Cleveland Browns: Managing the salary cap for a 2018 run
By Joel W. Cade
Browns spending on free agency
The rebuilding Browns were not major players in the free agent market. However, they did make a few calculated moves. These moves were consistent with the plan to free cap space for when their window of opportunity opens.
The biggest free agent signing was Robert Griffin III. He is certainly a big name acquisition. The 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year certainly has potential to become a franchise quarterback. If the Browns are willing to embrace him as a two-year project, they may have struck gold.
The best thing about this signing is the contract. Griffin signed a two-year, $15 million contract with only $7 million guaranteed. That is a relatively small cap number, even for a backup quarterback. His contract would end after the 2017 season. If he proves his worth, he could get a major pay-day from the Browns going into 2018.
The Browns also signed young cheap free agents who have the upside to be major contributors come the 2018 season. DeMario Davis, 27 years old, signed a two-year $8 million ($4 million guaranteed) contract. He looks to contribute immediately on defense. If he pans out, he will still be under 30 years old in 2018. Alvin Bailey was signed to a 3-year, $6 million contract ($1 million guaranteed). If he can earn a spot on the line in 2018, he will be 26 years old entering the prime of his career.
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Other notable free agent signings were former second round pick Rahim Moore, linebacker Justin Tuggle and defensive back Eric Patterson. All are young. Moore and Tuggle are 26. Patterson is 23. Combined they are guaranteed $400,000 next season.
The theme in free agency was to sign low risk/high reward players who could contribute to the Browns rebuilding project.
In the end, the Browns have managed their salary cap with the goal of having flexibility at the time they enter their window of opportunity. Come 2018, the Browns should have the cap room to sign young players and to be aggressive on the free agent market. If this all plays out, the Browns could be primed for years of success.
But this begs the question. Can a baseball style rebuild work in the NFL? It is a league designed to promote parity among teams. Even if the Browns were successful in building a contending team, can they keep the core in place to maintain long-term success?