Best and Worst Contracts 2016: Cleveland Browns

Today’s best and worst contract entry focuses on the Cleveland Browns…

Best: Joe Thomas, 7 years, $80.5 million, $10M guaranteed

There is little to choose from in this area on the Browns. There are not many veterans on the team to qualify for a pick and most of those who do qualify would be in contention for the worst contract designation. So that leaves me with Thomas, one of the few consistent performers in Cleveland.

Though Thomas is no longer the best tackle in the NFL, he was clearly the best for a pretty long player of time. His consistency has been unmatched and even with the Browns having so many holes on their team they have deemed him un-tradeable because he can’t be replaced. Often times we overrate our stars due to draft status but that is not the case for Thomas.

The Browns decision to be proactive with Thomas on his contract it led to a pretty cap friendly contract for the team, despite the huge price tag. The Browns extended Thomas with one year remaining on his contract and used large guarantees in the front end of the contract rather than a large signing bonus, making the cap hits very affordable throughout the life of the deal. While this strategy can prove risky, with Thomas’ 4 year track record he was the ideal candidate for the move.

Thomas is now under contract until the age of 34, which is going to be his whole career, and with no dead money from 2016-2018 it makes it easy for the Browns to walk away. The Browns actually had the flexibility to move on years before if they needed to and also the same flexibility to negotiate salaries down if his play did decline. This is an example of a pretty good contract that clearly benefits both sides.

Worst: Paul Kruger, 5 years, $40.5 million, $13M guaranteed

The Browns have made a number of questionable decisions over the years and have fallen into almost every bad trap that exists in the NFL. The overvalued high draft pick. The “bargain” reclamation project. The “name value” contract for a declining veteran. The full time price for the overhyped, part time player. The Kruger contract falls into that last category.

When the Browns signed Kruger a few years ago he was a part time player on the Ravens Super Bowl team who had a career season and then became a talking point for commentators during the playoffs.  Once it became clear that the Ravens salary cap troubles were going to keep them from re-signing Kruger the hype machine went into full effect into his free agency impact.  Not surprisingly the Browns bit.

The Browns paid Kruger $40.5 million with $20 million in guarantees, despite a total of 6 career starts in 4 years.  The market was, at the time, not paying that much for players in Kruger’s position. Just one year earlier a far superior player in Cameron Wake signed a contract worth $8.3 million a year and minimal guarantees. The Ravens replaced Kruger with Elvis Dumervil, another superior player, for just $5.2 million a season.  Granted both were older than Kruger, but the Kruger type of player struggled to cash in big in free agency until arguably 2016.

In context it’s near impossible to justify what the Browns were willing to give Kruger, which is why I dislike this more than the Joe Haden contract, which might be the pick for some people. The Kruger contract is much easier to move away from since in essence it was a two year contract. He did give the team one big season of sack numbers, but after a 2.5 sack season in 2015 I’m surprised he one else steps up to take his place.