Chris Hubbard is the ‘coach on the field’, loved by his Cleveland Browns teammates and the coaching staff, but will he become a salary cap casualty at the end of summer camp?
Hubbard has played left tackle, right tackle, left guard, right guard, center, and also a few snaps at tight end. He’s also played special teams for punts, field goals, and kickoffs. Hubbard gets immense respect from his teammates and the coaching staff.
However, his contract situation may incentivize the Browns to consider replacing him this season if they find a few impressive young players during summer camp this season.
Hubbard went undrafted out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers in 2013. He was cut and signed to the practice squad that year, and finally, go to play a little by 2016.
Fox Sports called Hubbard the smallest guard in the NFL at 6-foot-4-inches and 295 pounds. But despite his small size, the Steelers regarded him as an extremely intelligent player capable of assimilating the complexities of offensive line play.
With Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator, he learned to be a blocking tight end, and also learned to play center and tackle, even though tackle is normally an even bigger dude than a guard.
In a game versus the Vikings on September 17, 2017, Hubbard started the game at blocking tight end. Alejandro Villanueva had to exit the game for a while due to illness, and Hubbard stepped in at left tackle. Then, he switched to right tackle when Marcus Gilbert went out with an injured hamstring.
He went on to start five of the next six games at right tackle. The Steelers initially were cautious to protect Hubbard by usually parking tight ends Jesse James or Vance McDonald next to him most of the time. Very quickly, however, they grew comfortable with Hubbard at right tackle. In fact, they did not just like his performance, they loved him.
Joe Rutter of Trib Live quoted Villaneuva’s opinion of Hubbard as follows; “He’s the most complete offensive lineman in the NFL.” That could be true. Some players need an entire off-season to switch from the left side to the right side of the line, but Hubbard has the unusual ability to do it in the same game.
When Jimmy Haslam III had the idea to help Hue Jackson by bringing in the best possible play-caller to help the Browns recover from their 0-16 2017 season, he paid a minor fortune to Todd Haley to come over to Cleveland. Haley wanted to bring Chris Hubbard with him, and he did, along with a major contract.
Hubbard didn’t earn rave reviews in Cleveland, however. Part of the problem was that he played on a historic offensive line in 2018. There was only one substitution the entire year. Greg Robinson came in for Desmond Harrison in game nine and that was it. Zero missed snaps by any offensive lineman the entire season. That has to be one of the most fantastic offensive line stats of the century.
A second weird trend was that that the OL was one of the NFL’s worst at the beginning of the season, and was one of the best by the end of the season. They gave up 33 sacks in the first eight games of the season (seven in game one alone), but only five sacks in the last eight games. That’s an unbelievable improvement, literally from the league’s worst to the league’s best, or close to it.
In that historic season, the fact that Hubbard had zero missed snaps was not really noticed because no one else missed any snaps either. Hubbard made eight penalties, and that stood out by comparison to the rest of the team’s near-perfect play.
Hubbard might have been better suited to playing guard. He played tackle because that’s where the injury occurred in the 2017 Steelers’ lineup, not necessarily because it was his best position.
In 2020, Hubbard’s versatility allowed the Browns to get by with only eight offensive linemen for much of the season. Nick Harris and Hubbard gave the Browns two backup centers and two backup guards. Kendall Lamm and Hubbard gave them two backup tackles.
The system eventually broke down when Hubbard went on IR with a knee ligament injury. It’s expected that he will be back and at full strength for 2021. However, at age 30, the odometer reading is getting a little high.
His contract situation is also murky. Earlier this season, this fan thought that there was no way Hubbard could fail to make the 53-player roster this season. But the salary cap might factor into the decision.
There are two major contract sites that help us to figure the finances of NFL contracts, Spotrac.com and overthecap.com. They are usually accurate, but in Hubbard’s case they flat-out conflict.
Spotrac says that the Browns will be charged as follows:
$4,961,755 if they keep him; $2,266,667 if they cut him. They can recover $2,695,088
Overthecap says that the Browns will be charged as follows:
$4,961,765 if they keep him, $1,300,000 if they cut him. They can recover $3,661,765.
That’s a big difference. You can do a lot more with $3.7 million compared to $2.7 million.
Mary Kay Cabot’s article from 2020 in Cleveland.com does not indicate the presence of additional guarantees. Contracts sometimes have clauses that kick in under conditions that are too complex to be easily summarized in the salary cap charts, but there is nothing in Cabot’s article that indicates that that the guarantees are larger than the Over The Cap version, and it might even be smaller.
Hence if we go with the assumption that Over The Cap is right, there is a very good chance that Hubbard might be a salary cap casualty this summer, especially if some of the young Browns succeed in making a positive impression on the coaching staff.
When Hubbard’s playing days are done, he could very likely become a coach, either in college or at the Pros. Few players can play all five positions as Hubbard has done. By all accounts, he is already a classic “coach on the field.”
The Browns have an awesome offensive line coach in Bill Callahan, and hopefully, he coaches for many more years. But someday it might be awesome to see Hubbard on the Browns sideline as an offensive line coach.
It would not be a shock at all to see him become a head coach in the NFL someday.