BEREA — Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said one of the main reasons he’s optimistic about next season is the expected additions to the roster.
“We have a lot of great players on this team and we’re only going to build on that in the offseason through the draft and free agency,” he said.
That may not be true. Center Alex Mack and strong safety T.J. Ward are the biggest names in the final year of their contracts and are eligible for free agency in March.
Thomas’ plan goes awry if one of the “great” players leaves. Mack has taken 4,870 straight snaps just a couple of spots down from Thomas, as they’ve been together since Mack was the 21st pick of the first round in 2009.
“He’s a big piece of the puzzle right now,” Thomas said. “If you lose him, it makes it even harder.”
The Browns don’t have an automatic replacement on the roster.
“Maybe you have to use a first-round pick on a center if you lose Alex,” Thomas said. “Then you can’t take another player that may be the best player available that’ll just help your team get better.
“Once you have a guy like Alex, or some of the other guys that are free agents that’ve been here a few years, they’re just hitting their prime and I think it’s important to lock those guys down. Because it seems like these teams that are consistent winners, that’s what they do, they draft good players and then they re-sign them, so they have them for that eight or nine years and you get a good culture going together with the same group of guys that have been here for their whole career.”
Thomas considers Mack one of the top centers in the league and said even a first-round pick wouldn’t be able to fill his shoes.
“It’ll be impossible to replace him in the draft, because even if you pick a rookie who turns out to be a great center, it takes a few years before you understand how to play and understand your role,” Thomas said.
Coordinator Norv Turner also wants Mack to stay.
“Alex is an outstanding player and he works awfully hard at it,” he said. “He cares a great deal about it. He’s got a demanding job, and particularly, when you play three different quarterbacks and you have a lot of change, and playing the defenses we play, he’s got a lot of responsibility in terms of getting us into the right calls, right protections. So he’s awfully valuable to this team.”
Mack and the Browns’ front office have been mum regarding negotiations, but if an extension hasn’t been signed by the end of the season, that usually means the player will test the open market.
OPEN ALL DAY
Receiver Josh Gordon wasn’t targeted until the final two minutes of the first half against the Bears and finished with three catches for 67 yards in 10 targets, including a 43-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left.
“I thought there were opportunities for Josh,” Turner said. “I thought he could have easily had six or seven catches for another 150 yards. We were just off. We missed him a couple of times and we didn’t throw to him a couple of times when he had chances to make big plays.”
Turner and quarterback Jason Campbell were criticized following the loss for not going to Gordon more after he entered with an NFL-record 774 yards over the previous four games.
“Josh had 10 balls thrown to him and I thought there were another three or four that could have been over four quarters,” Turner said. “I think that’s pretty good.”
Jets coach Rex Ryan was asked his impressions of Gordon.
“Yikes. That’s scary,” he said. “Ooh, man, the run after catch is crazy. I’ve seen him catch a dig, and he breaks a tackle, goes for 80. Slant goes for 80. Big, physical, strong kid.”
NO REASON TO RUN
The Browns have 307 rushes, compared to 600 passes. They threw 39 times and ran only 17 times vs. the Bears, who entered with the league’s last-ranked run defense.
“The way that game went, we’re doing what gives our team the best chance,” Turner said. “Anyone who’s seen the 13 games before that I don’t think would sit there and think, ‘We should be running the ball more.’”
He also lamented a holding penalty on right guard Shawn Lauvao early in the fourth quarter while trying to expand a 24-17 lead. A Chris Ogbonnaya run on second-and-4 from the Chicago 27 had picked up a first down, but the penalty on Lauvao pushed the Browns out of field-goal range.
“We run the ball down to the 18 with a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter,” Turner said. “That drive is the one that you’d like to go score points. Instead, we take the penalty and don’t convert and end up punting.”
Cornerback Joe Haden (hip pointer) didn’t practice for the second straight day, but rode the stationary bike and was an interested observer. He may try to practice today.
“I believe that’s probably a gametime decision and knowing Joe, if he can play, I think he will,” coordinator Ray Horton said. “He’s been an integral part of our defense. We definitely need him to play and want him to play.”
** Tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) didn’t practice. He’s not expected to play vs. the Jets but hasn’t been ruled out.
Receiver Davone Bess (not injury related), left guard John Greco (knee sprain) and tight end Andre Smith (calf) also missed practice.
** Thomas (back) was limited for the second straight day, but participated much more than he did Wednesday during the portion open to reporters. He has played 6,795 consecutive snaps, never missing one in his career.
** Linebacker Eric Martin (illness) was a full participant after missing Wednesday.
** For the Jets, tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) was limited.
MCGAHEE ISN’T DONE
Running back Willis McGahee, 32, not only wants to play in the final two games, he wants to return to the Browns next season.
“Oh, yeah, I’d love to be back here next year,” said McGahee, who missed Sunday’s loss to Chicago with a concussion but has been cleared to play. “That’ll be something up to the coaches and the organization.”
McGahee, who is fourth among active rushers with 8,474 yards and third with 65 rushing touchdowns, was signed off the street in Week 3 following the trade of Trent Richardson. He has rushed for a team-high 377 yards, averaging 2.7 per rush with two touchdowns.
Turner sounded as if new addition Edwin Baker will get the bulk of the carries against the Jets, with McGahee a threat in short yardage and the fourth quarter.