The Cleveland Browns offensive line has been hit hardest by the COVID opt-outs. Four of the Browns reserve offensive linemen have already called it quits for 2020. The loss of tackle Drake Dorbeck is not a significant blow with veterans like Chris Hubbard and Kendall Lamm on the roster. Losing Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett, and Malcolm Pridgeon, expected to compete right guard and add depth, is significant. The Browns have internal options left behind starters Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, but when you are getting to the fifth or sixth options, it gets dicey. Where could the Browns go from here?
Browns Internal Options
It is an NFL training camp, so a lot of names are still on as players the Browns brass have interest in evaluating. Currently, the Browns have these players left, providing depth on the interior. They could also choose to keep a young tackle and move veteran Chris Hubbard inside.
Willie Wright, Guard/Center
Wright has been with the Browns since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa in 2019. He spent the entire 2019 season on the Browns practice squad. Wright was a longshot to make the roster, but with both Forbes and Gossett out, he will have plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself.
Evan Brown, Guard/Center
Cleveland is Brown’s third NFL team since signing with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Methodist. He has been on and off rosters over his two years in the league. While limited by his size Brown is strong and has explosiveness in his game. He is now the clear top backup at guard/center heading into 2020.
Nick Harris, Center
Harris was taken in the fifth-round of this year draft out of Washington. The rookie was to focus more on center, but with depth lacking now, he may find himself competing at right guard. Harris has experience playing guard in college, but his lack of size could be exploited more at the NFL level.
Alex Taylor, Tackle
Taylor signed this offseason as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State. He is a tackle, but if he can show he belongs, the Browns have room to keep him on the roster. Taylor is 6-8 301 pounds with an 88′ wingspan with room to grow. He is raw but has the talent to develop into an impact player.
While all of these players have upside, they bring minimal NFL experience to the pool. We know the Browns brass don’t like spending big for backups, but here are some veteran options that could help out significantly right now.
Demar Dotson is an 11-year veteran right tackle all spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A starter for most of his career, he is now 34 and could make a substantial addition as a backup tackle. This move would allow Chris Hubbard to slip into guard and create more depth inside. At 6-9 and 315 pounds, he has the frame and athleticism to handle the zone scheme.
Over the past five seasons, Dotson has not graded lower than 67.0 overall per Pro Football Focus. Last season he ranked 31st out of the 82 tackles graded. At 34, that is not bad, and he would stay fresh as a backup in what would be a very talented tackle group. But, why would a lineman still capable of starting at right tackle take a back up gig? Age? Or lack of offers. Not many teams are banging down the doors for a 34-year-old average right tackle.
With limited options for both the Browns and Dotson, a one year deal should not be too difficult to figure out. Especially since, according to spotrac, Dotson only cost the Buccaneers $4.8 million last season. The Browns could likely get him for around $2.5-$3 million for the 2020 season. A solid veteran tackle at that price would be another win for the Browns front office that has been racking them up all offseason.
Kline is a slightly below average guard, but is only 30 and knows head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system. Kline brings a professional attitude and experience to the interior of the line. Nobody knows how much Wyatt Teller has developed combined with a new system for the young guard to learn. A scenario of Kline signing and beating Teller out initially based on his experience in Stefanski’s system could take place. Once Teller is up to speed, then he moves seamlessly back into the starting line-up. A move like this may not be a bad idea to increase the chance of a smooth transition for the entire line.
Kline also brings versatility by also being able to man center should any injuries occur. Kline’s last contract per spotrac was for three years and $15.5 million from the Vikings with $7.25million guaranteed. While the Browns won’t make an offer that large, they could use some of the money saved from the Olivier Vernon restructure to make an offer around $4-$4.5 million for one year. An offer of that magnitude for a player that could step in at either guard or center is worth the investment. It also, as with Dotson, would not affect future cap flexibility. Kline may not be a glamorous signing, but he brings a veteran presence and knowledge of the system. All of that could be significantly helpful to a new head coach.
Leary is a talented player that cannot stay healthy. While that might not be the best way to open selling him as an option, the options are limited right now. Leary has been a starter his entire career, but at 31 and with the injuries mounting, moving to a reserve role may suit him best. He may not see it that way yet, but the market does if Leary was highly sought after he would have a contract by now.
If the Browns choose to go this direction, they could give Leary an incentive-laden deal for time played and if he beats out current starter Wyatt Teller. The starting point for a deal could be in the same range as Josh Kline at $4-$4.5 million, then add escalators for games played, snaps, etc. If Leary can find himself around for most of the season, this would be a great addition by the Browns, and he would get paid. The only catch to this one is that Leary has been openly campaigning to head back to Dallas.
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