Many teams in the NFL dream of having the cap space and flexibility the 2014 Browns are enjoying. Sure Oakland and Jacksonville technically have more space available, but the big difference is that the Browns actually have solid pieces in place. Not to mention that their current cap goldmine could grow to over $60 million with a few contract adjustments. The Browns literally have more than a dozen contracts, each of which would open up more than $1M in cap space (>$40M total). Not all are listed below, just the players with larger contracts (movable or immovable) with the greatest impact.
Current 2014 Rule 51 Cap number – $98.2M
Dead money $7.2M
Estimated Team Salary Cap- $150.8M ($126.3M NFL + $25.5M team carryover)
Estimated Cap Room $45.5M
Joe Thomas (cap number $12.3M, dead money, $2.4M = cap savings $9.9M) – As much criticism as the Browns front office has deserved over the last decade, they should get their due praise for Joe Thomas both in drafting him and signing him to a team friendly contract. He is currently signed through 2018, none of which is guaranteed. If the Browns need the space, they have close to $10M in cap flexibility over the next 5 years of his contract. Although his contract is movable, he is certainly not going anywhere.
Ahtyba Rubin (cap $8.2M, dead $1.4M = savings $6.8M, last year of contract) – Rubin was arguably the Browns best defensive player in 2010 and 2011, but has had issues with nagging injuries, which has helped lead to declined play over the past 2 years. He is still young and solidifies their front 7, but this will be an interesting decision for the Browns. Extending him now and is risk/reward. If he returns to form in 2014, he will command a larger payday.
Joe Haden ($8.9M, $1.9M = $7.0M, last year of contract) – Haden should help the Browns reduce some of their cap space in 2014. These negotiations will be interesting to follow as he is one of the top corners in the NFL and is well worth the franchise tag. I seriously doubt the Browns would tread this water, as it would further damage the front office’s reputation in the eyes of Browns fans and more importantly, NFL players.
D’Qwell Jackson ($9.4M, $4.2M = $5.2M) – This one might be the toughest of the bunch because a decision has to be made by March 11th. Pay D’Qwell a $4M roster bonus now, essentially keeping him on the team at the $9.4M cap hit, or let him go and lose $4.2M in dead money. Have at it Browns fans. Is he worth it? He is slightly undersized, but is a tackling machine and can defend the pass. I would say yes given his production and the flexibility they will have with his contract after this season.
Jason Campbell ($3.3M, $0 = $3.3M) – I can’t imagine an easier decision for the front office. Brian Hoyer seems to be the default starter and will compete with an incoming draft pick. Even if this weren’t the case, the Browns could find a Campbell-like QB cheaper and at almost any point before the season starts, and maybe even during.
Brandon Weeden? ($2.2M, $4.2M = -$2.0M) – The Browns are obviously giving up on Weeden and drafting a QB early. It would make sense to cut ties despite the $2M in dead money to open up a roster spot. But then again, they could also save the dead money and keep him as depth.
Paul Kruger ($8.2M, $11.8M = -$3.6M) – Although he did not live up to expectations or salary in his first season, he was in a new system and may have assisted in the early success of Barkevious Mingo. The entire defense struggled at the end of the season, but Kruger’s production rose slightly during that time.
Barkevious Mingo ($3.7M. $13.4M = -$9.7M) – His contract says it all. Mingo isn’t going anywhere. 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. Look for him to have more stamina in 2014 as he puts on more weight during the off-season.
Josh Gordon ($1.5M, $1.5M = -100k) – There isn’t much to say here. Josh Gordon had one of the best seasons ever despite a 2-game suspension, no running game, and a quarterback-by-committee. That suspension risk could eat into his next contract negotiation, but the Browns will worry about that next year.
Phillip Taylor ($2.6M, $1.8M = $700K) – Taylor is a beast in the middle, freeing up the Browns linebackers to stop the run. Unfortunately he ranked 32nd in snaps played, I assume more because of the defensive scheme than his value to the team. He will be a better fit in 2014 under the new regime.
Others player of note: Desmond Bryant, whose cap and dead money are a wash at $4M each, was out late last season due to an irregular heartbeat. He has the talent to stay on the roster, but it depends on his health. He should also stay off Twitter.
Despite the abundance of cap space, the Browns should still be motivated to eliminate wasteful spending. A dollar saved in 2014 will be a cap dollar gained in 2015, and they have a few large contracts to negotiate over the next couple of years. The Browns are in a great position to augment their current talent with draft picks and the free agency market of the next couple of years. Who knows? They just might be less than two years out.
Editors note: The cap numbers are rounded to the nearest $100K, causing the appearance of calculation errors.