The Browns are acting like a team worried about the wide receiver position.
Today the orange and brown signed free agent wide receiver Maurice Mann, who has been, at best, a bottom-of-the roster player during his three-year NFL career.
The Browns could just be stockpiling bodies to serve as targets for what should be an interesting competition at quarterback. The team's recent behavior, however, suggests other concerns, as they seem to be fishing for talent in a fairly shallow pool of available pass catchers.
The line was originally cast into murky waters after the NFL draft, as Phil Savage signed Tennessee State WR Mike Mason. Mason is a speedster who apparently left North Carolina due to off-the-field entanglements. An unusual signing for the Browns, the team paid for their risk-taking with minor headlines last month after Mason got himself a court appearance for refusing to leave a Cleveland nightclub.
Low-level roster tweaking has continued since then. Several weeks ago, the Browns acquired WR Efrem Hill, cutting DB Ben Emanuel to make room on the roster.
Arguably, the team started fishing even earlier, trading for WR Tim Carter in exchange for RB Reuben Droughns. Carter, fast but oft-injured, had been a disappointment after being drafted in the second round by the New York Giants.
What might concern Browns even more than the gamble associated with Carter is that he was lining up opposite Braylon Edwards as the team's number two receiver frequently during the June mini-camp.
Elsewhere, the depth chart at wide receiver is littered with both expectations and question marks: Braylon Edwards hasn't played close to what would be expected from his high draft position, particularly after suffering an ACL injury in 2005. Ostensibly the second wideout, Joe Jurevicius has veteran savvy, but will find it harder to get separation from cornerbacks each year. Travis Wilson has considerable potential, but rarely saw the field in 2006, and Josh Cribbs is a converted quarterback who has never seen regular time in the lineup at receiver.
All of which adds up to a team that seems to be flailing around a bit as it seeks to put together its wide receiver corps.
Does Maurice Mann have a chance to solidify that group? After a career that has seen four clubs (Vikings, Seahawks, Dolphins, and Bengals) in three years, it doesn't seem likely.
According to Scout.com team experts, Browns fans shouldn't get their hopes up.
Vikings Update publisher Tim Yotter tells the OBR:
"Mann was brought in just before the start of the 2006 season when the team signed him off Seattle's practice squad. He didn't have a great chance to get to ease his way into the Vikings' system.
After losing Nate Burleson to the Seahawks in free agency and releasing the troubled Koren Robinson, the Vikings were ultra-thin at receiver. Mann spent the first five games on the active roster (although he was inactive on game day during four of those weeks) and the remainder of the season on the practice squad. He might be a capable last receiver on a roster, but he didn't show any truly great characteristics as a receiver, making it difficult to find a role for him."
Doug Farrar of Seahawks.net echoes Tim's concerns:
After a 2005 season spent on Seattle's practice squad, Mann made a good preseason showing for the Seahawks in 2006, standing out especially against the Cowboys. However, D.J. Hackett was the #4, and the team required a more explosive return presence. The need for that roster spot determined Mann's release on September 5th. He has good speed off the line, but I remember him as a REALLY skinny guy. As in, so skinny, you'd wonder if he'd break in two if he ever tried to block someone.
While focus since the draft has often been on who will be throwing passes for the Browns in 2007, Browns fans paying close attention might also start to be concerned about the players who are catching them.