BEREA, Ohio -- After a lengthy labor lockout, training camp and four preseason games, first-year Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur finally has his roster set.
For the moment.
One week before their opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns got down to the NFL's 53-man limit Saturday by releasing 27 players and placed running back Brandon Jackson on injured reserve with a toe injury that will end his season.
Jackson signed a two-year, $4.5 million free-agent contract with the Browns before training camp opened. He was hurt during an Aug. 19 preseason game against the Detroit Lions and has been in a cast for two weeks. The Browns haven't specified his injury nor given a timetable for his return.
Despite having plenty of money to spend in free agency, the Browns weren't aggressive while other teams splurged. The one significant move they did make was signing Jackson, a key contributor for the Super Bowl champion Packers last season. The Browns had planned to use Jackson on third downs and to spell Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, who's coming off knee surgery.
That job now goes to Armond Smith, an undrafted free agent from Union College. Smith had some nice moments during the preseason, breaking off an 81-yard touchdown run against Detroit, but he also had trouble holding onto the ball.
Earlier in the day, Smith said making the final roster won't slow him down.
"I will be even hungrier to go out and try to compete," he said. "I still have to earn my spot. Of course, it would be making a jump. Our coach always tells us make a jump, make a jump. If I'm still here, then I have to make another jump to the next level."
Shurmur's initial roster could undergo more changes in the days ahead.
General manager Tom Heckert will continue to scan the waiver wire, looking for players to help the Browns, who have gone 5-11 the past two seasons and have a long way to go to catch the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We're combing the (waiver) wire and we have been," Shurmur said. "It doesn't start now. We've foreshadowed this by looking at rosters and seeing where guys fit. We have a list of guys that we would highlight to bring in even though maybe their fate hasn't been finally sealed wherever they're at."
There were few surprises as the Browns made the final decisions on their roster.
Shurmur released third-string quarterback Jarrett Brown, who could clear waivers and still be added to the practice squad.
This is Shurmur's first head-coaching gig at any level, and he said telling players they weren't good enough to be Browns was difficult. He spoke to some of the players who were released, thanking them for their hard work this summer and encouraging them to stay at it.
"The message is that they did a fine job while they were here," he said. "Unfortunately, we can't keep everybody so keep working hard and keep the dream alive because there are a lot of players around the league that have been cut before they either went to a team where they fit or there's a potential that somebody that we've released could be back with us here within days.
"I think that's the message, continue to work and continue to be ready so when you get a phone call, you're ready to go."
Evan Moore can relate.
The tight end was waived by the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers before signing with the Browns, who have big expectations for the 25-year-old. On Friday, Moore signed a two-year contract extension worth nearly $3 million per year.
"From the time I got into this league, all I was told was I wasn't good enough, and I'm not going to play, we're not going to draft you, we're letting you go," Moore said. "I didn't pay attention to it. The thing I'll never forget though is when I left Green Bay, they kind of asked me, 'What are you going to do now?' As if football wasn't in the equation. That pushes me on a daily basis."
Notes: Starting TE Ben Watson (hip) and LB Chris Gocong (neck) were on bikes during the 15-minute window of practice open to the media. Shurmur said both players are close to returning. ... WR Mohamed Massaquoi practiced, and Shurmur expects him to be ready for the Sept. 11 season opener. ... Moore is thrilled about his extension, and QB Colt McCoy is glad he'll have the 6-foot-6 tight end around. "He's a big target for us," McCoy said. "We can use him a lot of different ways. We're excited that he's going to be here for a while." ... Rookie S Eric Hagg also might go on IR, Shurmur said. Hagg, a seventh-round pick from Nebraska, had knee surgery Aug. 15.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press