The Cleveland Browns are no longer carrying a massive salary cap surplus, so it will take some ingenuity to create space this year.
League rules require that all NFL teams have to balance their salary cap at the beginning of the league year, meaning that the Cleveland Browns need to trim at least $15 million from their salary cap before they can start signing free agents and clear spaces for the NFL draft. Some familiar faces are going to be missing from the roster.
For whatever reason, the NFL requires that only the top 51 salaries count against the cap in the off-season (the "Rule of 51"). According to overthecap.com, the Browns are $11.9 million over, and will add another $4.8 million if they don't strike a new deal with Jadeveon Clowney (hint: we don't think this will happen).
By cutting John Johnson III and designating him as a post-June 1 cut, they will save about $9.8 million. The net result is they need to find $6.9 million to get back to zero, and ideally, they would like to clear another $10 million or so to sign draft picks, mid-season replacements and some key free agents.
Restructuring some big deals for players like Myles Garrett, Joel Bitonio or Amari Cooper would help a lot. That would kick the can into 2024 and 2025, which isn't necessarily a fantastic idea, since those budgets are already very tight also.
Simple cuts could also do a significant part of the job if there are players who are underperforming their contracts. Players who could be cut and save significant money include the following:
PLAYER POTENTIAL CAP SAVINGS
Greg Newsome II $7,533,355
Jedrick Wills $6,269,109
Jordan Elliott $2,743,000
Harrison Bryant $2,743,000
Donovan Peoples-Jones $2,743,000
Joe Haeg $2,000,000
Grant Delpit $1,627,963
You can pick out two or three players to cut and name them in the comments below if you like. This is part of life in a salary-cap league. There are simply going to have to be a few salary cap cuts to balance the books.
It's also probable that some major contracts will be restructured in order to reduce the cap charges for 2023 at the expense of 2024 and 2025. Furthermore, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Browns make a few deals that involve high-salaried veterans for late-round draft picks.
In this way, it's possible to cut another $20 million-plus from the budget. There may not be an All-Pro free agent at every position this season, just as last season, the Browns trusted that several low-cost players and late-round draft picks would emerge to become at least average NFL starters, and in several instances, these assumptions were far too optimistic, and the Browns were stuck with below average players at several starting positions on defense.
The front office will likely not have anywhere near the resources available that they have had in recent years, but they can still be competitive if they cut and spend more wisely than they did last season.