The Cleveland Browns have to finalize their regular-season roster by Saturday.
That process is more than just cutting players and eventually putting together a 10-man practice squad, starting Sunday. The Browns are very much still building, and this final cutdown offers possibilities via trade and waiver claims.
One place it seems the Browns have to look is wide receiver. 2013 NFL receiving champ Josh Gordon is gone for at least the season, and the offense’s early struggles have included dropped passes and an inability to test defenses deep.
Saturday’s cutdowns to the regular-season roster size of 53 across the league will make a lot of players available. The process often leads to trades — mostly minor, many involving just conditional picks — as teams shore up areas and parlay depth into future draft assets.
Young players who get waived are subject to the league’s waiver claim process; after 24 hours, interested teams can place a claim and those claims are awarded based on the waiver order. Players with more than four years of experience are considered vested veterans, so at least through midseason, they are not subject to the waiver process.
The waiver order remains the same it’s been since the end of last season, from worst to strongest based on 2013 record, just like the draft. That changes after three weeks of this season to 2014 record.
Below is a look at some names to watch at the receiver position as the Browns monitor the wire and work the telephones between now and Saturday…
Stephen Hill, New York Jets
Hill is big and fast and is just three seasons into his career, but it’s never clicked for him with the Jets. His bad knees haven’t helped.
The 6’4 Hill has 45 catches over his first two seasons with the Jets, and all reports say he’s had a rather unspectacular preseason in a pretty important spot. Maybe longtime friends Mike Pettine of the Browns and Rex Ryan of the Jets will talk about it, though the Jets are also a receiver-needy team.
If the Jets want to part with Hill — that remains an "if" — the asking price would be low. There’s a chance he may even be waived on Saturday.
The Browns appear to be at their quota of small receivers with Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel looking like they’ll all be on the final 53, so a big receiver would seem to be the preferred target.
Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams and Jeff Janis, Packers
On the surface, the Packers and Browns make an obvious match in that the Packers have a bunch of wide receivers and recently lost nose tackle B.J. Raji for the season; the Browns need help at wide receiver and are deep across the defensive line.
Like most things, though, doing a deal here probably isn’t as easy as it looks. Boykin is just 24, is on a team-friendly contract and got good experience last season. He’s beaten out Adams, a speedy second-round pick, for the Packers No. 3 wide receiver job coming out camp.
It would be a surprise if the Browns could pry the No. 3 receiver away from a Packers team that thinks it can win the Super Bowl. The Packers overall receiver depth took a hit when the team had to place sixth-round rookie Jared Abbrederis on injured-reserve, but this is still a team that drafted three receivers in 2014 with established players on the roster.
Janis is a 6’3, 219-pound rookie from Saginaw Valley State. He caught just two passes in the preseason, but they covered 34 and 33 yards, respectively. Adams was second on the team in the preseason with six catches for 85 yards, including one touchdown. There’s a possibility Janis could be waived and claimed; it’s probably likely that both Boykin and Adams remain with the Packers.
Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders
Moore’s name has surfaced in several trade rumors over the last month — how legit those might be is anyone’s guess — and the Raiders are a rebuilding team that could use an upgrade in several areas. The Raiders aren’t exactly stacked at wide receiver and Moore has been pretty productive; the thought that Moore may be expendable probably stems from the team’s offseason acquisition of long-time Packers receiver James Jones. Still, when it comes to Moore, would the Browns really want a guy let go by a team that keeps Greg Little?
Da’Rick Rogers, Indianapolis Colts
The 6’3, 215-pound Rogers caught 14 passes and two touchdowns for the Colts last season, but he’s always had maturity issues — and the Colts might not be willing to wait for Rogers to grow up. After the Bills cut Rogers last summer the Colts signed him first to their practice squad and then to the active roster. This summer, he’s been in a tough battle for jobs and snaps on a team that wants to win now. If he ever grows up — sound familiar? — he could be an impact player.
Cobi Hamilton, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have some tough decisions to make at wide receiver, especially given the injury to Marvin Jones, and if they waive Hamilton the Browns could be interested. Hamilton is 6’2, is just 23, and spent last season on the Bengals practice squad after leaving Arkansas as the school’s all-time receptions leader. There’s probably not another Josh Gordon out there just waiting for a chance, but Hamilton is one of many the Browns could see as a developmental prospect and a much-needed big target.
Brittan Golden and Walt Powell, Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals may keep six receivers and may keep both. Golden led all NFL receivers with 18 preseason catches and made a handful of big plays in spot duty last season; Powell is a sixth-round pick out of Murray State. One potential holdup: With this looking like Larry Fitzgerald’s last season in Arizona, the Cardinals will likely be hesitant to give up on any young receivers they see as a long-term fit.