By TOM WITHERS, Associated Press
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns starting linebacker Scott Fujita will be placed on injured reserve with a neck injury, ending his stormy season — and perhaps his football career.
Fujita, one four players suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal, was inactive the past two games. He last started on Oct. 7 in a game against the New York Giants.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur spoke with Fujita on Wednesday before practice. Shurmur does not know if Fujita, an 11-year veteran and one of the league's most informed players, will retire.
The 33-year-old Fujita had neck surgery in college.
Fujita's season has been marred by injuries and the suspension. He always maintained his innocence from the pay-for-hits program and Goodell recently reduced his three-game suspension to one. However, Fujita was angered by a letter he received from the commissioner and harshly criticized Goodell for "abuse of power" in handling the Saints' situation. Fujita also questioned the commissioner's track record on player safety.
It's not yet known if Fujita will continue to fight to clear his name.
Fujita signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2010 after spending four seasons with the Saints. He played just 23 of a possible 39 games with the Browns because of injuries.
He's highly respected in the locker room and on the field, and the Browns will miss Fujita's leadership. However, Fujita was not part of Cleveland's long-term plans as the team has been immersed in a youth movement this season.
With Fujita sidelined, rookie James-Michael Johnson will likely start at strongside linebacker on Sunday against San Diego. Johnson has started Cleveland's past two games, recording three tackles.
Shurmur said losing Fujita's savvy hurts, and that Johnson and rookie L.J. Fort will need to step up.
"Just from a roster standpoint, we got younger guys playing those positions and when you got a guy who has experience there's things that he can add to the mix," Shurmur said. "On the other side of it some of the youth and enthusiasm and fresher legs add another little dimension."