The committee has been chosen.
The Browns will use a receiver-by-committee approach following the suspension of All-Pro Josh Gordon for the season, but veteran Nate Burleson won’t be on it. He was cut Saturday as the NFL required teams to get down to the regular-season roster limit of 53.
Undrafted and undersized rookie Taylor Gabriel (5-foot-8, 172 pounds) made the team, beating out Burleson and fellow undrafted rookie Willie Snead. The Browns will explore players cut by other teams in search of an upgrade.
There were no giant surprises in Cleveland’s moves, but a few mild ones, including letting go of Burleson.
Undrafted rookie running back Isaiah Crowell made the team as the third back over change-of-pace Dion Lewis and versatile veteran Chris Ogbonnaya. Coach Mike Pettine said last week Lewis had separated himself in the battle, then Crowell rushed for 102 yards and a 48-yard touchdown Thursday night in the preseason finale.
A pair of 2013 draft picks were waived — third-round cornerback Leon McFadden and seventh-round guard Garrett Gilkey. McFadden was terrible in the preseason, giving up completion after completion and drawing several penalties, while Gilkey slipped from potential starter to unemployed.
First-time general manager Ray Farmer kept veteran Rex Grossman as the third quarterback and waived undrafted rookie Connor Shaw, who’s a candidate to join the 10-man practice squad. Grossman was a late arrival to training camp, but is an expert in coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system and should be a valuable resource for starter Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel.
“Rex is a veteran, he’s played in this system, he’s good for the guys in the room, and he also showed that he can still throw it,” Pettine said in the release announcing the moves.
“And that’s the most important thing. He can still play.”
Receiver has dominated the non-quarterback conversation since Farmer ignored the position in the draft despite knowing Gordon faced the suspension. Burleson, 33, was signed in April and projected as a possible starter, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for the first three preseason games.
“Nate is a true professional and it was a difficult decision for us,” Pettine said. “Ultimately, his availability was a concern with all the time he missed and we liked what we saw in the other players at that position.”
Burleson knew his spot was in jeopardy when he couldn’t get off the stationary bike.
“Been real Ohio! Huge S/O to the fans for showin me luv while I was here, I now know why people luv Cleveland! #Dueces,” he tweeted.
Gabriel, who went to Abilene Christian, had 10 catches for 128 yards in the preseason and will join starters Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Charles Johnson at wideout. Veteran Marlon Moore will spend the first game on the suspension list and doesn’t count against the 53.
“Gabriel’s an explosive athlete, he’s very strong for his size,” Pettine said. “He has the ability to get off the line against press, which a lot of times you don’t find with smaller guys.”
The roster will continue to be tweaked depending on what Farmer finds on the market. Former second-round pick Stephen Hill, Josh Boyce and Robert Meachem are possibilities at receiver after being cut Saturday.
Cornerback Isaiah Trufant was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury. He’s a favorite of Pettine’s from their days together in New York and was expected to contribute as a nickelback.
The roster reflects Pettine’s commitment to defense and the Browns’ talent differential. Twenty-three offensive players made the team, while 27 were kept on defense.
The Browns stocked up at defensive back with 12, including little-known cornerbacks Robert Nelson and K’Waun Williams and safety Johnson Bademosi, who was kept ahead of Josh Aubrey.
“It’s a big part of the system, just with how it’s become such a passing league,” Pettine said. “You need to carry a high number of DBs, especially corners.”
Crowell (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) was SEC Freshman of the Year at Georgia after rushing for 850 yards and five touchdowns, but transferred to Alabama Sate after being arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, among other violations. All charges were later dismissed.
Pettine said the decision to keep him wasn’t made just because of the performance against the Bears.
“It wasn’t something where he was on the outside looking in and, all of a sudden, he had that big night,” Pettine said. “He had flashed at practice and he was a guy that we knew had that type of ability. But you still have to show it in games, and we had kind of earmarked the game as one where we were going to feature him a little bit more. And, to his credit, he went out and performed.”
The Browns kept inside linebacker/special teamer Tank Carder over Zac Diles. Outside linebacker Eric Martin made the team despite a concussion that has sidelined him for weeks, beating out Justin Staples and Jamal Westerman. And undrafted rookie fullback Ray Agnew was picked over tight end/fullback MarQueis Gray.
Agnew is Cleveland’s first true fullback since Lawrence Vickers in 2010.
“Ray was another guy that I’d put in that category with Gabriel in the sense that if you watched how he handled himself, you’d never know he was a rookie, especially an undrafted one,” Pettine said. “But he fits our commitment to wanting to run the football, he fits that classic mold where he brings an air of toughness.”
Terminated: WR Nate Burleson, LB Zac Diles, LB Jamal Westerman, RB Chris Ogbonnaya
Waived: S Josh Aubrey, CB Leon McFadden, DL Calvin Barnett, DL Jacobbi McDaniel, LB Justin Staples, OL Reid Fragel, OL Garrett Gilkey, OL Donald Hawkins, OL Alex Parsons, OL Abasi Salimu, QB Connor Shaw, TE/FB MarQueis Gray, RB Dion Lewis, TE Emmanuel Ogbuehi, WR Willie Snead
Placed on suspension list: WR Marlon Moore
Quarterbacks (3): Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Rex Grossman
Running backs (3): Ben Tate, Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell
Fullback (1): Ray Agnew
Wide receivers (5): Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel, Charles Johnson
Tight ends (3): Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray
Offensive linemen (8): Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, Joel Bitonio, Paul McQuistan, Martin Wallace, Karim Barton
Defensive linemen (7): Desmond Bryant, Armonty Bryant, John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin
Linebackers (8): Karlos Dansby, Barkevious Mingo, Craig Robertson, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Kirksey, Tank Carder; Eric Martin
Defensive backs (12): Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Justin Gilbert, Aaron Berry, Pierre Desir, Robert Nelson, K’Waun Williams, Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson, Jim Leonhard, Johnson Bademosi, Jordan Poyer
Kicker (1): Billy Cundiff
Punter (1): Spencer Lanning
Long snapper (1): Christian Yount