Cleveland Browns will benefit from upcoming free agent glut

Oct 28, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cleveland Browns vice president Andrew Berry (L) talks with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam (R) on the bench before the Browns play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cleveland Browns vice president Andrew Berry (L) talks with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam (R) on the bench before the Browns play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cleveland Browns
Sep 16, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) talk after a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 21-18. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

Shrinking revenues at a time of maximum greed, a bad combination

Covid-19 caused NFL revenues to shrink, and the salary cap is tied by a complex formula to revenues. Instead of $210 million, suddenly it looks like $175 million might be a better guess for the upcoming 2021 season.

In addition, 2020 was the year of the greedy general manager. The rest of the NFL has caught on to the Sashi Brown concept of hoarding cap dollars for a while and then spending everything possible in one season to try to win the Super Bowl. The problem is that several teams tried to do it at the same time and back-loaded contracts to the next year. Well, the next year was 2021 and now it is 2021.

One team in particular ‚— the New Orleans Saints — tried to win Super Bowl LV at all costs, figuring it was probably Drew Brees’ last season. So they deferred 2020 salaries as much as they could. So, assuming that the 2021 cap is going to be $175 million, that means the Saints will have to cut, trade, or refinance over $100  million dollars worth of 2021 salaries just to get under the cap (assuming they sign no free agents or draft picks).

The problem is that most of the big salaries are guaranteed and they cannot just dump them.  Still, we can all understand why they were willing to sabotage the 2021 team in order to have one more shot with Brees. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, perhaps.

Those of us who are financial geeks are embroiled in serious internet discussions about how the Saints will get out of their economic mess. Jason Fitzgerald at Overthecap made a serious attempt to determine what the Saints would have to do. His suggestions included restructuring several major contracts, and cutting Kwon Alexander, Janoris Jenkins, Nick Easton, Malcom Brown, Latavius Murray, and Thomas Morstead. These six major players might be added to the list of possible future Cleveland Browns, and it is safe to cross off the Saints as competition in the free agent market.

The Philadelphia Eagles were nearly as bad as the Saints, with some $264 million worth of contractual commitments for the upcoming season. They too have to cut or trade several players to come into cap compliance. Like the Saints, they have a great deal of guaranteed money tied up that makes it difficult to cut players. Unlike the Saints, their Super Bowl run did not materialize, and they did not have Drew Brees on their team. What were they thinking? Good luck trying to trade over-valued players in a market where everyone is having a fire sale.

According to Over the Cap, other teams that are currently seriously over-committed in 2021 include the Houston Texas (-$18.4 million, and they also traded away their number one and number two draft pick this season), the Kansas CIty Chiefs (-$26.2 million), Las Vegas Raiders (-$23.5 million), the Green Bay Packers (-$32.1 million), the Los Angeles Rams (-$30.5 million ), Steelers (-$34.7 million), and the Atlanta Falcons (-$42.3 million). As you can see, these red ink numbers are huge. There will be a number of high priced players who will be let go and the money is not there to re-sign them at anywhere near the same rate.

Someone is definitely going to ask what will happen to the Steelers number if Ben Roethlisberger retires. The answer is that Pittsburgh will shrink their deficit by at least $19 million and maybe more. On the other hand, Big Ben could probably claim that injuries caused him to retire and negotiate a higher settlement. In any case, the Steelers have a cap problem, but no shortage of old players that they could and should cut outright. They will have no problem getting under the cap and signing lower price replacements.

The teams that stand to benefit the most are the teams that have few good players and can sign the most in free agency. The Jaguars and the Jets have very low active payrolls and can sign several free agents. They figure to be drafting quarterbacks in the first round, and those salaries are affordable.

The Colts, Patriots, and Football Team also have low payrolls, but may be in the market for a high priced quarterback. Those teams will still be able to add several free agents while keeping their payrolls under the Annual Salary Cap Allowance.

It’s unlikely that teams coming off losing records will come close to totally spending out their carryover dollars. These teams will try to maintain a stash of Carryover Dollars to be spent for a real Super Bowl run. It would be unusual for a team with a losing record to spend down its carryover dollars, although John Dorsey did with the Browns in 2019, when he spent down their carryover by $22 million. Hence look for those five teams to keep their total payroll expenses within the $175 million limit or at least close.

In short, it appears that there are going to be more teams trying to shed payroll than add payroll this season, and the net result is that salaries have got to be lower as a result.