Because this is the dead season for the NFL, with few contracts being signed and few situations taking place to impact the Cleveland Browns’ salary cap, it’s a good time to open the floor to reader questions about the Browns’ salary cap. That’s where this week’s column—and the columns in the next few weeks—comes from. This week’s question is from reader LordHelpus, who asks:
How does the rollover work? Is it a dollar amount or some percentage?
What LordHelpus is referring to is the rollover cap that many NFL teams take with them season to season. The Browns are one such team, having a surplus of cash year after year due to the team no spending everything available to them. This year, for example, the Browns carried over $18,908,285 in extra cap space from 2014, giving them nearly $162 million in salary cap to spend this year when combined with the $143,280,000 salary cap that each team had for 2015.
The rollover cap amount represents actual dollars not spent by the Browns in the previous year. But it does not mean that the Browns did not spend $18.9 million of the $133 million given each team in 2014. Rollover cap stays with a team year by year. The Browns had $24,537,568 in extra cash from 2013 that carried over into 2014, giving them nearly $157 million in cap space last year.
Currently, the Browns have $22,082,270 in salary cap room. Though that could go down if they reach a long-term agreement with safety Tashaun Gipson, it’s fair to say that the Browns could have around $20 million in cap carryover in 2016, giving them somewhere in the neighborhood of $170 million to spend next year.
Why do teams do this? Though there is the matter of the cap floor to consider—that is, the 89 percent of the total salary cap from 2013 to 2016 that every team is required to spend—the Browns aren’t in any danger of underspending. And the penalties for not hitting the cap floor are less steep than those handed down for being over the cap. Carrying over cap room year to year simply allows the Browns to stockpile cash for the future. They want to have money available to extend contracts to top performing players in the years to come, and to have cash on hand for any desirable, expensive free agents who could hit the open market in the future. Therefore, the Browns having money on hand provides insurance for all of these possibilities.
Some teams, like the Cincinnati Bengals, have a cap surplus they carry over on a yearly basis on purpose in order to be able to afford their higher priced veterans when they reach the ends of their contracts, allowing them to be re-signed without too much pain. The Browns, on the other hand, have gotten to this point partially by accident. They haven’t had many superstars on the roster who have required expensive contracts. Joe Haden and Joe Thomas have been the team’s top-paid players for years. Paul Kruger has an $8.2 million salary cap hit this year, but it’s also just his second in Cleveland. And Alex Mack may be the highest-paid center in the league, but he didn’t get that contract until a year ago. Further, the next four highest cap hits on the Browns’ roster this year are all outside free agents signed in the past few years—Desmond Bryant, Donte Whitner, Tramon Williams and Karlos Dansby.
So the Browns haven’t had a lot of reasons to spend on their own players in recent years, which has given them such a surplus of cash. That’s been a good thing—without that surplus, they wouldn’t have managed to retain Mack, sign so many street free agents and be able to pay Haden and Thomas over $10 million per year and still be in good salary cap shape. It’s a glass half full/glass half empty kind of situation. The Browns haven’t had a winning season since 2007, and that can be partially attributed to the quality of players on the roster. Thus, they haven’t had many in-house contracts to extend at a high price. This has given them extra cash to spend on free agents, in an attempt to make the roster better, as well as allowed them to have cash for the future, not only for more talented free agents but to finally reward any in-house veterans who deserve it.
LordHelpus also asked my opinion on OvertheCap.com. OvertheCap.com is a valuable resource, one I use interchangeable with Spotrac.com. They have the same information, just presented in different layouts, and I rely on one or another for what I’m researching just based on preference of the design of the website. I have found that the two site can differ on cap space amounts, but only slightly, and mostly I’ve found those differences to be negligible when I am gathering salary cap data. OvertheCap.com has some cool tools you can play around with, too, that Spotrac doesn’t, like custom calculators for contract values and slider options that can show you in one click what would happen to the salary cap, say, if the Browns traded Haden and cut Thomas. I highly recommend playing around with those tools and checking out both sites for in-depth salary cap data, if it’s a topic you find as compelling as I do.
Thanks for your questions, LordHelpus. Next week, we’ll be tackling another reader question. Stay tuned.