With the Cleveland Browns having nearly $50 million in salary cap space to work with and a lot of roster needs that would be best met by veteran players, it's safe to say that the team is hoping to spend a lot of cash when the NFL's free-agency period officially kicks off on Tuesday afternoon.
Thanks to an official three-day "tampering window" in which teams and agents can discuss potential deals, rumors have been flying about the Browns' interest in certain soon-to-be free agents. Among those reported to be on Cleveland's radar are Baltimore Ravens linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe (according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun), Lions pass-rusher Cliff Avril and Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis (via Lane Adkins of Scout.com), and Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook (according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer).
Though there are no guarantees that the Browns land a single one of these players, the fact that they seem to have been in contact with a great number of the bigger-name free agents means there is a willingness to spend money. And spend they may have to do in order to lure their most coveted players to Cleveland when they are likely to have many other suitors.
To get either Avril or Kruger, the Browns will likely need to commit $10 or $11 million annually to one or the other. Lewis, Antoine Cason or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—or any other starting-caliber cornerback—will also command a significant amount of money, from $5 million to as much as $10 million per season, meaning that the Browns could earmark up to $20 million of their cash surplus to spend on just two players.
As you can see, money can go quickly in free agency, especially when a team is pursuing some of the most expensive players on the market. So while the Browns may move a lot of money around in the coming days and weeks, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll spend it on a litany of players.
The Browns also have their own to think about as well. With important starters like center Alex Mack becoming a free agent in 2014, and cornerback Joe Haden and defensive tackle Phil Taylor's deals coming to an end in 2015, Cleveland may work to extend their contracts when the 2013 league year begins. And at the very least, they need to keep these players in mind when it comes to how much they're willing to spend on outside free agents this year.
The other thing to keep in mind is that while the Browns have reportedly been in contact with the agents of the who's-who in this year's free-agency pool, that doesn't mean the team will land even a fraction of them. It's like making a wish list—there are things that you want, and that doesn't necessarily mean that will line up with what you get.
Mere interest in players like Kruger, Cook or Lewis isn't enough—the Browns will have to outbid their competition and sell the idea of playing in Cleveland to linebackers and cornerbacks who will have the option to play with teams that reached the postseason last year or are located in warmer climates.
The reality of free agency could be very different from the rumors for the Browns.
There is every reason to believe that the Browns will be aggressive when free agency opens on Tuesday and that they'll spend a large amount of their spare cash—beyond just the salary cap minimum taking effect this year. But the fact that they are interested in some of the more expensive free agents means that while they may spend a large quantity of cash, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll get a large quantity of players for it.