2021 the year of reckoning
The Browns have done a good job of working the cap, despite a few extravagant contracts by John Dorsey the past two years. They have used their saved capital to slightly overspend in 2018, and then overspend by over $24 million last year, and will continue to overspend in 2020. The justification for going over the annual cap is that they believe they can make the playoffs in 2020 and thus they are willing to cover the extra expenses this season.
What happens in 2021? First, all the free agents signed in 2020 are going to get pay raises. That will amount to some $20 million dollars.
Baker Mayfield will be entering his fourth year, making him eligible for an extension. If Baker has a good year, the Browns pretty much have to give it to him. Why? Well because if Jared Goff got one, Mayfield will want one also. On the other hand, they can probably come up with a cap-friendly deal so that the impact is not overwhelming until 2022.
Myles Garrett may also want an extension but as a lineman, he may follow the example of Joey Bosa, who didn’t get an extension, but does have a hefty fifth-year option. If the Browns exercise Garrett’s fifth-year option, that will run about $16 million.
At some point, the Browns are going to have to trade or cut some big salaries, or at least let some free agents walk. They will find themselves in the situation the Oakland Raiders found themselves in 2019, without enough money to pay Khalil Mack.
They traded him to Chicago for several draft picks including two number ones. Everyone (except for analytics guys) killed Jon Gruden for that deal. However, now Chicago is feeling the salary cap pressure because of the truckloads of loot that Mack gets. The Raiders have improved significantly and have another extra number one pick this year.
Thus trading a high-priced player is not necessarily a disaster if they can finagle some decent draft picks in exchange. In any case, something like that will have to happen in Cleveland at some point probably in 2021.
The Browns are not the only team that is overspending their annual allowance, and in fact this year it has become quite fashionable, with several teams apparently gearing up for a playoff run. The Kansas City Chiefs are nearly $22 million overspent right now, even before the draft.
There are going to be some cuts or trades to fix that. Other cap-strapped teams include the Bengals, by the way. Right now, they may not have the cap space to fit Joe Burrow under the cap. All this overspending is fine, but the GM who overspends the cap allowance without making the playoffs may be bass fishing with John Dorsey.
Andrew Berry is not rebuilding. He’s trying to win right now, in his first year. The Browns are buyers this year, not sellers.