One of the big storylines for the 2022 Cleveland Browns was not lined up behind center.
Cleveland’s 2020 5th-round draft choice presented concern or promise depending on who you asked.
But the story came to a screeching halt Friday night on the Browns’ second offensive play.
Browns’ starting center Nick Harris suffered a likely season-ending knee injury on the second play of Friday night’s preseason game vs. the Jaguars, per Kevin Stefanski. Harris will get a second opinion to confirm injury and diagnosis.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 13, 2022
Harris went down with what is now believed to be a season-ending knee injury.
He’ll get a second opinion this week to verify the prognosis.
But Cleveland needs an answer for what could be a glaring weakness along their otherwise stalwart offensive line.
And most Browns fans have a particular name in mind.
Could J.C. Tretter Return?
Veteran center and former Cleveland Browns star J.C. Tretter remains available on the free agent market.
Andrew Berry cleared $8.23 million of cap space by releasing Tretter in the offseason.
It was part of the moves initially believed necessary to clear funds for Deshaun Watson‘s contract.
But in reality, Cleveland sits with over $45 million of cap space available for 2022.
#Browns C Nick Harris out for game with right knee injury. It looked bad. JC Tretter is still a FA
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 12, 2022
Unfortunately, things are not always as simple as they appear.
Andrew Berry needs to carry a large number of cap dollars into 2023 to offset some significant salary concerns.
Whether the head of the NFLPA agrees to give Cleveland a large discount to come back is no sure thing.
Tretter could slide right into a starting role, but along with a veteran wide receiver signing, that could hamper Berry’s 2023 plans.
Is Harris’ Replacement Already On The Roster?
Former Seattle Seahawk center/guard Ethan Pocic was signed as insurance for the Nick Harris assignment.
The sixth-year veteran is a solid option for the Browns.
But he lined up for over 600 offensive snaps last year without a single penalty.
And playing between Cleveland’s pair of All-Pro guards will only elevate his prowess.
Stefanski won't comment on potential of JC Tretter coming back, reiterates Pocic did a good job last night.#Browns
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) August 13, 2022
Berry also used the 7th-round draft pick he got for Case Keenum on another center, Dawson Deaton.
Deaton is a 6’3, 306-pounder out of Texas Tech who is probably meant to spend his rookie season building up some NFL leg strength.
And that probably warrants a better backup option to Pocic than Deaton, UDFA Brock Hoffman, or a converted guard.
But there is a dwindling handful of veterans available who would sign on for less money than Tretter.
What it Means To The Browns
Cleveland is starting to accumulate young players to develop behind their core.
And that means saving some roster spots for players they don’t want to expose to practice squad pilfering.
If they choose to use Pocic as a center, they lose the flexibility of Pocic as a guard/center backup.
#Browns center JC Tretter said Blake Hance has battled, it's not easy to be that guy who's always got to be in the bullpen and ready to go, but he's provided good value for us
— Nate Ulrich (@ByNateUlrich) November 1, 2021
Hance, who took snaps at guard, tackle, and tight end last season, could see his roster spot solidified by Harris’ injury.
Browns fans should not be surprised if Cleveland goes for a cheaper fix to their center opening than Tretter.
Wide receivers might warrant a bigger expense, and the team really needs to carry over dollars for 2023.
But at least Berry has a few weeks to weigh his options before committing to a solution.