The Cleveland Browns’ bye week should result in more changes to the active roster than just the seemingly permanent switch at quarterback from Josh McCown to Johnny Manziel. With general manager Ray Farmer and team owner Jimmy Haslam apparently successful in making a power play against head coach Mike Pettine and his doling out of playing time, we could be on track to see more of some of the players treated like afterthoughts through the first 10 games this year.
One of these could be receiver Dwayne Bowe, the $12.5-million man (with $9 million in guaranteed money), who has appeared sparingly in just four games this year, and mainly as a result of injuries suffered by other Browns receivers. Though his summer was marred by a lingering hamstring injury that continued through the first game of the season, Bowe has spent most of his year as a healthy scratch, not even on the team’s 46-man gameday roster. According to Pro Football Focus, Bowe has played just 34 snaps on the season—eight in Week 2, four in Week 4, seven in Week 8 and a season-high 15 in Week 9, when he recorded his only catches of the year. He’s been thrown to eight times, but only has three catches for 31 yards. With $2,812,500 of his $4.5 million 2015 take-home pay already meted out, that figures to be a whopping $937,500 per catch. His lack of playing time is not his fault, though. Pointing the finger solely at Bowe for Bowe’s inability to get on the field is wrong.
As the OBR’s Lane Adkins reported earlier in November, Pettine is solely responsible for determining who plays and who doesn’t. And Pettine said in October that, in his eyes, Bowe is not one of the Browns’ top-four receivers—instead, he preferred Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin, Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins on the field. That’s curious, though, given that Pettine has had little time to work with a healthy Bowe during the summer and hasn’t seemed to give him a chance to regain his footing on the depth chart since. Pettine doesn’t precisely know what he has in Bowe as a result, and that’s where another problem lies. Farmer was highly enthusiastic about the Bowe signing in the spring, so much so that Farmer sat Bowe down, and, according to Bowe, “He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays.” Perhaps Farmer simply thought wrong about what Bowe still had left in the tank as a 30-year old (and now 31) wideout. Still, it’s obvious that the general manager and the head coach are of two different minds about what Bowe could bring to the Browns’ offense.
And, regardless of what Pettine thinks of Bowe, either personally or professionally, it’s clear that he left no room for Bowe to advance his way onto the field after healing from his hamstring injury. And it’s also clear that Bowe is commanding a great deal of money to do precisely nothing. If Pettine’s willingness to turn to Manziel is about a combination of ownership and front-office pressure and the two-win, eight-loss season currently facing the Browns, then it should follow that Bowe deserves similar treatment. Can Bowe still play? We don’t know. Pettine knows, but there’s also the matter of Pettine not giving Bowe a fair chance as a way to “spite” Farmer, according to Adkins, so it’s also a very real possibility that Bowe’s lack of playing time is a Pettine construct and not a reflection of Bowe’s ability to contribute.
Pettine may have no choice but to give Bowe more playing time in Week 12’s Monday night contest against the Baltimore Ravens. Gabriel and Hawkins are both in the NFL’s concussion protocol, with Hawkins suffering his second concussion in a few weeks’ span. But, even if both Hawkins and Gabriel are active against Baltimore, Bowe should be as well if the bye-week adjustments are based upon Pettine capitulating to Farmer’s wishes in order to try to not only salvage the Browns’ season but also his job. At this point in the year, with this record, there’s no reason for such a highly-paid player to sit on the bench if he’s healthy. The Browns have $8 million wrapped up in Bowe for 2016, and would incur $4.6 million in dead salary cap charges if they cut him. So they may as well try to see what they can get out of him now to try to make this signing not seem like such a blunder.