The Cleveland Browns have committed over $144 million to their currently signed players, with $134 million of that counting against the salary cap as part of the Top–51 Rule. But just knowing how much money they are spending in 2015 only tells part of the story. Let’s go deeper and see where the money is going, position by position. Are the Browns getting their money’s worth from the positions where they have spent the most cash? Where could they stand to invest more? Let’s take a look.
Only five teams have less money committed to their offense than the Browns presently. That doesn’t reflect on the quality of the Browns’ offense, but rather to its youth. Younger players, like quarterback Johnny Manziel, running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell and the trio of tight ends, don’t have large cap hits. Thus, the Browns have been able to save some money with a younger, cheaper offense this year. This is most notable at quarterback, where the Browns have a low amount of money committed to the position. While the Browns would like that number to be higher—a sign that they have found someone worthy of a long-term, lucrative contract, and therefore stability—at least they aren’t overpaying a quarterback to underperform.
The only positions that stand out here are wide receiver and the offensive line. On the line, two players’ cap hits—those of left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack—make up over $18 million of the Browns’ total offensive line payout of $27,281,562 for 2015. Mack, of course, is the highest-paid center in the NFL, while Thomas is paid in accordance to his talent level and the importance of his left tackle position. The rest of the line makes just under $10 million combined for 2015.
Wide receiver, meanwhile, does not feature any high-paid players like Thomas or Mack who drove the price up. Instead, it’s a combination of smaller contracts being paid to Andrew Hawkins, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline that have added up, nickel-and-dime style, to lead to the $17 million figure. In fact, no Browns receiver will have more than a $5 million cap hit this year, that being Hawkins’. Bowe’s contract produces a $4.5 million hit this year and Hartline’s a meager $2.25 million.
It should be noted, though, that the Browns’ cap commitment to their wide receivers is on the high side for an NFL team this year. Cleveland is among 10 teams that will be paying out $17 million or more to their receiving corps in 2015. Such is the cost when the wide receiver depth chart is primarily comprised of street free agents rather than young players developed in-house. It gets expensive. Though Hawkins, Bowe and Hartline do not each have exorbitant contracts, their veteran statuses simply means they get more money than would a receiver being paid on his rookie-year contract.
While the Browns are among the teams that are spending the least on offense this year, no team has more money wrapped up in the defense this year. The Browns have $81,385,336 in cap space devoted solely to defense for 2015. The Seattle Seahawks come in second, with a cap commitment just $20,000 less than the Browns this year.
It makes sense that the Seahawks are spending so much on defense—it’s their biggest strength as a team, one that has helped them reach the Super Bowl for two years running. While the Browns’ biggest strength is also their defense, it is not comparable to Seattle’s. It’s almost stunning how much money the Browns have committed to a defense that ranked last in the league against the run in 2014 and had an average performance when it comes to pass rush.
At least the Browns don’t have a significant amount of cap space dedicated to defensive line. Their $23,121,830 in spending on defensive ends and tackles this year is in the middle of the pack in the NFL. Still, it is a great amount of money relative to the returns the Browns have gotten on their investments. Some of the Browns’ struggles in 2014 could be attributed to injuries, namely the trio of knee injuries suffered by Phil Taylor, Armonty Bryant and John Hughes. But the Browns need to get more out of their defensive line relative to what they are paying the players. Worth noting is that Taylor isn’t actually the highest-paid player on the line this year. Taylor has a cap hit of $5,477,000; the highest cap hit on the line belongs to Desmond Bryant, who will cost $7 million in salary and bonuses this year.
Cleveland does have a lot of cash tied into its linebackers, though, spending more on the position than 23 other teams for the 2015 season. $13.7 million of that $22,316,898 belongs to just two players this year—Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby. It makes sense, given that Kruger and Dansby are two of the higher-profile free agents the Browns have picked up in the last few seasons. Dansby has certainly earned his keep; Kruger, meanwhile, seems overpaid given his production in Cleveland thus far. With low dead-money amounts coming in 2016 and 2017, Kruger will have to have a great season this year in order to not become a cap casualty next offseason.
The Browns have a higher-than-average amount dedicated to the safety position and that’s for one reason—the $6.75 million being paid Donte Whitner this year, who accounts for over half of the Browns’ spending on safeties this year. Their money dedicated to safeties could also skyrocket in the coming weeks and months if the Browns and Tashaun Gipson come to an agreement on a long-term deal. Currently, Gipson is working under a second-round restricted free agent tender worth $2.356 million for 2015. If a deal is reached, though, he could have a cap number to rival Whitner’s, resulting in the Browns having the highest-paid safety duo in the NFL.
Cleveland’s huge cap dedication to the cornerback position is all about one man: Joe Haden, the Browns’ highest paid player for 2015. Haden has a total cap hit of $11.7 million this year, with an $8.3 million base salary, $3.2 million owed him in signing bonus and $200,000 in workout and miscellaneous bonuses. Newly-signed free agent Tramon Williams also doesn’t come cheaply in 2015, with a total cap hit of $6.5 million for the year. Even the Seahawks aren’t spending as much as the Browns are for their cornerbacks this year. Only two teams, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets (who shelled out for a second trip on the dance floor with Darrelle Revis) spend more. For the Browns, this has been money well-spent, with Haden proving a leader on and off the field. Williams, too, seems more than capable of earning his keep, though knowing whether he was worth the investment will have to wait until September.
The Browns clearly have invested more money on defense than on offense, which seems like a no-brainer given that side of the ball has both produced the most consistent players as well as features the higher-profile free agents the Browns have recently signed. Still, they need better play out of the front seven to justify their spending. Over $45 million is dedicated to the defensive line and the linebacking corps and that money needs to produce better on-field results in 2015.
On offense, the Browns are young, which has led to their low amount of cap commitment going to the team’s receivers, quarterbacks and running backs. In fact, the amount of money they are spending on skill positions this year is nearly equivalent to the money allocated to their offensive linemen. Given how much the Browns have struggled on offense, at least they don’t have a significant amount of money wrapped up in players who have yet to prove themselves.
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