1. Amari Cooper’s deal is too costly after 2022
Amari Cooper is in his ninth year and has been a premier receiver for the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders — and is still only 28 years old. He has been to the Pro Bowl four times. Nevertheless, Cooper’s contract is hard to justify after year one. Namely, the Browns may not have the cap space to pay the man.
Cooper’s cap charge is only $4.9 million this season, but escalates (there’s that word again) to $23.8 million for 2023 and 2024. The Browns cap will continue to be charged for two years after his contract is complete. How are they going to be competitive by paying players who aren’t on the roster?
For example, how much contribution are the Steelers getting from Ben Roethlisberger this season? He’s still the highest-paid player on offense for the 2022 team, even though he’s retired. Does this sound like good cap management to anyone? It must sound good to Andrew Berry because he is following the Steelers’ example.
Cleveland has other receivers including Donovan Peoples-Jones. They drafted David Bell and Michael Woods II this year, and last year they drafted Anthony Schwartz, who has All-Pro speed, and Demetric Felton, who caught 85.7 percent of the balls targeted his way last season.
They also have an All-Pro special teams guy in Jakeem Grant who can also be an extra wide receiver. Don’t the Browns have any confidence in their ability to develop wide receivers? The only way they can have wide receivers, it seems, is to spend enormous dollars for players like Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Jr., and now Cooper. Everyone else seems to be untrustworthy in the eyes of the front office. Come to think of it, perhaps they placed a bit too much faith in Landry and Beckham last year.
Also concerning is the fact that Cooper’s production dropped off last season as CeeDee Lamb emerged as their new number one receiver. Cooper had only 865 receiving yards after hauling in 2,303 yards over the previous two seasons.
We might as well enjoy the show in 2022. Watson should be able to help Cooper return to his form of the past few years. The cap is in great shape this year, and there is plenty of star talent all up and down the line of scrimmage. Next year, it will be much harder to afford Cooper’s salary.
Perhaps Cooper may find himself in a situation similar to the one Landry found himself in this season. Landry made two Pro Bowls with the Browns and then seemed to be not at the same level the past two years. As a free agent, he received $3 million this season from the Saints, after pulling down $14.7 million/year worth of cap charges the past few seasons.
Wide receivers may not be the brilliant investment that the Dawg Pound believes that they are. OBJ was not all that great of a bargain, either. He worked out okay for one year, however.
Any one of these escalating contracts is affordable. However, the Browns cannot afford all of them. Some of them are going to have to be traded, or more likely, cut. Other teams will not be able to afford these huge contracts either.
Although expenses are piling up, the Browns should be able to carry over a large sum of money for 2023. Currently, their top 51 is $169 million; the regular season roster will have 53 players plus a 16-player practice squad. Plus they have to afford players on IR and their replacements.
We might guess that $20 million or so should be set aside for those purposes. If so, their actual payroll might total $189 million this season, versus the $208.2 million dollar cap. They also had about $9.5 million left from 2021. If so, the actual amount that they carry over to 2023 might be around $208.2 million plus $9.5 million minus $189 million which equals $28.7 million. That will help them get through 2023. It won’t be easy but they can restructure a few contracts and make a few cuts and survive.
Despite the bad moves, the Browns have done enough things right that they should have a contender in 2022, and they can keep the window open in 2023. After that, the Browns are reaching the limits on their credit cards.