To the absolute surprise of no one, Ryan Tucker's long – and productive -- career with the Browns is apparently over.
Sports talker Mark "Munch" Bishop of Cleveland's WKNR (850 AM) reported this afternoon on the radio station's Web site that the club has released the right guard/right tackle, and all signs point to that being true even though the Browns will not confirm it.
First of all, Bishop and Tucker are tight. He has appeared as an on-air guest of Bishop on occasion, so it would make sense that he would get such a story first.
Secondly, it has been reported by the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram – and confirmed independently by the OBR – that Tucker had arthroscopic knee surgery last week. When the OBR asked Browns head coach Eric Mangini on Monday during his daily press conference if Tucker would practice later in the day and/or play in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Chicago Bears, Mangini quickly said no on both accounts. Before, when Mangini, who refuses to discuss or even acknowledge injuries, would be asked about Tucker's availability, he would say only that he was continuing to evaluate him.
[Editor's note: a team source tells the OBR that there is no longer a locker reserved for Tucker.]
Tucker played in the first two preseason games against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, but has not practiced much. He was not seen all last week and did not play in last Saturday night's 23-17 win over the Tennessee Titans. The Browns have acted mysteriously about his absence.
When Tucker has played and practiced, he has been steadily sliding down the depth chart. Whereas at the start of training camp he was getting a lot of work at both guard and tackle with the No. 1 offense, he was with mostly the third-string when he last appeared. He looked slow as well. Word is that he was suffering from considerable swelling in his knee.
In the last interview Tucker granted, he told a small group of reporters, including the OBR, that he was doing "fine" and that it "felt good" to be back. But the distant look on his face indicated things weren't fine, that something was wrong. But until Monday, nobody knew what, exactly, the problem was.
With Tucker hurt, the Browns, by NFL rules, must reach an injury settlement with him before they can release him. Clubs, most of which are at the current roster limit of 80, must get down to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Browns, who officially cut three players on Monday in tight end Nate Jackson, cornerback Rod Hood and linebacker Robert McCune, and re-signed rookie free-agent offensive tackle Branndon Braxton of Youngstown (Ohio) Ursuline High School, are at 78 players pending any action regarding Tucker.
Tucker, who was signed on March 7, 2002 as an unrestricted free agent from the St. Louis Rams, came into camp as the second-most tenured Brown. Only kicker Phil Dawson, the lone player left in the NFL from the Browns' 1999 expansion team, has been with the team longer.
More than that, though, Tucker has been the Browns' best offensive lineman overall of the expansion era. He has received high praise from head coaches Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and even Mangini. The 6-foot-6, 315-pounder was always one of the Browns' biggest players, and also their strongest player physically. A brute-force type run blocker, Tucker was dominant and overpowering force once he locked onto a defender. It's the reason that when he was in there, the Browns frequently ran behind him.
The problem, though, for Tucker, especially in recent seasons, has been remaining healthy and staying on the field. The 34-year-old, who was in his 13th season and eighth with the Browns, missed all of training camp and the preseason last year, and the first four regular-season games, with hip problems, but returned to play against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football and helped lead the Browns to a 35-14 win over the defending Super Bowl champions. But he injured his knee in the contest and never played again.
That contest was easily the bright spot in a Browns season that otherwise was terribly disappointing en route to a 4-12 finish.
Tucker also was able to start only the last eight games of 2007 because of having arthroscopic knee surgery at the start of camp.
He missed the final seven contests of 2006 with emotional problems, and in '04, he was limited to seven games with a knee injury.
Only once in the previous five seasons – 2005 – has Tucker played in and started all 16 games. In that time, he has played in only 45 games with just 41 starts out of a possible 80 contests.
So while Tucker's departure will not affect the 2009 Browns that much, it nonetheless marks the end of an era for this new edition of the franchise. He stood out not only on the field, but off it as well, being a much-needed leader in the locker room.
With Tucker gone, tight end Steve Heiden, acquired in a trade with the San Diego Chargers just before the start of the 2002 regular season, now becomes the second-longest-tenured Brown. He had struggled in camp after having had offseason knee surgery, but seems to be getting better – and is playing better – and in all likelihood will be one of the three players the Browns are expected to keep at that position.