Cleveland Browns will need to trim players to sign free agents

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Browns
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 11: A Cleveland Browns helmet rests on the field prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Browns 29-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns roster is filled with high salaries, so to sign free agents this year they will need to spend carryover dollars or make some difficult cuts.

The new general manager of the Cleveland Browns, whoever it may be, will feel a salary cap squeeze this year, after years of the team rolling in salary cap dollars. The team gorged itself on high priced players last off-season so that this year it will be hard-pressed to re-sign or replace eight departing free agents, including five starters.

They will either have to once again dip heavily into their carryover dollars or they will have to cut some veterans from the team to create cap space — or some combination of both.

This may be confusing if you have read that the Browns have $51 million in cap space this off-season, give or take a million or so (different sites report different numbers depending on the assumptions that they make to get down to a finalized roster, and it changes frequently as players are added or subtracted from the roster.

The $51 million comes from as of January 13, 2020). That number is correct but misleading. First of all, that figure assumes they spend all of the money saved from previous years, $36 million dollars worth of carryover dollars.

That money is like a savings account, fed by unspent dollars from previous years. But once that money is spent, it’s gone.

Normally NFL teams would only spend that money when they feel certain that they are within a Super Bowl window and willing to suffer through a rebuilding period afterward. Last year the team was so sure that it was a contender that they spent $22 million in carryover dollars. Would they do that again with Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield coming up for extensions?

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Predicting what Browns management will do is always a bit risky, but if they hire a sane general manager, there will probably not be a huge spending spree this off-season.

The 2020 NFL team’s cap allowance is estimated unofficially at $200 million with current salaries and “dead money” (owed to players no longer with the team) amounting to $181.3 million, leaving $18.7 million left over. They’re also planning to draft seven college players, at a projected cost of $7 million. That brings the cap space within the 2020 cap allowance down to only about $12 million if they decide to hold onto their carryover dollars for now.

NFL salary cap space is shown for all 32 teams at the end of this article, on page 4, along with some tutorial explaining what the numbers mean.

But first, let us examine more closely the projected losses due to free agency.