Chris Hubbard is used to winning when the Browns travel to Pittsburgh, but that’s because he’s used to playing for the home team.
Hubbard played his first four years in Pittsburgh before signing with the Browns this offseason, losing just one game to the Browns in that span, zero at Heinz Field. This Sunday, he’ll return to his former home in enemy colors.
“I was over there so long, they were pretty much family,” Hubbard said. “Being on the other side now, I know what to expect from Pittsburgh. ‘Cause I’ve been there.”
For the last 15 years, the Steelers have known what to expect when Cleveland comes to town, too. The Browns haven’t won a game in Pittsburgh since 2003, when Hubbard was 12 years old.
But a lot has changed since then, or even since last year. The Browns overhauled their roster, coercing Hubbard to switch allegiances in the process.
“It’s fun,” Hubbard said of playing for the rivalry’s underdog. “They don’t know what to expect. We’re a different team. We’re a different unit.”
Hubbard hopes to use his familiarity to help his current teammates beat his former ones. He’s practiced against the Steelers’ pass rush and stood in their huddles. He knows how Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin think. Now his orange-and-brown clad teammates do, too.
“I always tell (my teammates) different nuggets and things that they can work on,” Hubbard said. “Being around (the Steelers) for so long, you just know them personally – what works for them and what does not work for them.”
What works for all AFC North teams is physicality. Strength of will carries more importance during these divisional matchups. These games are violent; players get hurt. So how does Hubbard feel about punishing his former family members?
When the Cleveland Browns and general manager John Dorsey signed right tackle Chris Hubbard to a five-year, $37.5 million contract this off-season, it was a surprise to many.
Hubbard did not have extensive starting experience, starting only 14 games in four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After starting ten games in 2017, the Browns felt that they saw enough in his performance that made them feel comfortable giving him the large contract in the off-season.
It also helped Hubbard that Todd Haley, his offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, became the offensive coordinator for the Browns.
But after nine games this season, it has been apparent that Hubbard was not worth the contract he received, as he has struggled to limit pressure. The Browns offensive line has given up the most sacks in the league with 35.
Most of the pressure has come from the edges, as Hubbard and Desmond Harrison have struggled this season. Hubbard has allowed six sacks and 19 hurries this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Despite him signing this off-season, it is hard to imagine Hubbard staying in Cleveland past this season. With Baker Mayfield under center, the Browns are going to want to limit the amount of hits he takes, and having Hubbard as the starting right tackle is concerning.
The biggest hang-up would be how much the dead cap the Browns would carry if they released or traded Hubbard after the season. But the Browns signed Hubbard with most of the guaranteed money at signing, giving the team more flexibility throughout the length of the deal.
According to Spotrac, if the Browns were to release or trade Hubbard before June 1st, they would only have $3.2 million in dead money in 2019 and save $4.1 million. For as large of a contract that Hubbard signed, that is not a lot of money dead money to carry. And with the amount of cap space the Browns are expected to have in the off-season, that money will not hurt them in the short-term.
Haley being fired also does not help Hubbard’s case, as the former Browns offensive coordinator was likely Hubbard’s biggest supporter. Without Haley, there may not be another proponent in the organization for keeping Hubbard on the roster.