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Phil Dawson, Josh Cribbs and 16 others could be playing in their last Browns game in Pittsburgh

Dec 28, 2012 -- 6:00am


By Tony Grossi

The Morning Kickoff …

For auld lang syne: It’s commonly assumed now that Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh will be the last in a Browns uniform for two of the most popular Browns of the expansion era, kicker Phil Dawson and return specialist Josh Cribbs.

Their contracts are expiring and neither has been approached by CEO Joe Banner about a new deal. Dawson, 37, is the last remaining player from the 1999 expansion team and this week received his first Pro Bowl selection in 14 NFL seasons. Cribbs, 29, a first alternate, holds 15 Browns return records.

They are hardly alone in wearing the Browns’ uniform for the last time. Sixteen other players on the roster have expiring contracts.

While it’s not unimaginable for a few of them to be retained, most will be cast aside at no cost to the salary cap to make room for the next youth movement. The fact all of these players -- with the possible exception of one --was brought to the team by GM Tom Heckert greases their exit.

Heckert is expected to be let go by Banner as soon as Monday. Banner has put himself in charge of football operations in a restructuring of the organization. Banner effectively has usurped the total football authority that was written in Heckert’s existing contract. Heckert might not be technically fired, but he won’t be back, say numerous sources.

The other players whose contracts expire after the Pittsburgh game are:

Cornerback Sheldon Brown, defensive end Auston English, linebacker Scott Fujita, punter Reggie Hodges, running back Brandon Jackson, quarterback Josh Johnson, linebacker Kaluka Maiava, receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, receiver Jordan Norwood, running back Chris Ogbonnaya, defensive end Juqua Parker, tight end Alex Smith, defensive end Emmanuel Stephens, defensive back Ray Ventrone, tight end Ben Watson and long snapper Christian Yount.

Of those free agents-to-be, only Johnson – the newest Brown – was signed under Banner’s watch. He could be re-signed as a developmental QB prospect, depending on the next coach and personnel director.

The next wave: Another 16 players have just one more season on their contracts. Releasing these players would have only nominal ramifications to the salary cap – just the one-year pro-ration on their original signing bonuses, if any.

Players whose contracts expire after the 2013 season are:

Offensive lineman Oniel Cousins, defensive lineman Hall Davis, offensive lineman John Greco, running back Montario Hardesty, guard Shawn Lauvao, quarterback Thad Lewis, quarterback Colt McCoy, center Alex Mack, cornerback Prince Miller, linebacker Adrian Moten, linebacker Craig Robertson, defensive end Brian Sanford, guard Jarrod Shaw, tight end Brad Smelley, safety T.J. Ward and safety Usama Young.

That adds up to 34 players whose contracts expire in 2012 or 2013. Players in those groups would appear to be most vulnerable when Banner and his hand-picked hatchet man swing their axes.

Breathing easier: For the most part, players with two years or more remaining on their contracts have more salary cap costs attached to their departure. That doesn’t guarantee anything, of course, especially when a new regime takes over. But it does cause for more patience and, in some cases, may even lead to new multi-year deals.

Players whose contracts expire after the 2014 season are:

Tight end Jordan Cameron, linebacker L.J. Fort, safety Tashaun Gipson, linebacker Chris Gocong, cornerback Joe Haden, safety Eric Hagg, defensive tackle Ishmaai’ly Kitchen, receiver Greg Little, fullback Owen Marecic, guard Jason Pinkston, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, cornerback Buster Skrine, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and cornerback Trevin Wade.

Players whose contracts expire after the 2015 season are:

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, defensive back Johnson Bademosi, linebacker Tank Carder, receiver Josh Gordon, defensive tackle John Hughes, linebacker James-Michael Johnson, offensive lineman Ryan Miller, running back Trent Richardson, offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, quarterback Brandon Weeden and defensive lineman Billy Winn.

Players whose contracts expire after the 2016 season are:

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and defensive end Frostee Rucker.

And the player with the longest contract on the Browns is Joe Thomas. His contract doesn’t expire until after the 2018 season. He’ll be 34 then and conceivably could have 12 Pro Bowl years under his belt.

Thomas gives the Browns rare stability at a cornerstone position. He was former GM Phil Savage’s lasting gift to the franchise.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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