The Browns will have plenty of cap space to keep their free agents
Before teams can start thinking free agency during the 2nd week of March, they have to worry about cap space. This week, we will take a look at the salary cap situation for each team in the AFC North starting with the Cleveland Browns (reverse order of the final 2014 standings). The Browns and Bengals will be contemplating how they will spend their current riches, while the Ravens and Steelers will be using their cap space wizardry to try and create enough room to become buyers in the free agent market. Keep in mind that teams are required to spend 89% of their cap between 2013 and 2016, which is why there is carryover cap space for teams who did not reach the previous year’s cap number.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns once again are in a position to do whatever they want this off-season with an estimated $54 million to spend. That large figure doesn’t include the fact that they could add to their total by $10M+ if they extend or release a few contracts.
Current 2015 Rule 51 Cap number $107.2M
Dead money $1.5M
Estimated Team Salary Cap $161.3M ($143M NFL + $18.1M team carryover)
Estimated Cap Room $54.2M
Movable or adjustable:
LT Joe Thomas (cap number $10.2M, dead money, $1.2M = cap savings $9.0M) – Sure, there is plenty of room in Mr. Thomas’s contract to make adjustments, but I doubt the Browns want to mess with the disgruntled left tackle who is upset enough that he will be on his 5th head coach, 6th offensive coordinator, and 14th+ starting quarterback since 2007. Although he will be the second highest paid at his position in 2015, by the time his contract ends in 2018, he will most likely be outside of the top 10 because his contract is extremely team-friendly and not back-loaded.
WR Andrew Hawkins (cap $5.0M, dead $1.0M = savings $4.0M) – There are plenty of $4M wide receivers out there who could put up the same numbers if not better. Unless the Browns have some emotional ties to Andrew, or he meshes well with their new OC, he is releasable.
DL Phil Taylor ($5.5M, $0M = $5.5M) – Not to beat a guy when he is down, but Phil IS coming off of injury, and even when healthy is not worth $5.5M. He will most likely be cut before June 1st.
LB Paul Kruger ($8.2M, $3.6M = $4.6M) – Statistically, Paul Kruger had his best season of his career with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. The Browns have the room to leave his contract as-is, but if money is needed, they can turn to his contract as a last resort. His contract will most likely stay intact.
Immovable players or contracts:
C Alex Mack ($8.0M, $0 = $8.0M) – The Browns signed a player friendly deal when they inked Alex Mack. He is guaranteed $8M this year, (as well as 2016 if he is unable to play due to injury). If he isn’t injured, he can test the FA market in 2016, or he can choose not to void the remaining 3 years of his contract (2016-2018), which would guarantee him $8M per year. Nice deal.
LB Barkevious Mingo ($4.5M. $9.7M = -$5.2M) – Mingo isn’t going anywhere this year. He had a great start to his career as a disruptive force in 2013, but faded down the stretch, as did most of the defense. In 2014 he battled a shoulder injury and had a down year. He picked a good time to struggle, and has another year plus to prove himself before entering the contract danger zone.
CB Justin Gilbert ($2.9M, $10.5M = -7.6M) – Obviously a first rounder will not be cut in his second year despite “personal issues” that kept him from playing at a higher level in 2014. Hopefully for Browns fans, those issues will not carry over into 2015. They have had enough drama.
ILB Carlos Dansby ($5.5M, $6.5M =- $1M) – Dansby is in going into his 2nd year of a 4-year contract. $2M of his $4M salary this year is guaranteed. He is staying.
QB Johnny Manziel ($1.9M, $6.5M = -$4.6M) There has been much talk surrounding Manziel’s status as a Browns quarterback, and deservedly so. If the Browns really wanted to release him, this is the year to do it. They can afford the cap hit, and it might be nice to lose the media circus. The Browns are (mostly) saying the right things while he is in rehab. Their other option is to cut him after Jun 1st and take a slightly lower cap hit in 2015, but increase the cap hit in 2016. If they are going to cut him, just rip the band-aid off now before June 1st.
Despite the abundance of cap space, the Browns still need to hit on some draft picks and lure a few strategic free agents to Cleveland. They do have some solid pieces under contract. The stabilizing force will be a solid quarterback AND continuity with the coaching staff. One of these days, the Browns just might be less than two years out.
Editors note: The cap numbers are rounded to the nearest $100K, causing the appearance of some calculation errors.