For the most part, Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert’s personnel moves have been exceptional during their tenure in the Browns’ front office. Their drafts have netted a number of players who will be key components to the Browns’ success in the future, such as Phil Taylor, T.J. Ward, Joe Haden, Jabaal Sheard, and Greg Little. In free agency, they have brought in solid yet underrated contributors such as Usama Young, Dimitri Patterson, and Scott Fujita. Furthermore, their draft-day trades have helped the team stockpile a wealth of picks that will hopefully be used to add even more talent in the future.
All of the above makes Tuesday’s release of longtime long snapper Ryan Pontbriand even more ill-timed and mistaken than it would have been under previous Browns regimes.
There’s no question that Pontbriand has had a season to forget. Any NFL fan who watched SportsCenter after the Browns’ losses to the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals saw how Pontbriand’s errant snaps contributed directly to two missed field goals at the end of games that results in two Browns losses. Browns fans who have stayed loyal to the team through their difficult season have seen the number of other wild snaps that holder Brad Maynard was miraculously able to recover and properly hold successfully for kicker Phil Dawson.
However, plenty of other Browns have had miserable seasons in recent years. Tony Pashos has struggled all season long, putting quarterback Colt McCoy’s health in jeopardy and constantly preventing the offense from developing a rhythm. Has he been waived? No. Did the Browns cut Eric Wright to the curb after he gave up multiple touchdown passes against the Baltimore Ravens last season? No. Are the Browns going to cut Little because of his season-long struggles to catch the ball? Not a chance.
The fact that Holmgren and Heckert, two solid football minds who have put the Browns on a solid course of rebuilding, chose to dump a proven two-time Pro Bowler who has been integral to the success of the Browns’ kicking game over the past eight seasons simply because of a few games during one bad season is shocking.
The fact that they chose to put the long snapping duties in the hands of Christian Yount, an undrafted rookie with seven career games under his belt, is also very surprising.
Yount played his college football at UCLA and started the season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Los Angeles and Tampa Bay aren’t exactly two places known for inclement weather during the season. There’s no proof that Yount will be able to effectively handle the snapping duties when wind and snow is swirling through Cleveland Browns Stadium in December or when the team is attempting to navigate the destroyed turf at Heinz Field late in the season.
Aside from Pontbriand’s bad snaps, the kicking game has been one of the major bright spots for the Browns this season. Dawson has single-handedly won the Browns at least one game this season and has kicked several other long field goals. However, with one move on Tuesday afternoon that probably went undetected by many fans, the Browns succeeded in creating yet another area of uncertainty for a franchise with far too much instability at key positions.