Browns running back Jamal Lewis had already announced that he was going to retire at the end of the season, ending an outstanding 10-year NFL career, the last three seasons of which have been spent with the Browns.
But the end came much sooner than expected – five games sooner, in fact – when the club announced early Wednesday evening that the possible future Hall of Famer, along with starting safety Brodney Pool, had been placed onto the Injured Reserve list.
Both have concussion injuries. Lewis' ailment is being described as post-concussion syndrome, but the Browns aren't releasing any specifics as of yet, and may not, with head coach Eric Mangini's reluctance to discuss injuries.
As for Pool, he sustained a concussion – the fourth in his five-year career – in last Sunday's 16-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Though no one is commenting specifically on that situation, either, the frequency of the injuries could cause Pool, a second-round choice of the Browns in the 2005 NFL Draft, to retire at the young age of 25. His contract is up at the end of the year.
This brings to 10 the number of players the Browns have on IR. Going on it Monday was their best defensive player and one of three Pro Bowlers from the team last season, nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who suffered an undisclosed lower leg injury against the Bengals.
"After consulting with our medical team, we felt that this was in the best interests of both Jamal and Brodney at this time," Mangini said in a statement as the Browns began to get ready for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns Stadium. . "As I've said before, organizationally, players' health and safety are paramount in any decision we make with regards to putting them back on the field.
"Jamal has been an integral part of this team, and he has exhibited a great work ethic. He worked hard, studied hard and set a good example for the younger running backs.
"I was encouraged with Brodney's progress each week and appreciated his approach and attitude towards this season. Through 11 games, he had already reached his career bests for interceptions (four) and passes defensed (10) both of which lead the team.'
Mangini added, "I'm disappointed that Jamal and Brodney are not going to be able to finish out the season, and I thank them both for their contributions this year."
Lewis has had injury previous problems this year, but they involved his ankle and hamstring. He missed back-to-back games early in the year against the Baltimore Ravens (Sept. 27) and Bengals (Oct. 4) with the hamstring issue. He was listed as probable for the Bengals contest with the ankle and played throughout, rushing 11 times for 40 yards, both team highs.
Before the injury report for the game came out late Wednesday afternoon, listing Lewis and Pool as being out with head injuries, there was no mention by the team immediately after the game, or in the three days since, concerning any other physical problems for Lewis.
Mangini said nothing about it on Wednesday during his daily press conference.
Through 11 games this season, Lewis is far and away the team rushing leader, having exactly 500 yards, or about twice the amount of runner-up Jerome Harrison (257) in 143 attempts, with a 3.5 yards-per-carry average. Lewis, who played his first seven seasons with Baltimore before signing with the Browns as an unrestricted free agent in 2007, had 1,304 yards in his first season with Cleveland, the seventh-best total in franchise history and the best for anyone other than Hall of Famer Jim Brown. Despite playing last year on a 4-12 team, he rushed for 1,002 yards, becoming the first Brown to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Mike Pruitt did it three times from 1979-81.
For his career, Lewis is eighth on the Browns' all-time rushing list with 2,806 yards and is 21st on the NFL's all-time list with 10,607 yards. He needed just 37 yards to pass Ricky Watters and move into 20th place.
Much was made last Aug. 29 when Lewis turned 30, which historically has been the age when backs start to decline. However, the fact his numbers are down this year may be more the fact the Browns have arguably their worst team in history. They have lost six in a row, are 1-10 for the first time ever and could be on the way to setting not only some club records for offensive futility, but some NFL marks as well.
Twice this year, Lewis has been critical of Mangini, saying first that the team lacked chemistry and a plan, and later charging that the Browns practice too long and hard and have nothing left for the games.
With that, and the fact that Lewis had already announced that he was retiring, and with the Browns in a major rebuilding process that has them looking for players who can help them down the road, not necessarily this year, Mangini won't miss him.
This gives the coach time to take a longer look at running backs Chris Jennings, a 23-year-old rookie who had played in the CFL, and Harrison, a fourth-year pro. The Browns could also add another back to fill the roster spot they still have open.
They filled one of the spots when they were awarded defensive back Ramzee Robinson off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles, with whom he had played three games this year. Robinson was originally drafted by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round in 2007 out of Alabama.
Pool will be replaced by either Mike Adams or Hank Poteat, or both. His absence also might force the Browns to suit up cornerback Coye Francies, a sixth-round choice who, for some unknown reason, was made inactive the last two games.