Browns waive long snapper, lose linebacker
The cold and cruel side of business in the NFL caught up with Ryan Pontbriand. He won't get a chance to snap out of his slump
The Browns told their long snapper to take a hike.
Pontbriand was waived Tuesday, two days after his second poor snap in three weeks cost Cleveland another possible win. A two-time Pro Bowler, Pontbriand had been with the Browns since 2003 and had the second-longest tenure on the club to kicker Phil Dawson.
''Today, I lost a longtime teammate, Ryan Pontbriand,'' Dawson wrote on his Twitter page. ''He has been with me more than any teammate I have had. I will miss him.
''He is the best.''
But he's been uncharacteristically erratic this season, and the Browns (4-7) ran out of patience with Pontbriand.
''We can't slump,'' Browns first-year coach Pat Shurmur said Monday, hinting the team was on the verge of releasing Pontbriand. ''We can't be in slumps. I think it's important that we all perform and we've got to perform all the time. You hold me to that standard, I think the players hold themselves to that and then I know individually they do as well.''
Although Pontbriand played nearly nine seasons for them, and was one of the bright spots for a moribund franchise since 1999, the Browns said nothing about him in their release other than they had waived him.
Pontbriand will be replaced by Christian Yount, an undrafted rookie from UCLA who played seven games with Tampa Bay. Young was waived Oct. 25 by the Buccaneers when they activated their primary long snapper from an injury list.
Fujita broke his right hand in two places Sunday and will have surgery later this week. It's the second straight season the 32-year-old has had ended by injury. Last year, Fujita missed Cleveland's final seven games after straining a knee ligament.
Fujita will be hard to replace. He has experience, a solid grasp of Cleveland's defensive scheme and is one of the team's leaders - on and off the field. He was third on the team with 51 tackles.
''It's a big loss for us,'' said linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. ''It's a great confidence having him out there, a 10-, 11-year vet. But other guys have to step up.''
Pontbriand's last snap sealed his fate.
In the fourth quarter on Sunday in Cincinnati, he rolled the ball back to holder Brad Maynard, who did a good job of catching and placing it. However, the bad snap caused Dawson to miss a potential go-ahead 55-yard field goal in a 23-20 loss.
Two weeks ago, against St. Louis, Pontbriand's snap caromed off the right leg of teammate Alex Mack, disrupted Dawson's timing on a 22-yarder that was partially blocked and gave the Rams a 13-12 win.
Pontbriand was so upset by the gaffe that he went home and made 150 snaps.
Pontbriand had been one of the Browns' steadiest performers since former coach Butch Davis shocked many draft experts by selecting him in 2003. Long snappers were rarely picked, but Pontbriand proved to be a great value.
For eight seasons, Pontbriand's snaps were precise and nearly perfect, with the football rotating tightly and landing in the hands of Cleveland's holder with the laces facing away from the kicker. He was regarded as one of the NFL's best long snappers, an unheralded position that goes unnoticed until there's an error.
But the 32-year-old has struggled this season, and following Sunday's game admitted he has been in an awful slump. That admission probably didn't sit well with Cleveland's coaching staff and front office, who swiftly made the change before Pontbriand could snap again.
Pontbriand played in 134 career games with the Browns and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008.
Stephens had recently taken over for Jayme Mitchell at starting right end. He injured a pectoral muscle on Sunday in his third start since replacing Mitchell.
With Fujita and Stephens out, the Browns promoted linebacker Benjamin Jacobs and defensive lineman Brian Sanford to the active roster. Both have spent the entire season on Cleveland's practice squad.
The team also signed defensive lineman Ayanga Okpokowuruk, defensive back David Sims and linebacker Brian Smith to the practice squad. Smith was one of the final players cut at the end of the exhibition season.