Cleveland Browns salary cap in excellent shape

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam watches his team warm up before the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on December 18, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam watches his team warm up before the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on December 18, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Andrew Berry and the Cleveland Browns office have the salary cap managed

The Cleveland Browns have reversed the overspending of the past three years, and believe it or not they have major contracts for several major stars and they are actually under budget for the first time since 2017. As of September 8, 2020, the Browns payroll — including “dead money,” Injured Reserve, practice squad, and the salary for Chomps the mascot — amounts to about $194,321,754, or about four million dollars lower than the annual cap allowance of $198,200,000.

The Browns still have a stash of $32 million saved from previous years, which is eventually going to go to pay players like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Denzel Ward, not just frittered away at every free agent who comes along. There is a plan

Successfully balancing the budget culminates a series of cost-cutting moves this off-season. Back in March, this fan believed that the Browns were going to overspend by about $10 to $15 million, especially while Jadeveon Clowney was on the radar.

However, general manager Andrew Berry and the front office were able to renegotiate deals for Olivier Vernon and Chris Hubbard, and meantime Andrew Billings opted out due to Covid-19. All told, these moves had the effect of lowering the 2020 payroll by over $10 million dollars. It may not have been completely intentional (especially Billings), but the Browns are now in a slightly underspent condition, even though most observers believe that the talent level is higher than last season.

Keep in mind that, back in 2017, the Browns had an incredible $59.9 million in carryover dollars. Former Browns general manager John Dorsey managed to spend that down to $54 million in 2018, and then $32.3 million by last year. In round terms, Dorsey overspent $28 million in two years and delivered a 6-10 product.

Remember, once the carryover dollars are spent, they are gone forever. Carryover dollars are kind of like the savings account of the team, whereas the annual cap allowance is like a paycheck that gets replenished every year.

It might seem to some fans as if sports money may not have much meaning to a wealthy NFL owner, but if you blow $28 million dollars of the salary cap, it tends to get the attention of ownership.

To some extent, Dorsey’s 2019 number was not quite as bad as it appeared because the trades of Kevin Zeitler and Jabrill Peppers resulted in pro-rated bonus money being moved up to 2019. Had they not been traded, the money would still have been spent in future years. However, no matter how you look at it, Dorsey still overspent significantly, and the Browns carryover stash shrank by millions.

That kind of overspending gets you fired, even if you are a superior judge of talent, which Dorsey is. Dorsey also traded away future draft picks at the same time that the team got worse, which did not help him. Overspending is not necessarily bad, but if a general manager elects to do so, the team absolutely must win, or else the money is simply wasted.

For example, the San Francisco 49ers were on a plan comparable to the Browns, and even more extreme. In 2018, their war chest contained $58.3 million and by last year they spent it down to $9.5 million — or roughly $49 million in two years. They, however, made it to the Super Bowl, which is why John Lynch was allowed to keep his job and earned a well-deserved extension and hefty pay raise.

So when are the Browns’ carryover dollars going to be spent? First of all, the 2020 team has to take the position that the talent level still has to improve. Given the hefty payroll of the 2019 team and its 6-10 record, it means that the team was outspending the opposition and under-performing. They absolutely need to be getting better talent and better coaching and they simply cannot solve their problems just by adding payroll. They were light-years behind the Baltimore Ravens last season.

That is not to say that they would not pick up some players in trade if they are in contention at the 2020 trade deadline, especially if injuries present particular problems, but they need to prove the system is producing winning players, and that they are as good or better than the Ravens.

The original plan was to be able to afford Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Kareem Hunt, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham, Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Co. all at the same time. There’s still money to keep the key players on the team together for a few years, despite Dorsey spending down the Browns’ carryover. If the Browns make the playoffs in 2020, there will be money that can be spent to reward the players to reload to do it again in 2021.

Given what the Browns did in 2019, the Haslams did exactly the right thing to fire overspending and underperforming John Dorsey and hire Andrew Berry. Berry has overseen an outstanding off-season. We have nothing to judge him by yet, but this fan believes that the Browns are doing things the right way, including balancing the salary cap with the talent needs of the team.

Next. Browns lock up Kareem Hunt. dark

The Browns are in great financial condition. Despite several major free agent signings this off-season, they managed to wind up with a balanced budget this year by restructuring a few contracts.