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Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns Salary Cap Situation Heading into Free Agency

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Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns Salary Cap Situation Heading into Free Agency
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam in a media scrum

NFL free agency officially kicks off on March 11, which makes breaking down the Cleveland Browns salary cap situation of utmost importance.

Cleveland was in phenomenal shape when it came to cap space prior to the release of veteran leader D'Qwell Jackson on Feb. 26.

The linebacker was owed a $4.1 million bonus and had a total salary cap cost of $8.1 million. He'll still cost the Browns $4.2 million in "dead money" for 2014.

 

Estimated NFL 2014 salary cap: $133 million

Browns' salary-cap room: $56,320,355

Estimated total salary cap: $101,217,213

 

Cleveland currently has the third highest salary cap in the NFL, behind only the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Cleveland Browns Free Agents
Player Position Age Type of Free Agent Expired Contract Details
D'Qwell Jackson Linebacker (Inside) 30 Unrestricted Released Feb. 26
Shawn Lauvao Guard 26 Unrestricted 4 years/$3.3 million
T.J. Ward Safety 27 Unrestricted 4 years/$5.088 million
Oniel Cousins Guard, Tackle 29 Unrestricted 2 years/$1.5 million
Billy Cundiff Kicker 33 Unrestricted 1 year/$840,000
Willis McGahee Running Back 32 Unrestricted 1 year/$940,000
Craig Robertson Linebacker (Inside) 25 Exclusive Rights 2 years/$870,000

 

The top two personnel decisions for Cleveland heading into this offseason focused on what to do with Pro Bowl talents Alex Mack and T.J. Ward.

 

Alex Mack (center)

Locking down free agent center Alex Mack seemed to gain importance once Ray Farmer took over as general manager.

David Richard/Associated Press
Browns center Alex Mack

ESPN Cleveland beat writer Tony Grossi reported back on Feb. 17 that both Farmer and new head coach Mike Pettine were both interested in actively pursuing the hulking lineman.

While not the expected long term signing, the Browns took an important step in retaining Mack by applying the seldom used transition tag on him.

Under the transition option, No. 55 receives $10.039 million next year. That figure is averaged out over the NFL's 10 highest paid offensive linemen from the previous season, whereas the franchise tag would have been the average of the five most lucrative contracts.

Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports explains the differences further,

"...while a franchised player can negotiate with other teams, if he signs elsewhere, the franchising team has the option to match the contract or accept two first-round picks as compensation. With the transition tag, the player can negotiate with other teams, but if he signs elsewhere the original team has the right to match in seven days, but gets nothing in the way of compensation. This is one of the reasons the transition tag is rarely used."

It will be interesting to see what the market bears for an upper echelon center and whether Cleveland is willing to meet the asking price.

Who is the higher priority for the Browns to sign to a long-term extension?

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The safety position 

Compared to the sky high franchise tag figure tied to offensive linemen ($11.654 million), the price to use it on a safety appeared much more reasonable at $8.433 million.

The Browns elected not to utilize that contract option on Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward, which means that if a deal cannot be reached by March 11, he'll hit free agency.

Ward's agent Josh Arnold told the Beacon Journal,

Detailed contract discussions with multiple front office executives of the Browns began last month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Since then, several conversations have occurred in an attempt to secure a new deal for T.J., but we’ve yet to agree on terms that work for both sides.

An interesting possibility as a replacement for Ward is unsigned Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd.

The 27-year-old is one of the best coverage safeties in the league and put up some impressive numbers after only playing in 11 games last season. Byrd delivered four interceptions and 48 combined tackles as well as a sack.

Cleveland may have an inside track to the veteran as he enters the prime of his career. Byrd played for then Bills defensive coordinator and now Browns head coach Mike Pettine in 2013.

However, that connection is by no means a sure thing in leading to a signing. Byrd's college coach Chip Kelly is in Philadelphia and his father, Gil, is an assistant secondary coach with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers.

It will all most likely come down to money, and as illustrated above, the Browns have plenty of that. 

 

Wide Receiver

GM Ray Farmer and company caught a break on Wednesday after they released troubled receiver Davone Bess.

 

 

Coming over in a trade with the Miami Dolphins on draft day last year, Bess was a disaster in his production on the field and missed the last two games of the season for personal issues. He was arrested in January for assaulting a police officer at Ft. Lauderdale airport.

Despite the good news on the salary cap savings, Cleveland is still in need of a slot receiver that can convert first downs.

Notable free agent options for this role include Julian Edelman (New England), Golden Tate (Seattle) and Eric Decker (Denver). All three are 27 years old or younger and only Decker made over $1 million in 2013.

 

All contract and salary cap figures are courtesy of Spotrac.com. 

 

Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81

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