When the Cleveland Browns released center J.C. Tretter, one could assume it was to clear cap space for a Deshaun Watson deal.
But as Tretter remains among the available NFL free agents deep into August, his status is raising some eyebrows.
Those include the eyebrows of former teammate and current Browns guard Joel Bitonio.
“When you have a top-five, top-10 center and he’s not on a roster, and he’s the NFLPA president… maybe some of the owners don’t appreciate what he brings to the table. It seems a little suspicious to me,” Bitonio said at an open presser Sunday.
Tretter pushed for stronger Covid protections that wreaked havoc with preseason and in-season operations.
#Browns Joel Bitonio suspects that his close friend JC Tretter might not have an #NFL team yet b/c of his #NFLPA stance on player safety issues, etc pic.twitter.com/kxCINmADE2
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 14, 2022
He also argued that too much offseason contact led to in-season injuries, and encouraged veterans to avoid OTAs last year.
And even without a team, the NFLPA president is all over poor NFL field conditions this week to protect his members.
Cleveland fans think bringing Tretter back to replace the injured Nick Harris is a no-brainer.
But the Browns front office doesn’t appear anxious to bring Tretter on board.
How Does Tretter Feel About Things?
Tretter ranks among the top 100 players in the league in a players’ opinion survey announced this weekend.
PFF consistently ranks him among the top centers and no offensive lineman has a higher pass-protection rating over the past 4 seasons.
Cleveland replaced their former All-Pro with another veteran, 6th-year player Ethan Pocic.
Pocic ranked 15th overall in PFF center rankings and should be able to cover the position adequately.
And playing between a pair of All pro guards in Bitonio and Wyatt Teller will help.
Which team should sign JC Tretter? pic.twitter.com/mQCFksjRMO
— PFF (@PFF) March 17, 2022
At the same press conference, Bitonio reported that Tretter reached out to him since Harris’ injury.
But the conversation centered around the injured player and not the potential for a Tretter return.
Tampa Bay passed on Tretter as a replacement for Ryan Jensen earlier this preseason.
Former Browns GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was reportedly interested in bringing Tretter to Minnesota.
But as of today, there is no serious indication of a position open for the players’ union president.
What Does It Mean For The Browns?
Cleveland is rolling the dice on young players at several positions.
That doesn’t mean some new, veteran names won’t end up on their final 53-man roster.
But if they can find answers among their current crop of candidates, they will reap benefits in 2023.
Andrew Berry has over $45 million in cap space available, much of which he wants to carry into next season.
That would help the team get under the 2023 salary cap without many painful decisions.
#Browns new starting center Ethan Pocic. pic.twitter.com/U1MFImc5r3
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) August 14, 2022
Pocic is certainly capable of covering the center position this season.
And players like Blake Hance and Hjalte Froholdt could audition for a backup center role.
As important as the position is, few teams would roster a pair of starting-caliber centers before settling other issues.
Berry and Kevin Stefanski are more concerned about their wide receiver and quarterback rooms right now.
And knowing most teams won’t be able to meet JC Tretter’s price tag affords them some time to explore cheaper options.
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