The uncertainty surrounding All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon seemed to be an opening for Greg Little.
Little, whose flashes of strong play were overshadowed by drops and drama, was released by the Browns on Friday.
Gordon could face an indefinite suspension after failing a marijuana test, ESPN reported last week. Little won’t be the one stepping into the vacancy.
Little was a second-round pick (No. 59 overall) in 2011 out of North Carolina. He started 41 of 48 games, catching 155 passes for 1,821 yards with eight touchdowns. He led the team in receptions his first two years.
But he struggled with drops throughout his tenure, and his production slid off last year, when he posted career lows with 41 catches for 465 yards and two touchdowns. He was briefly demoted from his starting job.
The new regime of general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine didn’t see enough in the minicamp and early offseason workouts to give Little a longer look, even though he had the extra motivation of being in the last year of his contract. He was cut loose the day after veteran receivers Miles Austin and Earl Bennett were signed.
“The young man’s talented,” Farmer said after the NFL Draft when asked if Little could improve. “The question mark would then fall onto can he be consistent and do the things that he has physically demonstrated he can do at times. If he continues to do those things and add a level of consistency, the difference between being good and great is consistency.”
Little, a converted running back, was also a disappointment off the field, as he struggled with maturity issues. He was banned from returning to the University of North Carolina for his association with an agent and had multiple traffic violations, including one in which he went 127 mph in a 55 mph zone. He had 93 parking tickets during his time with the Tar Heels.
His best game last season — seven catches for 122 yards vs. the Ravens — was marred by a pair of 15-yard penalties.
The release of Little leaves the Browns with only defensive lineman Phil Taylor from the blockbuster Julio Jones trade.
The Falcons traded Cleveland five draft picks in 2011 for the No. 6 pick, which they used on the receiver from Alabama. The Browns spent the picks on Taylor, Little, fullback Owen Marecic (fourth-rounder in 2011) and quarterback Brandon Weeden (No. 22 in 2012). They used a fourth-rounder in 2012 to move up one spot to draft running back Trent Richardson, who was traded last year.