The most conspicuous absence from the Cleveland Browns’ offseason workouts is safety Tashaun Gipson. Gipson, who missed the final month of the Browns’ 2014 season with a knee injury, still ended the year with six interceptions, the second-most in the league. He also had 52 combined tackles, a forced fumble and eight passes defensed.
While the Browns continue to focus on rebuilding their defensive front seven with an eye to improving both their ability to stop the run as well as rush the passer, the secondary has been one of the team’s most stable units. Keeping Gipson in the fold is important to the Browns—but apparently not important enough, at least in Gipson’s eyes. He’s currently working out in Texas while waiting for a new, long-term contract from the Browns.
Gipson was given a second-round restricted free agent tender earlier this offseason, worth $2.356 million, despite the team having more than enough cap space to either broker a new deal at that time or to give him a first-round tender, which is worth $3.347 million. In response, Gipson has not signed the tender and has not joined his team for voluntary workouts. Though cornerback Joe Haden said in May that he expects Gipson back for (mandatory) training camp in July, the two sides clearly have yet to come to an agreement. And a long-term deal might be the only acceptable solution for Gipson.
Though Gipson’s contract should prove expensive, given all he’s done for the Browns over the previous three seasons and what he’s expected to contribute going forward, Cleveland can easily afford it, much as they could have when they gave him the second-round tender. The Browns have around $24 million in salary cap space—the second-most in the league currently. But it’s not just a matter of having enough money to pay Gipson—the Browns must also figure out what fair compensation looks like. The Browns don’t want to be stuck with a high-value long-term contract on any player simply because they can. Spending for spending’s sake never pays off in the NFL.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot said last month that a benchmark for any potential contract with Gipson is the one given to Devin McCourty by the New England Patriots earlier this year. That deal is worth a total of $47.5 million over five years, has $28.5 million in guaranteed money including a $15 million signing bonus and a $9.5 million per-year average. McCourty is now the NFL’s second highest-paid safety in the league in per-year value and the third-highest total value. Still, Gipson has one advantage over McCourty—interceptions. He’s had 11 over the last two years, with just Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman totaling more. McCourty had just three total interceptions over the last two years.
|Player||Team||Rank||Total||Avg/Yr||Total Gt’d||Gt’d/Yr||% Gt’d|
|E. Thomas||SEA||1.||$40.00 mil||$10.00 mil||$19.725 mil||$4.90 mil||49.3%|
|D. McCourty||NE||2.||$47.50 mil||$9.50 mil||$22.000 mil||$4.40 mil||46.3%|
|J. Byrd||NO||3.||$54.00 mil||$9.00 mil||$18.300 mil||$3.05 mil||33.9%|
|E. Berry||KC||4.||$50.05 mil||$8.30 mil||$25.700 mil||$4.28 mil||51.3%|
|D. Goldson||WAS||5.||$41.25 mil||$8.25 mil||$18.000 mil||$3.60 mil||43.6%|
|E. Weddle||SD||6.||$40.00 mil||$8.00 mil||$19.00 mil||$3.80 mil||47.5%|
|R. Jones||MIA||7.||$28.00 mil||$7.00 mil||$15.00 mil||$3.75 mil||53.5%|
|K. Chancellor||SEA||8.||$28.00 mil||$7.00 mil||$7.830 mil||$1.96 mil||27.9%|
|M. Griffin||TEN||9.||$25.00 mil||$7.00 mil||$11.500 mil||$2.30 mil||32.9%|
|D. Whitner||CLE||10.||$28.00 mil||$7.00 mil||$11.000 mil||$2.75 mil||39.3%|
|T. Gipson||CLE||T-34||$2.36 mil||$2.36 mil||$2.36 mil||$2.36 mil||100%|
Though interceptions aren’t the only measure of a safety’s success—and McCourty outperformed Gipson in 2014 as a tackler and in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), it will likely serve as a major bargaining chip for Gipson. But does that make him a $9 million per-year man? After all, fellow Browns safety Donte Whitner was given a four-year, $28 million deal a year ago, one that gives him an average of $7 million per year but has just $11 million in guaranteed money and average of only $2.75 million in yearly guarantees. Gipson is better than Whitner, yes, but the Browns may be reluctant to have so much money wrapped up in their safeties, especially given their expensive cornerback duo of Haden and Tramon Williams mean that the Browns already have one of the pricier secondaries in the league.
But safety is an increasingly more important position in the NFL, especially safeties like Gipson who transcend the “strong” and “free” designations of the past. Gipson can work in run support as well as he works in coverage and can even assist the pass-rush as a blitzer. In that sense, McCourty’s contract certainly looks like a blueprint for a deal for Gipson. Furthering the case is also the fact that the franchise tag for the safety position is expected to be $9 million in 2016. If the Browns go that route, Gipson will be costing them $9 million next year regardless. And with a McCourty-style average yearly guarantee of $4.4 million, a comparable contract for Gipson becomes even more realistic.
The stalemate between the Browns and Gipson will likely come to a close before mid-June’s mandatory minicamp, for one reason—money. Gipson could see his 2015 salary drop to 110 percent of its 2014 value—or to $627,000—if he doesn’t sign the tender by June 15. So expect the Browns and Gipson to begin negotiations in earnest once the team’s current OTAs wrap later this week. If Gipson is after the kind of cash McCourty is getting, he’s worth it and the Browns can afford it. It wouldn’t adversely affect their financial bottom line this year or in the seasons to come. On-field, however, the Browns cannot afford to lose Gipson. So paying him what he wants may be the only right move they can make this year.
All salary cap information via Spotrac.com and OvertheCap.com unless otherwise noted.
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