December 18, 2014

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Browns notes: Rule change adds flexibility to rosters

CLEVELAND — General manager Tom Heckert will have a couple more options this season to tweak his roster.

The players’ union approved a rule change Thursday that will allow one designated player from each team to return from injured reserve rather than having to sit out the whole season. The “marquee” player must be on the 53-man roster today, designated when he’s placed on IR and miss at least six weeks of practice and eight games.

The other switch was moving back the trade deadline two weeks to after Week 8. This should inspire more deals — trades have been rare during the season in the NFL — as more teams might consider themselves out of the playoff race with two more games played.

The Browns could designate defensive end Marcus Benard (dislocated elbow), but will likely wait to see if someone is hurt in the first part of the year.

In the past if a player was going to miss six games during the season, he would most often be placed on season-ending IR to clear a roster spot.

“I think it is a great rule in general,” Giants cornerback Michael Coe told The Associated press. “Other sports have that, like baseball, guys go on and come off IR every day, like putting on your shoes.

“This is going to help every team which has an injury and has to do some shuffling. Guy won’t have to miss the whole year.”

NFL owners approved the two changes to the rules in May. The union announced Thursday it OK’d them.

Bounty update

Linebacker Scott Fujita is optimistic he won’t have to serve his three-game suspension for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. His hope may hinge on the ruling of a three-member panel.

On Thursday, the panel finished hearing the union’s appeal challenging commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority in the punishment of four suspended players, including Fujita.

The panel consists of retired federal Judge Fern Smith of San Francisco, retired federal Judge Richard Howell of New York and Georgetown professor James Oldham, according to The Associated Press. The union wants the panel to overturn a ruling by NFL system arbitrator Stephen Burbank, who concluded Goodell had the authority to hear and rule on the players’ appeals of their suspensions.

The panel will try to issue an opinion next week. It’s unclear if a final decision on the suspensions will be reached before the start of Cleveland’s season Sept. 9.

Injury report

Several injured Browns didn’t dress or warm up and weren’t on the sideline for the game. The team is hoping many will be ready for the opener.

The injured list: running backs Trent Richardson (knee) and Chris Ogbonnaya (ankle), tight ends Benjamin Watson (undisclosed) and Jordan Cameron (undisclosed), cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle), defensive tackle Scott Paxson (knee), Fujita (knee), safety Bubba Ventrone (hamstring) and offensive lineman Oniel Cousins (leg).

• Safety Usama Young (quadriceps) dressed and warmed up but didn’t play after returning to practice this week. He missed the entire preseason and the majority of training camp.

His roster spot may be in jeopardy. Final cuts to 53 are due tonight at 9. The Browns won’t release their roster moves until after midnight because they want to give the rest of the league as little time as possible to scout their waived players they want to keep on the practice squad.

Don’t worry, be happy

The NFL has told teams to be prepared for replacement officials to be used in Week 1 while the regular officials remain locked out. The replacements have struggled in the preseason, and many people are predicting things could get ugly if they blow a critical call in a game that counts.

“You can’t really worry about who’s out there reffing the game, because you got to worry about your job,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “You just hope that if they’re missing calls on your side that they’re going to be missing calls going the other way, too. If they miss an obvious call, a couple that hurt you, hopefully it gets evened out by the balance of the season because they are all sort of on the same skill level.”

Extra points

Benard, defensive end Auston English and cornerback Antwuan Reed cleared waivers and were placed on injured reserve. They were waived/injured Monday and could reach an injury settlement.

• The Browns and Bears met for the ninth straight preseason.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.