Currently, the Browns are sitting at $19 million under the cap, which has been set at $120.6 million. The extra $1.6 million – bumping up the cap space from the original amount of $17.4 million – is now available thanks to some cheating teams in the uncapped year of 2010. Cleveland ranks 12th in terms of how much they have to spend; the Cincinnati Bengals are sitting in first, as they are $49.9 million under the cap.
So what does this mean? The Browns are certainly in a favorable cap position, but they were even better off last season. The fact of the matter is that this front office doesn’t hope to create a winning team just through free agency.
That doesn’t mean the Browns won’t be spending any money this offseason. General manager Tom Heckert has said that he’d like to bring back as many of the team’s own free agents as possible, and that includes running back Peyton Hillis. Other names on Heckert’s radar are safety Mike Adams, cornerback Dimitri Patterson, and defensive end Marcus Benard, who is expected to fully recover from the injuries he sustained in a motorcycle crash during the 2011 season.
With that in mind, fans shouldn’t expect the Browns to go out and sign a big-name free agent like wide receiver Vincent Jackson. The team will be looking for more affordable options to help complement the young talent that will be acquired through the NFL Draft.
At the very least, the Browns will continue to build around a core group of players rather than look for the quick-fix solution in free agency. Make no mistake, this team is nowhere close to contending for the playoffs, so no free agent can possibly come in as that final piece needed to make a run at the division. Not yet at least.
Expectations must be tempered in Cleveland as the free agency period begins. However, if the team manages to re-sign its own coveted free agents, it should be counted as a major victory.