The Browns on Saturday waived the following 24 players, bringing the roster down to the required 53 before the NFL's 4 p.m. deadline.
QB Kevin Davidson
QB Garrett Gilbert
RB Dontrell Hilliard
RB Benny LeMay
FB Johnny Stanton
WR Ja'Marcus Bradley
WR Damion Ratley
WR Taywan Taylor
T Brady Aiello
T Alex Taylor (injured)
C Jon Toth
G Michael Dunn
G Willie Wright
DE Robert McCray
DE Chad Thomas
DT Daniel Ekuale
LB Solomon Ajayi
LB Willie Harvey
LB Montrel Meander
CB A.J. Green
CB Robert Jackson
CB Donovan Olumba
S Elijah Benton
S Javonte Moffatt
With no in-person offseason program, no preseason games, a delayed start to training camp and a host of new rules and procedures because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, EVP of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski faced a wide variety of new dynamics as they constructed their first 53-man roster together. Still, Berry and Stefanski said the same principles and philosophies they used during "normal" seasons guided them throughout the process.
"We always take and evaluate all the training camp practices, evaluate every snap, every rep and really try and get as good of a feel for our guys as we can," Berry said. "We worked closely with our coaches and solicited their feedback as well as from our pro staff and our scouts. We really spent a lot of time on our roster. Where it's a little bit different is you don't get the preseason games, but we feel like we had enough information, enough film to make informed decisions on all 53 guys who made the team based on the practices we had throughout this month."
Stefanski, who led 14 on-field practices since the mid-August start to training camp, called the process "very collaborative."
"It's been a dialogue that's been ongoing," Stefanski said. "We check in with each other on the personnel and coaching side almost every four days to make sure we're evaluating these guys and finding the best 53 players we could. I thought Andrew and his staff and the coaching staff got together and really worked extremely well together to put a team of 53 players that we'll go to work with starting next Sunday."
Of the 53 players, 33 are returning members of the 2019 team. The remaining 20 came to Cleveland in the following ways leading up to Saturday's transactions: 11 via free agency, six through the 2020 NFL Draft, two via trades and one via waivers.
"We share a vision of how this team is going to play, but also, we went into this process very open-minded and wanting to keep the best 53 players," Stefanski said. "We didn't have any hard, fast rules of how many we were keeping at any given position. The way the roster shook out is based on the performance of those players."
Berry worked closely with Stefanski to shape the roster in a way that played to the strengths of what Stefanski and his staff want to accomplish on both sides of the ball. As an example, Cleveland's offense, which is based out of a wide-zone scheme, will enter its week of preparations for the season opener at Baltimore with a fullback, five tight ends and nine offensive linemen on the 53-man roster.
"We want to be deep at positions that an offensive and defensive system emphasize, but it's a credit to the players at those spots," Berry said. "They're good football players and they had strong camps and they earned those roster spots for the time being."
The Browns' offseason roster on April 1, 2021
Defensively, the Browns were hampered by injuries throughout training camp and were hit particularly hard in the secondary. Second-round pick Grant Delpit was lost for the season with an Achilles' injury and as many as four cornerbacks were sidelined at certain practices. Ultimately, the Browns kept 10 defensive backs, including S Ronnie Harrison, who was acquired Thursday in a trade with the Jaguars. A number of the players in the group who dealt with injuries during training camp are on the path to recovery.
"Injuries are not a fun part of this game. You feel for the guys that are out, whether it's a short period of time or an extended period of time," Stefanski said. "As cliche as it gets, it presented an opportunity for next man up. We did get good exposure to a bunch of good players in these positions out here on the field."
Delpit, who was placed on the reserve/injured list in August, is the only member of Cleveland's 2020 draft class to not make the 53-man roster. Starting with Jedrick Wills Jr. — who is poised to start the season at left tackle — and ending with sixth-round selection Donovan Peoples-Jones — a versatile wide receiver who will also help on special teams — the Browns have plenty in store for their six-man rookie class. The Browns do not have any undrafted rookie free agents on the initial 53-man roster.
"Going all the way back to April when we first started talking about this rookie class, I think we have smart, tough football players," Stefanski said. "I know every club across the league wishes there was a longer runway but I'm excited about this group of rookies based on how they work. They make a mistake, we identify it and correct it and you don't see the same mistake twice. I think it's a class that really understands how we want to play football. I'm excited about them."
The Browns can make additional roster moves in the coming days via waiver claims and free agent signings. They'll also look to construct a 16-man practice squad, a six-player increase from previous seasons.
"It's very fluid," Berry said. "It's the first 53 but it doesn't necessarily mean it's the final 53. Roster management is 24-7, 365 days a year. Certainly with the hundreds of players that are going to become available in the next 24 hours, we'll always look to add depth and competition to the 53."
Breaking down the Browns' 53-man roster by position alphabetically:
Quarterbacks (2): Case Keenum, Baker Mayfield
Running backs (3): Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson
Fullbacks (1): Andy Janovich
Tight ends (5): Pharaoh Brown, Harrison Bryant, Stephen Carlson, Austin Hooper, David Njoku
Wide receivers (6): Odell Beckham Jr., Rashard Higgins, KhaDarel Hodge, Jarvis Landry, JoJo Natson, Donovan Peoples-Jones
Offensive linemen (9): Joel Bitonio, Evan Brown, Jack Conklin, Nick Harris, Chris Hubbard, Kendall Lamm, Wyatt Teller, JC Tretter, Jedrick Wills Jr.
Defensive linemen (8): Eli Ankou, Adrian Clayborn, Jordan Elliott, Myles Garrett, Porter Gustin, Larry Ogunjobi, Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon
Linebackers (6): Tae Davis, B.J. Goodson, Jacob Phillips, Malcolm Smith, Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson
Defensive backs (10): Ronnie Harrison, Kevin Johnson, Karl Joseph, Terrance Mitchell, Sheldrick Redwine, Andrew Sendejo, M.J. Stewart Jr., Tavierre Thomas, Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams
Specialists (3): Jamie Gillan, Charley Hughlett, Austin Seibert