Cleveland Browns Andrew Berry tightens the screws on cap space

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 08: Cleveland Browns fans celebrate during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Bengals 27-19. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 08: Cleveland Browns fans celebrate during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Bengals 27-19. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Browns
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) Entrepreneur Cosmo DeNicola, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, sports agent Leigh Steinberg, and owners of the Cleveland Browns Dee Haslam and Jimmy Haslam onstage during the 29th Annual Leigh Steinberg Super Bowl Party on February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Leigh Steinberg) /

Here’s what Dee and Jimmy Haslam had to decide

Dee and Jimmy Haslam are not interested in telling the coach who to start at quarterback this year, but they do want a systematic plan for the Browns direction as a team. Is the team going overspend, level-spend, or underspend the NFL Annual Cap Allowance this year, and why?

That high-level direction is general Manager Andrew Berry’s first priority to determine. Is optimism about the present justified? Or the future? Or does this team need a complete overhaul? And does ownership agree?

Overspending means the team uses money saved from previous years spends it for players in 2020. Teams that fall in this category this year are the Philadelphia Eagles and  New Orleans Saints. They are investing in the present but the future will be salary cap hell and they do not care.

In this mode,  these teams are restructuring contracts, adding expensive years later on in exchange for a discount in 2020. They also trade away future draft picks and take the best shot they can to get players now. The 2020 payroll will be way beyond the  Annual Cap Allowance ($198,200,000). They are desperately trying to make a Super Bowl charge this year, and willing to let things fall apart next year.

Level-spending teams are going to spend their full cap allowance, give or take a few million dollars. They will make a run this year but will not mortgage the future because they believe in the team for the next few years also. They’re standing pat with draft picks, not moving too far up or too far down.

They’re not listening to the fan base that wants them to blow all their savings this year on 35-year old veteran players. They have decent cap space in 2021. They’re willing to wave good-bye to a few players. One example is the Baltimore Ravens. The New England Patriots are stuck with dead money from Tom Brady this year but have low commitments next year and should be all right.

Rebuilding teams are underspending the annual cap allowance and hoarding future picks, in a rebuilding mode. They’ll probably suck this year, but planning to make a run in about two years. Washington and the Cincinnati Bengals are rebuilding this year.

As for the 2020 Cleveland Browns, Andrew Berry has this team headed to a level-funded trajectory. One great positive is that he kept Olivier Vernon (i.e., a Dorsey guy) rather than ejecting him as is typical for a new general manager. Past Browns GMs routinely got rid of the players hired by their predecessors. It would have been so easy to get rid of Vernon because he had the highest salary on the team and it was not guaranteed.

So, Mr. Berry, I am *so glad* to be proven wrong on this point. It makes much more sense to keep Vernon on the team because he is a very good player.

Dee and Jimmy seem to have the team headed on a level-funded trajectory. The team splurged last year, and this off-season got off to a fast start but quickly reigned in spending and renegotiated a few key contracts.

People tend to greatly underestimate the importance of Dee Haslam taking more control with the Browns (note in the photos, her name now comes first, and it is not a coincidence). She counterbalances her husband’s enthusiasm and drives with a more systematic and methodical approach, which was evident in the process of selecting Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski.

Dee, in particular, was not a fan of the draconian rebuild of Sashi Brown. Nor was she comfortable with John Dorsey overspending the annual salary cap allowance in 2019 by over $20 million dollars, while also trading away the team’s first and sixth-round picks and finishing 6-10.

Dee and Jimmy want to use their extra dollars to keep Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett in Cleveland for a long time. If Berry would like to issue a contract to an old geezer linebacker to act as a bridge to Social Security, it will take some persuasion. Smaller deals are possible, especially if Njoku is able to clear some cap room, or if Stefanski and the guys can identify some rookie free agents who are ready to someone’s job away.

Next is a detailed breakdown of the Browns finances for this year. As things now stand, they will right around their annual salary cap allowance.