Browns All-Pro Calls Out ‘Suspicious’ Situation With Free Agent

Joel Bitonio

Getty Images Guard Joel Bitonio of the Cleveland Browns.

Joel Bitonio is not quite sure why his former teammate Cleveland Browns teammate JC Tretter remains unsigned, but he finds the fact that he’s not in a training camp “a little suspicious.”

Tretter was released by the Browns in March in a cap-saving move but was expected to have suitors. He was a reliable, high-level option in Cleveland for five seasons, missing just one game and consistently grading out as one of the top centers in the league.

Tretter pulls double-duty as the NFL Players Association president and has taken a hard line on player safety. Bitonio suggested that Tretter’s role off the field could be playing a factor in his free agency.

“It seems a little suspicious to me, but again, I don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors,” Bitonio told reporters on August 14. “I don’t know what his conversations have been with teams and stuff, but just from an outside perspective, usually players that are close to the top of their game get picked up. Teams want to win in this league, so it’s an interesting topic, for sure.”

Florio: Tretter Being Blackballed Not Far-fetched Idea

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk agreed with Bitonio’s sentiment about Tretter and said he believed higher-profile players should be involved to prevent players in those union positions from being blackballed.

“Would it be crazy to think that owners are shying away from Tretter because he has become an agitator to the oligarchs? Nope,” Florio wrote. “That’s another reason why high-profile (and highly compensated) quarterbacks should be more involved in union leadership. They’re far less likely to be blackballed, and they’re far more likely to take command of the rank and file if/when a line must be drawn in the sand — even if it means a work stoppage.”

Though Tretter is not on a roster, he’s still working as the president of the NFLPA. On August 14, he sent a message to the NFL on the condition of Soldier Field as the Bears faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“The NFL said that this field met minimum testing standards. We clearly need to re-evaluate what is an acceptable surface for players to compete on,” Tretter tweeted. “We need new testing metrics looking at the performance and safety of every field. The NFL can and should do better.”

Browns Could Look at Reunion With Tretter After Injury

Tretter’s being available could be a positive for the Browns after the team lost starting center Nick Harris to a knee injury during Friday’s preseason opener against Jacksonville. Harris went down on the first offensive series and is likely to undergo season-ending surgery, per Mary Kay Cabot of

Tretter makes sense for a variety of reasons, and Bitonio would like to see him back.

“His resume speaks for itself, the time he put in with the Browns,” Bitonio said. “We’re constantly texting and stuff like that, so we were talking [after Harris got hurt]. He was more concerned about Nick. Obviously, he worked with Nick a lot, so he was checking in on him, making sure he was in a good head space and all that stuff.

“But, yeah, if they ask me about it, I would tell them how it is. They have experience here with JC and what he brings to the table as a player.”

The internal solution for the Browns would be Ethan Pocic, who was signed this offseason and brings some significant starting experience to the table. Pocic logged 40 starts with the Seahawks prior to landing in Cleveland.

“He is a physical football player,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said Saturday. “He is a big center. He has really good size. Has played a lot of football in his career. For us, it is just getting him good exposure to what we do, which we have been doing since April.”

The Browns have the remaining cap room to make it work with Tretter, but it comes down to how much faith they have in Pocic to take over the important role.

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