The Browns really don’t want quarterback Brock Osweiler. They’re willing to pay him $16 million not to play for them.
Despite owing him $16 million guaranteed this season, the Browns released Osweiler on Friday afternoon, a league source confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram as the team waited to announce the move until Saturday. He had lost the quarterback competition to rookie DeShone Kizer, and the Browns decided not to keep him around as a backup.
The team also cut veteran offensive lineman John Greco, kicker Cody Parkey and defensive lineman Xavier Cooper, a source said. The release of Parkey means rookie seventh-round pick Zane Gonzalez will be the kicker.
The roster must be down to 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m., so the Browns have eight more cuts to make following 18 minor moves earlier Friday.
The Browns didn’t want Osweiler when they agreed to take him and his contract in a trade with the Houston Texans in March that netted Cleveland a second-round draft pick in 2018. The Browns tried to trade him as soon as they acquired him but found no team willing to take even a portion of his contract.
The Browns kept the 6-foot-7 veteran throughout the offseason and training camp, giving him two preseason starts and hoping a team would develop a quarterback need, but still were unable to unload him. He didn’t play in the final two preseason games.
Owner Jimmy Haslam signed off on acquiring the contract in March and may have a little easier time writing the giant checks to a player not on the roster after the organization saved $11.1 million with the release of cornerback Joe Haden on Wednesday, $3 million with the release of defensive lineman Desmond Bryant earlier in camp and $3 million for Greco.
The Browns could save another $775,000 if another team signs Osweiler and pays him the veteran minimum.
The Browns could add a veteran over the weekend after teams make their roster cuts, but for now no quarterback on the roster has won an NFL game. Osweiler went 14-9 over the last two seasons with Denver and Houston.
“You have to make sure you keep the best players that you feel that can help you win,” coach Hue Jackson said Friday when asked about Osweiler before he had been cut. “Experience is important, but at the same time, I think talent level and where we are and what we are trying to accomplish is important, too.”
Head of football operations Sashi Brown, who has final say over the roster, still has to decide whether to keep Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan or both second-year quarterbacks. Kessler was 0-8 as a rookie starter last year, while Hogan played sparingly off the bench.
“We haven’t made a final decision yet, but we are getting closer to wrapping that up here pretty soon,” Jackson said.
Brown told reporters Thursday before the preseason finale he might keep only two quarterbacks. Jackson prefers three.
“I like to have as many as I can have,” he said. “I would like to have at least three if we could, but if we decide to go with two and we feel that is best for the organization, then we will do that, too.
“One thing I know, we are going to have a starter. We have to have a backup. After that, however this unfolds is how it is going to unfold.”
Osweiler was never in the team’s plans, but the longer he stayed, the more likely it seemed he would stick around. Brown said during camp he’d be “surprised” if Osweiler didn’t make the team.
Osweiler, 26, worked as the No. 2 quarterback behind Kessler throughout the offseason program and for the start of training camp. He was elevated to No. 1 for the first two preseason games, getting his first work with the first-team offense.
Any chance he had of winning the starting job or staying for the season disappeared in two poor outings. He didn’t score a point in six possessions, going 12-for-22 (54.5 percent) for 67 yards, an interception and a 41.3 rating.
Cutting Greco, 32, is a bit of a surprise. The Youngstown native started 66 games in six years with the Browns, seeing time at center and both guard spots. He returned for the start of camp after Lisfranc foot surgery late last season and appeared to be the perfect veteran backup for the beefed-up interior of the line.
Brown likely tried to get a draft pick through a trade but didn’t find any takers.
Cooper was a third-round pick in 2015 and made only two starts in 27 games. He opened camp with the starting defense but slid down the depth chart.
Gonzalez likely got the nod over Parkey in a tight competition because he’s a draft pick. He also has a slight edge in power — although both have strong legs — and made a 53-yard field goal Thursday night in the preseason finale.
Gonzalez won the Lou Groza Award as a senior at Arizona State as the nation’s top collegiate kicker and finished his Arizona State career as the FBS leader in field goals (96) and points by a kicker (494).
Parkey joined the Browns in Week 3 last year and went 20-for-25 on field goals. He was a Pro Bowler as a rookie with Philadelphia in 2014. He’ll likely be picked up by another team.