Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns' Salary-Cap Situation Ahead of the Offseason

Andy McNamaraCorrespondent IIJanuary 1, 2014

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy HaslamDavid Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Another year of no playoffs means it is time to break down the Cleveland Browns' salary-cap situation ahead of the offseason.

With the shocking firing of now former head coach Rob Chudzinski in the rearview mirror, the pressure is on CEO Joe Banner to hit a home run during this upcoming free-agency period.

Cleveland is in excellent shape when it comes to cap space, as it reportedly has the largest adjusted salary cap across the league. The question is which of its current players will be brought back and what holes could be filled via the open market?

Of course, these upcoming signings and personnel decisions will greatly influence what the franchise does with its 10 picks in May's entry draft.

Cleveland Browns with Expiring Contracts
PlayerPositionAgeType of Free AgentExpiring Contract Details
Alex MackCenter28Unrestricted5 years/$14.6 million
Shawn LauvaoGuard26Unrestricted4 years/$3.3 million
T.J. WardSafety27Unrestricted4 years/$5.088 million
Oniel CousinsGuard, Tackle29Unrestricted2 years/$1.5 million
Billy CundiffKicker33Unrestricted1 year/$840,000
Willis McGaheeRunning Back32Unrestricted1 year/$940,000
Craig RobertsonLinebacker (Inside)25Exclusive Rights2 years/$870,000
Jarrod ShawCenter25Exclusive Rights2 years/$870,000
Julian PoseyCornerback25Exclusive Rights2 years/$870,000
Brian SanfordDefensive End26Unrestricted1 year/$555,000
Spotrac.com

 

Preliminary NFL 2014 salary cap:  $126.3 million (as of Dec. 11, 2013)

Browns' salary-cap room: $46,584,334

Adjusted salary cap: $150,494,764

 

Significant talent upgrades on both sides of the ball are definitely required for this organization to take a noticeable step forward.

On defense, the secondary still needs depth, and Ray Horton's highly touted pass rush was underwhelming. For offense, the laundry list of improvements includes offensive line, running back, fullback, wide receiver and quarterback.

How many of these requirements can be fulfilled through free agency or the draft remains to be seen.

Two of the Browns' six Pro Bowlers, Alex Mack and T.J. Ward (alternate), have expired contracts and will no doubt be looking for sizable pay increases. Should Mr. Banner use some of the ample available funds to bring back these veteran contributors?

 

Alex Mack (center)

Mack has played in every game since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2009. He displays tremendous athleticism for a big man and can hustle upfield to make key blocks.

Letting a 21st overall selection walk away would be a controversial move, but it's the right one to make.

Browns center Alex Mack
Browns center Alex MackKen Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two years, $12.3 and then $10.2 million are deservedly tied up with Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas (his contract expires following the 2018 season). Undoubtedly, Mack will be looking for a long-term agreement.

Do the Browns really want upward of $20 million next season tied up in a pair of offensive linemen? 

If we look at the history of CEO Joe Banner during his time as president of the Philadelphia Eagles, it can be seen that he doesn't place a high-dollar value on center.

Finding steady, but cost-effective, contributors at that position in the middle rounds of the draft is more in line with his thinking. The Eagles selecting center Mike McGlynn 109th overall in 2008 is a perfect example of the value that Banner seeks.

 

T.J. Ward (safety)

Lock this 27 year-old down as soon as possible.

Finally, the Browns have consistent playmakers at the two safety spots with Ward and Tashaun Gipson. Why let Ward walk away and lose that chemistry?

The duo combined for seven interceptions this season, and in today's pass-first NFL, quality downfield coverage is a necessity. 

Top safeties like Troy Polamalu, Eric Berry and Jairus Byrd all hovered between the $6.9-$7.5 million base-salary range in 2013 according to Spotrac, so one would assume that Cleveland's No. 43 is going to be seeking at least that.

If a multi-year deal cannot be reached, then the $8 million franchise tag for safety is a reasonable option in comparison to the earnings of those upper-echelon talents mentioned above.

According to CBS Sports, the Browns have an NFL-high $24.19 million in carry-over room from 2013. If the personnel evaluators are as good as Cleveland's front office says they are, then this favorable situation along with the draft should make the club playoff ready in 2014.

 

All salary-cap figures per CBS Sports' Joel Corry.

Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81.