Now that the Cleveland Browns know exactly how Alex Mack’s financial impact will be the next two years, they can turn their attention elsewhere. From a talent perspective, they are focused on the draft, but with known parameters from the financial end, they can now focus their attention to taking advantage of their remaining salary cap for this year and in the future. Two players in particular stand out as possibilities; Joe Haden and Jordan Cameron.
There have been reports that the Browns have been attempting to negotiate extensions for both players. Having the Mack situation now resolved, they can know exactly how much money they have to spend not only for next year, but with cap room this year.
Haden is entering the last year of his 5-year, $50 million contract he signed as a rookie. This year, he is scheduled to make a little over $8.9 million. The Browns have been pretty open in their desire to keep Haden long term and may try to put some additional money of a contract extension into this year. Obviously, Haden would not be too upset to get a contract that could put an extra several million dollars this season as well as locking up his long term future here with a lucrative deal.
Cameron, on the other hand, is entering the last year of his rookie deal, which was a 4-year, $2.5 million deal. He is coming off of a Pro Bowl season and is in a position to capitalize on his success. The Browns may hope to get a deal done with Cameron a year before he is scheduled to be a free agent for a few reasons. First, if he has another big year or even better, his price will go up substantially. Additionally, he will become a free agent and the fact that Mack hit free agency was a set of decisions set in place by Joe Banner, it is probably a situation that Ray Farmer would like to avoid with Cameron. There is a bit of risk involved with signing Cameron to an extension now as well. Namely, that Cameron had a big year under Rob Chudzinski and tight ends coach John Embree and he could be a one-year wonder.
Cameron may be pretty motivated to get a deal done now not only to lock up his future but an extension that starts this year could be double or perhaps even triple the entire value of his rookie deal just for this year. Injuries are a part of the game and while Cameron might be better off waiting a year to really get the most bang for his buck, if they get a deal done that rewards him pretty handsomely early, it could represent a good faith move by the team and there is always the possibility of renegotiating down the line.
There was a bit of a feeling that the Mack situation may have hurt them early because they may have backed off of a couple free agents as they wanted to make sure they had enough money to ensure another team (in this case Jacksonville) could not come up with a contract that allowed them to get Mack. The popular name in that speculation is Arthur Moats who ultimately went to Pittsburgh where he will play outside linebacker as opposed to having been an inside linebacker under his former defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine. It is difficult to know how true that is, but now that Mack is sewn up, the Browns have the freedom to now try to knock out some business within the team.
Haden and Cameron are not the only two players that are scheduled to be free agents after this coming season. Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Buster Skrine and Brian Hoyer are also going to be free agents. With the change in coaches, the Browns may be more inclined to see how these guys do in a year under Pettine before they proceed to negotiate further contracts, though Taylor seems the likeliest of the group to be extended.
Hoyer, especially is one the team will wait on to see what happens. If he is ultimately the starter this year and has a good season, he will in position to command somewhere between $7-$10 million next year. As a backup or another incomplete season marred by injury and he may be a player that makes $1.5 to $2 million, should the team want to keep him.
The key thing to understand with the Mack deal is that while many will look at the numbers and assume that is too much to pay for a center, it is monopoly money to a fan. The only thing that matters is the salary cap and their ability to sign the players they want. That is something that started with Banner and appears to be continuing with Farmer.
Mack not only allows them to keep stability at the center position, which is important, especially if they want a rookie quarterback, but does not hurt their ability to keep the other players they want going forward. Hopefully, they can further use some of the cap flexibility from this year and get either Haden or Cameron done, if not both and really build a core of players to create an identity for the Browns over the next several years.