Looking at the looming roster decisions for the Browns

Nate Burleson catches passes in training camp, but hasn't been healthy enough to get on the field for a preseason game.

Andrew Weber

BEREA, Ohio – By Tuesday afternoon, the Cleveland Browns have to make three more roster moves to get to the NFL limit of 75. By Saturday, a bigger round of cuts will get the roster to the regular-season size of 53.

As always, tough decisions lie ahead.

Asked specifically on Monday about veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson and how Burleson missing the first three preseason games — he’s uncertain for Thursday’s preseason finale, too — might affect his chances to make the final 53, Browns coach Mike Pettine delivered a non-answer.

"I can’t speak on whether guys have a certain roster spot or not," Pettine said. "First of all, it’s not my area. (General Manager) Ray (Farmer) and I will do that together, but that’s his ultimate say."

So, with just one full practice and one game left, here’s a guess at where some of the toughest decisions will lie…

WIDE RECEIVER

Inexplicably, there’s still no decision on Josh Gordon from the NFL. If Gordon gets suspended, he won’t count against any roster limit.

As for the 53, Andrew Hawkins will make the team. Almost certainly, Miles Austin and Travis Benjamin will, too. That leaves Burleson, who did individual work Monday while trying to recover from a hamstring injury, and speedy undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel as next in line. Gordon, obviously, would make the team if he’s not suspended, but even Pettine said the team is bracing for some sort of suspension.

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Charles Johnson and Willie Snead seem to be next in line at receiver; both are practice squad candidates. The expanded 10-man practice squad can be assembled as early as Sunday after players cut Saturday clear waivers. Marlon Moore has a one-game suspension looming so if he’s in the plans, the Browns won’t have to make a move until after the first game.

Given the state of the offense and the struggles of the receiving corps thus far, it’s hard to imagine the Browns not at least trying to upgrade with a waiver claim and/or a trade between now and the weekend. Maybe Burleson’s health plays into that decision, or maybe it doesn’t.

Still, counting on Burleson and Gabriel behind a lead group that might not include anything close to an actual No. 1 receiver doesn’t seem like a totally solid plan. This is a situation that could be in flux as soon as Tuesday going all the way through the weekend.

Five or six receivers will make the team.

CORNERBACK

Injuries have hit this position hard of late, leaving the Browns shorthanded for what became a disaster in trying to slow the Rams passing game on third down in last Saturday’s preseason game.

As for the roster, it’s probably safe to say Leon McFadden, Aaron Berry and undrafted rookie K’Waun Williams are on the bubble and maybe competing for one spot. Both drafted cornerbacks will make the 53, as will Isaiah Trufant.

Would the Browns really bail on McFadden, a third-round pick just a year ago? With Pettine saying rookie Pierre Desir may not be ready for the opener, how long he could be out and how ready to play he is when healthy must be weighed.

If the Browns want to be involved in the waiver or trade game at cornerback, they’ll have plenty of competition league-wide. Ten defensive backs will probably make the team, more than likely six cornerbacks and four safeties.

DEFENSIVE LINE

This is the Browns strongest and deepest position area, giving Farmer both flexibility and a potential headache. No GM wants to give up on good players.

If a trade for a receiver — or even a quarterback, cornerback or backup offensive tackle — would happen to present itself, there are lots of teams league-wide who could be interested in one or more of the Browns defensive linemen.

Armonty Bryant’s strong preseason suggests he’s very much in the plans. Desmond Bryant is recovering from surgery but is a starter when healthy. Ahytba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Billy Winn and John Hughes round out the top group, while Ishmaa’ily Kitchen has shown he’s an NFL-caliber nose tackle, too. Even undrafted rookies Calvin Barnett and Jacobbi McDaniel have shown up through camp and the preseason.

The Browns are likely to keep six defensive linemen and maybe even seven given Armonty Bryant’s pass-rush ability and the versatility Hughes, Winn and Rubin bring. Ideally, though, they’d keep six — which makes this a position to watch this weekend.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The starting group is set and is solid. Paul McQuistan was added as a versatile veteran backup in the offseason and figures to make the team. With Michael Bowie likely done for the year, second-year guard Garrett Gilkey is the most recognizable name of a group that seems very much on the bubble.

The offense as a whole has struggled, and it appears the second-team offensive line has really struggled. The Browns claimed a pair of undrafted rookie guards who were waived by the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday. Those two – Karim Barton and Donald Hawkins – are probably more practice squad candidates than anything else, but time will tell.

The lack of a backup tackle is a concern but one the Browns hope they won’t have to address. It’s possible they could keep just seven offensive linemen on the initial active roster with two or three on the practice squad.