Whether they happen in the offseason or during training camp, salary-cap casualties are a tragic reality in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns and 31 other franchises will decide players' futures based on whether they are worth the money remaining on their contract.
The NFL does not have guaranteed contracts, and that is why so many players hold out for newer deals, which contain higher signing bonuses and guaranteed money. Once you get past the guarantees, anything can happen.
While the Browns have plenty of salary-cap space, CEO Joe Banner will still evaluate each player’s contract and decide whether or not their services are being rendered at fair market value. Dumping a contract for a player unworthy now can save money later.
The Browns’ roster does not have many cap-casualty candidates, but there are a few. Here are five guys whose contracts make them vulnerable to the dreaded call to the general manager’s office.
All financial numbers are courtesy of Spotrac.com and represent the hit on the team’s salary cap in 2014.
While quarterback Brandon Weeden is not an albatross around the neck of the Browns' financial department, he is certainly expendable. He proved in 2013 that he is not the answer at quarterback, and any money spent on him as such would be a waste.
Weeden completed just 53 percent of his passes for 1,731 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. It is also pretty safe to assume the Browns will be looking for a new quarterback in the draft.
Ed Godfrey of NewsOK.com caught up with Weeden a few weeks ago, and he surprisingly still thinks he has a spot on the Browns. That is wishful thinking at best.
Once the new league year begins and free agency opens, Weeden is one of the first names you can expect to receive his pink slip and a ticket out of town.
While many others and myself consider defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin to be one of the more underrated lineman in the NFL, it is tough to justify an $8.2 million salary-cap hit.
In 2011, then general manager Tom Heckert signed Rubin to a four-year, $26.5 million deal. Year 1 was very cap friendly for the Browns, but it has inflated heavily.
His role has drastically changed since those days, but his numbers still leave something to be desired. He has just four sacks over the last two seasons, and his tackle total in 2013 dwindled to just 26.
There is no doubt Rubin is a productive lineman, and at just 27 years old, he has plenty of football ahead of him. Rubin might only be in danger of becoming a salary-cap casualty if he refuses to restructure his contract.
The Browns can easily revamp his deal, give him a larger signing bonus and limit the hit on the cap in the next two seasons.
Last year, the Browns brought in Desmond Bryant and drafted Armonty Bryant. Both were extremely productive when they played. If Rubin is not open to negotiating, he could be deemed expendable.
After the Browns played so poorly at the inside linebacker position last year, it is bad for one of them to have their salary-cap number jump to $9.4 million. That is the issue D’Qwell Jackson is facing.
Jackson has been a leader on the defense for years and is a feel-good story for overcoming multiple pectoral tears. He is also among the leading tacklers in the NFL every season.
The major issue is that someone with that type of salary-cap number should be an impact player, and Jackson has never been that in a 3-4 defense. The other issue is that he is 30 years old with an extensive injury history.
Those factors would probably discourage the Browns from trying to restructure Jackson’s deal.
There are two likely scenarios for him moving forward: One is the Browns bite the bullet, take the hit for one more season and try to have him groom a young linebacker next to him; The other is the Browns aggressively seek two new starters at inside linebacker and then say goodbye to Jackson.
It would be a sad farewell for a player who has given so much to a franchise and truly wants to see it win. Unfortunately, the NFL has no feelings or emotions—just bottom lines.
It would have been crazy to imagine the Browns cutting wide receiver Davone Bess after just one season, especially with how heralded the move was around the league.
While I am sure the Browns are ecstatic to save $3.1 million against the salary cap, I am also sure they would much rather have one of the best third-down receivers in the NFL who is only 28 years old. That is what they thought they traded for.
Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer tweeted that the team will wait to decide on Bess’ future:
#Browns won't make a decision on WR Davone Bess until the league year begins March 11.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) February 3, 2014
I will save the drama and tell you he is gone. The Browns will now have to find another receiver to take the role they hoped he would solidify. In fact, the Browns have just one legitimate wide receiver on the roster at this point.
As good as Josh Gordon is, he will need some help out on the field.
Center Alex Mack does not currently have a spot on the roster, but his potential salary-cap hit looms large. If the Browns decide to give him a long-term contract, it would probably cost them between $3-5 million against the cap this season.
If they decide to give him the franchise tag, it would cost upwards of $11 million in 2014. So, while the franchise tag is unrealistic, a long-term deal could still be had.
Fans place very high value on Mack, and rightly so, as he is a two-time Pro Bowler. But there are plenty of very good centers in the NFL who make less that $1 million per season.
As I laid out on January 13 while breaking down the franchise tag options for the Browns, the money needed to re-sign Mack could be used in areas of much greater need. That extra $2-4 million is another starting cornerback or receiver.
It is always tough to let a Pro Bowl player walk out the door, but this is certainly a scenario where it makes the most sense. His value on the field is just not worth the lack of value in the checkbook.