One of the biggest gripes that fans had before the 2013 season was that the Cleveland Browns did not spend very much money in free agency. The Browns will once again enter the free-agent period with an abundance of cash to spend.
Spending money in the NFL is a tricky science. It requires a delicate balance of signing contracts that are good for your team but will not hamstring you in the future.
Browns C.E.O. Joe Banner was hailed as a salary-cap wizard in Philadelphia.
A good contract negotiator knows how to get creative with numbers and spread money out over the years so they don’t run into a situation like the Carolina Panthers face. While the Panthers won 12 games, including the NFC South, and have $11.6 million in cap space next season, they also have 21 unrestricted free agents. This includes eight starters, according to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. That creates a ton of turnover and not enough money.
Let’s go through each position on the Browns' team, see where the money is being spent and determine what the numbers tell us about the future.
All the financial figures you see are from Spotrac.com and reflect the salary-cap hit the team will take in 2014. Numbers include the base salary, bonuses and miscellaneous pay that the players receive.
|TEAM||2014 CAP SPACE|
*These figures are salary-cap estimates from OverTheCap.com.
As you can see above, the Browns have about $24 million in cap space next season. The money that is locked into place is divided by position below. The only players counted were those who contributed to the roster in a significant fashion last season.
The Browns need serious help at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and offensive line. They will also need to spend some money at inside linebacker next season
Those who have minimum contracts and played minimum time will either still be around or replaced by players with similar salaries.
|POSITION GROUP||2014 CAP HIT|
|Running Backs||$1.89 million|
|Wide Receivers||$6.86 million|
|Tight Ends||$2.63 million|
|Offensive Linemen||$17.98 million|
|Defensive Linemen||$17.17 million|
|Defensive Backs||$11.37 million|
|Brandon Weeden||$2.2 million|
|Jason Campbell||$2.25 million|
|Brian Hoyer||$1.25 million|
As of now, the Browns have around $5.7 million in funds wrapped up in their quarterbacks for next season. As you can see in the chart above, this includes $2.2 million to Brandon Weeden. It is probably a pretty safe assumption that his salary and possibly Jason Campbell’s $2.25 million will be gone.
In its place will most likely be the salary of a rookie quarterback. The closest comparison for salary is Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson. He was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, and his rookie year salary cap hit was $3.6 million. That number may rise slightly for 2014 but it is still a good reference point.
Brian Hoyer’s $1.25 million cap number shows why he is so intriguing and is essentially guaranteed a spot on the roster next season. He was productive and cheap. That's a combination Joe Banner likes.
This is where the Browns have big money to spend.
As you can see in the chart above, the Browns have no money tied up in anyone at this position. While Banner has a reputation for being frugal, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that the team would pay a big-time free agent at running back.
The biggest name that will be on the market is former Houston Texan Ben Tate. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that sources told him the Browns would be one of the teams pursuing his services.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who signed a four-year $30 million contract in 2012, only caused a $5.5 million cap hit during the first year of that deal. Tate will be looking to get paid like a top-five running back, and the Browns can certainly afford it.
|Josh Gordon||$1.46 million|
|Greg Little||$1.06 million|
|Davone Bess||$3.07 million|
The $6.86 million total cap hit the Browns will take in 2014 because of the wide receivers is deceiving. As I laid out last week, both Davone Bess and Greg Little are on the bubble to be cut next season. They combine for $4.13 million in cap hit.
It is hard to predict how the Browns will spend money on receivers this offseason, but it is almost definite that they will spend it. Whether it is through the draft or free agency, the Browns can afford to run that cap hit up to about $10 million at this position and still be fine.
|Gary Barnidge||$1.37 million|
This is an absolute steal when you consider how productive Jordan Cameron was last season. Gary Barnidge was a solid contributor behind him. He was a blocking back who was decent on pass routes, but he was also former head coach Rob Chudzinski’s guy. One of Chud’s first moves was bringing in Barnidge, who played for him in Carolina.
With a new head coach, it could also mean a new utility tight end. Barnidge’s $1.37 million cap number makes him very vulnerable to the chopping block.
|Joe Thomas||$12.3 million|
|John Greco||$2.43 million|
|Mitchell Schwartz||$1.41 million|
The $17.98 million that the Browns already have locked in for 2014 seems astronomical, but most of it is the price you pay for having one of the best left tackles in the NFL.
Joe Thomas’ career achievements and reliability have earned him the contract that hits the Browns' cap for $12.3 million next season.
The Browns will surely look to upgrade the guard positions, which means they could end up adding another $4 million or so to this already lofty figure. The more you look at the numbers, the less likely it seems that center Alex Mack will be returning to the Browns. He definitely will not be returning with a franchise tag attached to him. That would cost the Browns another $11.1 million.
|Desmond Bryant||$4 million|
|Phil Taylor||$2.58 million|
|Ahtyba Rubin||$8.18 million|
The Browns spent big money on Desmond Bryant last year, and until he was diagnosed with a heart condition, it paid off. Assuming he returns healthy, the Browns will gladly take the $4 million hit that comes along with him.
The only other number that jumps out from this group is Ahtyba Rubin. He will cost the Browns $8.18 million against the cap next season, which is absurd.
The Browns will most likely ask him to restructure his contract, or he may find himself cut before the team pays his $1.375 million bonus.
|D'Qwell Jackson||$9.43 million|
|Paul Kruger||$8.2 million|
|Barkevious Mingo||$3.72 million|
|Jabaal Sheard||$1.62 million|
|Quentin Groves||$1.1 million|
This was the Browns' biggest point of emphasis last season. Through the first eight weeks it was a solid investment. Over the final eight weeks, though, injuries and dropoffs in production painted a very different picture.
Quentin Groves is in grave danger of being cut before next season. He counts for $1.1 million against the salary cap and was essentially a non-factor throughout all of 2013. Unless the 29-year-old can prove he will bounce back to 100 percent and create more than two sacks next season, he may find himself looking for work elsewhere.
If Joe Banner wants to get rid of D’Qwell Jackson and his $9.43 million cap hit in 2014, he may have to wait. It seems nearly impossible that they could replace both inside linebacker positions in one offseason.
|Joe Haden||$8.83 million|
You can take that $11.37 million figure for 2014 and throw it in the garbage. That will change dramatically. If the Browns choose to place the franchise tag on safety T.J. Ward, then $8 million will be added to that figure.
Cornerback Joe Haden will most likely get a contract extension this offseason as well. The good news is that he is already the sixth-highest paid cornerback in the NFL, so it won’t be too much more than he already made. He was a benefactor of the final draft before the new collective bargaining agreement, which saw massive rookie wages.
He made $6.9 million in 2013 and will probably look for about $10 million per year, which would make him the second-highest paid cornerback behind Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis ($13 million per year). The other good thing about the contract extension is that the Browns can get creative with the bonuses and guaranteed money so it does not affect the salary cap.
So instead of Haden counting for $8.83 million against the cap, that number could be far less after a contract extension.