A hypothetical 2023 suspension for Deshaun Watson could save the Browns millions on the salary cap.
As ridiculous as it sounds, a lengthy suspension for Deshaun Watson in 2023 might be the best possible thing that could happen to the Cleveland Browns salary cap. The word we are now getting from the lawyers is that there will not be a civil trial during the 2022 football season, meaning that it’s not very likely that Watson will be suspended this season.
Presumably, however, he might receive a lengthy suspension by the NFL in the 2023 season. Without going into the particulars of his case, which you have all read about ad nauseum for the past year, many analysts think Watson could be suspended for several games, perhaps for six to eight games.
However, that is not a disaster. Far from it.
In fact, if you stop to think about it, this is a good thing that favors the Browns, because Watson’s 2023 salary is almost unaffordable at $55 million. If Commissioner Goodell can help lop off $20 or $25 million via a suspension, that may help general manager Andrew Berry balance his budget. In effect, a suspension might actually save the Browns’ season and extend their Super Bowl window another year.
When a player is suspended, the nature of a league suspension is to favor ownership, not the player. Few seem to believe that, but it is true. The player does not get paid, so the salary cap does not get charged. The player does not occupy a roster spot.
Looking at it objectively, it is a salary cap discount and an extra roster spot while your guy cools his jets and hones his game. There’s no injury risk. As long as you have a competent backup who can hold things together during the regular season, your guy is going to be even better when playoff time rolls around.
It’s kind of like having a Corvette that you keep in the garage while you drive the Chevrolet pickup truck to work. The Corvette is going to be there when you need it, but you have the Chevrolet take some of the Ohio potholes when you’re driving around town or commuting to work and back. It’s going to be okay.
Let’s run through some numbers for 2023. This is just hypothetical, okay? This writer does not claim to have special insight into the outcome of the 22 Civil suits or the likely response from Goodell. Let’s not even go there other than to note that there is speculation that Watson may (MAY) have to serve a lengthy suspension at some point in his Cleveland career and perhaps 2023 might be the year it happens.
Nothing is for certain. However, this writer does claim to have insight into the impact that Watson’s salary cap charges will have on the Cleveland Browns football team, and it is not pretty.
If Watson is paid for all 17 games, his 2023 cap charge will be a record $55.0 million dollars, according to Spotract.com. The next highest is Dak Prescott of the Cowboys at $49.1 million followed by Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs at $46.8 million. We don’t know what the cap allowance is going to be next season, but the highest estimates put it at $225 million, meaning that Watson would be getting 24.4% of the cap allowance, Prescott 21.8% and Mahomes 20.8%.
These numbers are completely nuts and probably will prevent their teams from contending unless they can restructure (disclaimer: some sharp-eyed fan may point out that Jimmy Garoppolo’s 2018 contract was for a very high percentage of the cap, but that was because the 49ers had saved $59 million in carry cap space from 2017 and used a big chunk of that to pay his bonus money up front. Hence Garoppolo’s deal was not overly impactful on the 49ers 2018 budget).
Had there been a suspension in 2022 (and again, the buzz seems to be that this is not going to happen), the financial impact of a suspension on the Browns would have been minimal because Watson’s first year salary cap charge is only $10 million. Hypothetically, then, an eight-game suspension would have saved the Browns 8/17 * $10 million = $4.7 million dollars.
That’s not much money. Andrew Berry’s wife finds that much money in the dryer when it is her turn to do the laundry for her husband.
However, a hypothetical eight-game suspension in 2023 would save the Browns $25.9 million. That’s enough to afford an All-Pro defensive end for an entire season. Just as long as they get him back in time for the playoffs, it is probably a good thing.
Jacoby Brissett is a good enough quarterback to win with the Browns. In 2023, the Browns figure to still have the fat kids, plus Nick Chubb, Amari Cooper and Harrison Bryant. It’s not rocket science to win.
Hopefully there will be no videos on public media showing Amari Cooper getting open and being ignored by Brissett, so as long as Brissett plays his game and lets his star players do their jobs, he will win enough games to get the Browns and Watson into the playoffs.
If Watson does not get suspended, the Browns will be pressed for salary cap space. In fact, the 29 players currently under contract for 2023 total $220 million worth of payroll. Some of Andrew Berry’s little gems include $7.5 million of dead money owed to Austin Hooper to not play for them.
Also, he has “voidable year” bonuses (bonus money that they have to pay even though the contract has expired) including a $6.0 million dollar bonus for Jack Conklin, and $3.75 million for Troy Hill, according to Overthecap.com.
They literally will not be able to pay a 53-player roster and will have no money left for draft picks or free agents as the payroll is now configured. What it means in reality is that Andrew Berry would have to restructure several contracts and trade away a few major players.
The net assessment from this corner is that the 2023 payroll is a disaster. So please, Commissioner Goodell, suspend our quarterback, and make it a good long one.