October 25, 2014

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Browns add wide receivers to roster

General manager Ray Farmer has started collecting insurance policies in case All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon is forced to serve a suspension.

The Browns added a pair of veteran receivers Thursday, agreeing to terms with former Dallas Cowboy Miles Austin and signing former Chicago Bear Earl Bennett. They’d been on the market since March.

Undrafted free agent defensive lineman Elhadji Ndiaye also signed.

Austin (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) played 106 games for Dallas in eight years after being undrafted, catching 301 passes for 4,481 yards and 34 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and ’10.

Austin’s breakout season was 2009, when he led the Cowboys with 1,320 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on a career-high 81 catches. He followed with 69 catches for a team-high 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns.

Austin, who will turn 30 in June, has started 58 games, including eight of 11 last year, when he caught 24 passes for 244 yards. He’s been bothered by hamstring injuries.

Bennett, 27, was a third-round pick of the Bears and spent six years with them before being released in March after he reportedly declined to take a pay cut.

Bennett (6-1, 205) has made 29 starts in 78 games, totaling 185 receptions for 2,277 yards, a 12.3 average and 12 touchdowns. In three starts and 15 games last season, he caught 32 passes for 243 yards (7.6 average) and four touchdowns.

He finished his career at Vanderbilt as the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in receptions with 236.

According to an ESPN report last week, Gordon could face an indefinite suspension for failing a marijuana test. He would be eligible to apply for reinstatement after a year. He’s expected to appeal.

Gordon led the NFL with a franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards last season despite being suspended for the first two games. He was fined an additional two game checks.

Farmer had multiple opportunities to draft a receiver last week but didn’t. He signed four undrafted rookies, then made the two moves Thursday.

“There’s plenty of opportunity for us to address what everyone would believe is a need … there’s plenty of opportunity to add players, to change the roster and really make a difference,” Farmer said Saturday following the draft. “There will be college free agents. There will be other receivers to move off of rosters depending on whom they selected. There will be opportunities to make trades based upon how teams look at their rosters once they’ve had a chance to evaluate the young men that they’ve drafted or picked up as college free agents.

“All of those strategies and all of those opportunities, there will be moments that we can add more talent to our roster. When those opportunities present themselves, we hope to strike.”

Farmer said he doesn’t have a preferred method.

“It doesn’t matter to me if you find the guy via trade, if you find him via he’s on the street,” he said. “We just want people that can come in, compete to be starters on this football team and improve the overall talent on the roster.”

Nate Burleson, a candidate to start, recently had surgery to fix a broken bone in his arm and will be out until training camp. The other receivers in the mix are Greg Little, Andrew Hawkins, Charles Johnson, Travis Benjamin and Josh Cooper, along with rookie free agents Chandler Jones, Jonathan Krause, Kenny Shaw and Willie Snead.

Little struggled last season, and Johnson and Benjamin are recovering from torn anterior cruciate ligaments.

Ndiaye, who was born in Senegal, joined a group of 11 undrafted free agents signed Monday. Ndiaye (6-4, 265) led Nebraska-Kearney with six sacks.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.