The Cleveland Browns have the salary cap space to add talent this offseason, but it might not be quite the bonanza that fans are led to expect.
The Cleveland Browns have the salary cap space to add talent this offseason, but it might not be quite the bonanza that fans are led to expect. Every year, the media (excepting Dawg Pound Daily, of course) puts out some news blurb that the Browns have some huge amount of salary cap space — $83 Million in 2019, for instance — so naturally it is expected that the Browns are going to sign several big-name players like Le’Veon Bell, Jadeveon Clowney, DeMarcus Lawrence, and others.
However, total salary cap space has very little to do with how much money the Browns actually have available for improving the team in 2019. To review the basics, that $83 million is composed of two different types of money. There is an annual salary cap and then there is carryover.
The annual cap will be about $190 Million in 2019, and that’s what the annual payroll should actually be, give or take. That is like your annual salary. All NFL teams get a new cap for each year, and it is expected to increase by about $10 million per year under the current agreement.
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Then there is carryover money, which is unspent money from previous years. That’s like a savings account. Once it is spent, it is gone. It’s wise to have a stash of about $30-$50 million in case, for example, you are the Washington Redskins and your guy Alex Smith suffers a career-threatening injury. But you’re not going to just blow that money on free agents for one year and then be broke the next year. In the case of the Browns, you do want them to re-sign Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield when the time comes, right? So let’s forget about blowing the carryover money on one-time free agents this year. That is just not a good football strategy
When carryover is included, the Browns total salary cap is equal to the annual cap plus carryover. For the Browns, that number in 2019 is about
TOTAL CAP = $190 Million plus $52 Million = $242 Million.
But as argued above, no way will the Browns blow their entire carryover this year. It’s much more likely that the Browns will let it ride. The Browns 2019 target in all likelihood will be around the $190 Million annual cap, give or take a few million.
The Browns cap money is used to cover current year player salaries and bonuses, plus payments on guaranteed money from players previously cut (Carlos Hyde and Corey Coleman being the most significant). We’re planning to draft players in the draft, and they want to get paid also, so we better plant to pay them. The amount will vary depending on trades on so forth, but as a guess, the Browns will need to spend about $6 Million on NFL draft picks. For the Browns,
Browns Cap Charges – $157 million + $5 million + $6 million = $168 million.
So a decent estimate for what the Browns can actually afford is about
AVAILABLE DOLLARS = $23 million.
not the bullfeathers $84 million number which the Browns are absolutely not going to approach. The Browns have to re-sign or replace a few key players who are leaving, including WR Breshad Perriman, OT Greg Robinson, QB Tyrod Taylor, DB E. J. Gaines, and DB Brien Boddy-Calhoun. It is doubtful whether Tyrod Taylor would stay in Cleveland given that he has zero chance of ever becoming the starter, but if he were to stay it would be at a lower rate. The Browns are probably most motivated to sign Perriman and Robinson, with the two DBs receiving very modest offers from the Browns. It is not going to break the bank to re-sign these players if the Browns want them.
If the Browns want to create some additional salary cap, they can cut Jamie Collins, which would save about $9.2 Million. Collins is a good player but not at the All-Pro level of a few years ago. For that reason, the Browns will probably let him go. He may get an offer at a lower rate.
Damarious Randall could also be cut, and the Browns would probably save $9.1 Million. However, Randall has earned high marks for his play especially from the safety position but he can play either safety or corner. His contract is only for one year, the risk factor is lower for Randall than a potential new hire, who would probably get multi-year guaranteed money. $9.1 million is high for Randall, but not out of line, so probably he will stay.
Chris Hubbard has $3.2 Million in guaranteed money, but nevertheless, it would create an additional $4.1 Million of cap space if he were cut. Hubbard struggled more than the other four linemen in the second half of the season, but he was not terrible. He probably stays as well, but he better shows the new coaching staff that he’s in great shape this off-season.
Christian Kirksey’s name sometime comes up based on a football point of view, but the Browns will not recover cap space if they cut him, since he still has an astounding $10.6 Million guaranteed in his contract. Cutting Kirksey generates ZERO dollars in cap space, and allows the Browns to subsidize him to join Joe Haden with the Steelers while the Browns pay his salary. That would be crazy. Hence, he will play for the Browns in 2019 if he is still breathing.
Although ownership has been criticized on a number of fronts, the Haslams are not cheap owners. On the contrary, when they’ve been asked to write big checks for coaches and assistants, they have stepped up and gotten the job done, big time. We should not confuse salary cap maneuvers with being cheap. The salary cap is real, and it appears that the Browns are doing everything they can to manage the cap well in order to bring home a winner.
The 2019 team is different than the teams of the past few years because there is depth. In the past, the Browns could sign anyone who could play and guarantee them a roster spot. In 2019, the Browns will keep about 10 roster spaces for draft picks and undrafted rookies.
Thus, to make the Opening Day 53-player roster, the Browns need to target players who are going to be about 43rd best on the team or better. That may prove to be somewhat more difficult than the past few years when anyone this side of Kenny Britt represented an upgrade. That says that the Browns will have less need to sign marginally talented players this off-season.
Thus, because the Browns are not in the position to use much of the $52 million in emergency carryover money, the net amount that the Browns have to sign major upgrades is coarsely estimated at around $23 million, give or take a few million. If they get really enamored with the free agent, they have the ability to overspend the salary cap, but this is very likely not their plan.
The Browns have cap space to possibly retain players like Breshad Perriman, Greg Robinson, E. J. Gaines, and Brien Boddy-Calhoun if they want, and there is still enough cap room to make one or two major upgrades. Optionally, by cutting players such as Jamie Collins and Chris Hubbard, for example, they could add another $13 Million to the war chest and make a serious play for a few major free agents.