Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $48.8 million ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 55
Pro Bowlers: 3
Unrestricted Free Agents: 10(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 12
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
The team faces an interesting decision with cornerback Buster Skrine. They drafted a replacement for him but Skrine is the more proven commodity and did come up with four interceptions on the year. With all the cap space the Browns have it is probably worth hedging their bets and retaining him…Jordan Cameron struggled with injuries and may have also felt the pressure of a contract year leading to a miserable season. But Cameron is talented and last year should work in the team’s favor to get a reasonable price….For a low cost Miles Austin is a perfectly fine plyer to keep on the team especially since it seems he embraces the role of working with the younger players on the team.
Free Agents to Let Walk
The Brian Hoyer era came and quickly vanished by December. Cleveland mat have to make a decision on the QB position but Hoyer shouldn’t even be part of that process. Hoyer is not the type of player that a rebuilding team should be committing to. He’s a decent backup on a team with a good quarterback…Jabaal Sheard hasn’t fared well with the defensive changes and will cost too much to justify the production he is giving. He’ll land with a team that puts him back on the line…Ahtyba Rubin has been one of the worst values at the position and the team will likely look for better value elsewhere.
Contracts to Modify
Tashaun Gipson is one of those hidden gems and will likely be tendered, even off injury, at the first round level. There is no need for the Browns to waste any time in signing him long term once that tender is extended. They will get a much better contract by working it out now than waiting a full year…The Browns has picked up the option year on DE/DT Phil Taylor, but Taylor has missed 20 games over the last three seasons and doesn’t really have a defined role on the team. I think all sides would benefit from an incentive laden contract than pushing the release of the player. But I can’t see a reason to pay Taylor the $5.47M salary.
Players to Consider Releasing
It seemed as if the Browns and Josh Gordon reached a breaking point when the Browns suspended Gordon for the final game of the year to block him from become a free agent in two years. Gordon is very talented but is always a suspension risk and the Browns did not believe that he is necessarily a team player. It would seem realistic to think the Browns locked his contract down to make him more attractive to another team in a trade….If no deal can be reached with Taylor I would place him in this category as well.
For about ¾ of the season the Browns tricked everyone into believing they turned a corner, but by the end of the year they were almost a bottom 10 team. The team will once again have a huge surplus of salary cap space at their disposal to attempt to fix the team and get them back to being a real contender within the next two seasons. Their defense made strides under Mike Pettine and they got a lot out of the secondary and saw Paul Kruger live up to the contract. These seems to be a solid foundation in place on this side of the ball and I don’t believe they will let that go to waste by ignoring the offense in free agency and waiting on draft picks to develop.
Outside of offensive line the Browns are incredibly underinvested in their offense. They are near the bottom of the NFL in spending on the quarterback, running back, and tight end positions. The only reason they are not that far down at receiver is because of a unique frontloaded contract they used when signing Andrew Hawkins.
The Browns approach to offense has been a disaster for the last decade. The underinvestment isn’t because they are necessarily filled with great young prospects or avoided offense in the draft, but simply the fact that they have made poor decisions when it comes to identifying any non-lineman. The names read as a who’s who of underperformers- Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Brian Robiski, Mohamed Massaqui- and there has to be real worry that Manziel is going to fit into that same category after partying his way right out of a starting job in his rookie year.
With so much cap space the team is in a position, similar to the Raiders last season, where they really need to start taking some chances just to bring professional players onto that side of the football. With the QB position so up in the air they need to upgrade their talent at running back and perhaps identify a blocking tight end, both of which can be found in free agency. The team has a major need for a wide receiver, especially if Gordon is released. There is no shortage of talent available in free agency and finding a quality free agent would allow them to use their draft picks on other areas.
Defensively the team could use an inside linebacker and more help along the line to keep the defense a strength of the team. I would not be surprised to hear the Browns linked to former Jets linebacker David Harris, though they would be better off looking for a younger player to develop and take over for Karlos Dansby in 2016. There is probably an end or tackle they can find with one of their first rounder’s this year as there is not a great deal available in free agency. They could take a chance on BJ Raji hoping he can stay healthy and rejuvenate his career or look at Damon Harrison depending on what type of tender offer the Jets make to him.
It won’t be an easy path for the Browns. They need to hit in free agency to make the most of what they have now while also getting some younger pieces in place to replace some of those veteran defenders in the near future. Unless they show real improvement the team will likely find all new coaches and front office personnel in 2016 signaling yet another new start for the team. The GM will keep that in mind when making decisions “for the future” instead of the present.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.