacements Justin Gilbert, Charles Gaines, Pierre Desir and Jamar Taylor.
2. Inside linebacker Tank Carder
Carder was one of the few veteran players to receive a new contract by the new regime – a modest deal of two years for $2 million, with only a $300,000 signing bonus guaranteed. Since then, the Browns added four inside linebackers – veterans DeMario Davis and Justin Tuggle, and draft picks Joe Schobert (an outside linebacker at Wisconsin) and Scooby Wright. Carder, who is on his fourth Browns head coach in five years, is most valuable as a core player on special teams. But the league’s gradual de-emphasis of kickoff returns – in the name of player safety – could quickly devalue a player who makes his living breaking up blocking wedges and setting up kick returns.
3. Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo
The good news for Mingo is he enjoyed his finest season as a rookie in 2013 under returning defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The bad news is the Browns in April chose not to exercise their option on Mingo’s fifth year of his contract. So he enters the last year of his 2013 rookie deal competing with second-round picks Nate Orchard (2015) and Emmanuel Ogbah (2016) at the rush linebacker spot opposite Paul Kruger. In the spring, Horton said he intended to move Mingo around, ostensibly to see where Mingo might be most effective.
4. Cornerback Justin Gilbert
The No. 8 overall pick of the 2014 draft is entering the third year of a four-year deal fully guaranteed for $12.833 million. A new coaching staff might unlock the mystery of why Gilbert doesn’t love football enough to do all the things necessary to succeed at the NFL level. Maybe he just doesn’t want the fame and attention of stardom. If Gilbert falls by the wayside this year behind other hungrier cornerbacks, the Browns may elect to take a cap hit of $3.5 million and move on. Gilbert is earmarked as the No. 1 kick returner – but the position has been devalued because 60 percent of kickoffs nowadays result in touchbacks and are not returned.
5. Running back Isaiah Crowell
All through the OTA and minicamp season, Crowell held down the No. 1 running back role and was lauded as a future star in Jackson’ offense. He was to be the downhill runner (see Jeremy Hill of the Bengals) complemented by outside runner and pass receiver Duke Johnson (see Gio Bernard). Then came Crowell’s misguided Instagram post protesting the shooting deaths of African-American men by policemen. The Browns formally labeled the post “extremely disturbing” and said in a statement that Crowell’s immediate apology was not sufficient penance. Crowell has since attended the funeral of a slain police officer in Dallas and spent the day contritely interacting with Dallas police officers. He may announce some sort of retribution to heal the wounds created with Cleveland police officers. Crowell may hear a public backlash when fans descend on training camp this weekend. How he is able to play through the backlash will determine his future with the club. In the meantime, former Bengals practice squadder Terrell Watson, a Jackson prodigy who coincidentially aspires to train as a police officer after his playing days, suddenly is a player of note in camp.
6. Quarterback Josh McCown
He outplayed Robert Griffin III in the pre-training camp season, but apparently will not be given a chance to beat him out in an open competition. McCown is a double insurance policy at this point. He could be the starter if Griffin falters or could be the No. 1 backup if rookie Cody Kessler proves unready. Yet if Griffin and Kessler progress rapidly, McCown could be the odd man out in September. Everything, it seems, is out of his control.