Now that the Cleveland Browns have reduced their roster to the league-mandated 53 players and have put together at least an early version of their practice squad, we have a better idea of where the team stands in relation to the 2015 NFL salary cap. The Browns went into the year with $161,767,400 to spend. But of course, they didn’t spend all of it—the Browns are well-known as a team that likes to carry over cash year-to-year in order to hand out contracts to their own free agents, sign veterans off the street and simply because they aren’t going to throw cash around to players who don’t deserve it.
Currently, the Browns are spending $130,611,321 on their active 2015 roster, though that number does not include the contract of quarterback Austin Davis, whose financial terms have not yet been disclosed. That leaves them with nearly $23.4 million in salary cap space, when all 53 contracts as well as the practice squad is factored in. But, as you know, only the Top 51 contracts actually count against the official NFL salary cap, which means that the Browns have just over $27.5 million in cap room based on the Top 51 rule. Pending any significant signings between now and next season, the Browns will carry over all of that cash, which could give them as much as $177 million in salary cap space in 2016.
There are other places in which the Browns are sinking money this year that is not reflected in the 53-man roster. These include the costs of suspended players, those on injured reserve or injured reserve-recall, those on the physically unable to perform list, their practice squad players and their dead money. Cleveland’s cash tied up in suspensions—a.k.a. in wide receiver Josh Gordon—is $564,115 this year. They have $1,686,534 in combined money owed to offensive tackle Michael Bowie, running back Luke Lundy and quarterback Connor Shaw, all of whom are on injured reserve. Cornerback Charles Gaines Jr., who is on IR-recall, is costing $465,534 this year and PUP money, which belongs to running back Glenn Winston, tight end Randall Telfer and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, totals $1,728,650.
Cleveland’s practice squad, which is currently at the league maximum of 10 players, is currently costing the team $1,122,000, with each member earning no more than $112,200 for a full 17-game season’s worth of work. This number, though, will change over the course of the season. Not all 10 players will be on the Browns’ practice squad all season long; some will be cut and replaced with others, and some will be called up to the active roster. So the actual 2015 practice squad spending will be different at the end of the season than it’s actually projected to be presently.
The Browns had some of the lowest dead money in the league heading into the 2015 season, but that number went up to $3,130,503 with the release of defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Still, it is not a lot of money tied up into dead contracts, nor as bad as it could be. Taylor was initially set to make $5.477 million this year in fully guaranteed money, having been given it last May when the Browns picked up his fifth-year option. But the Browns and Taylor were able to come to an injury settlement, worth $966,529, likely as a good-faith move by Taylor. The Browns, after all, picked up Taylor’s option before his knee injury occurred last season and they did so with an expectation of health in mind.
Injury settlements are complicated matters. Basically, an injury settlement takes the full amount of what a player was set to earn that year and divides it by 17 (as there are 17 weeks in the season). Then, based on how many games that player was expected to miss to open the year—a number arrived at by team and outside doctor opinion—he is paid for that many weeks. Thus, Taylor was set to make just over $322,176 per week and doctors believed it would be three weeks until he could take the field. Hence, the $966,529 settlement. Keep in mind that Taylor could return to the Browns, but he cannot do so until Week 9, as NFL rules require six weeks plus the original number of settlement weeks for a player to return to a team that has given him a settlement.
Now that the Browns have finalized their 53-man roster for now and have established their practice squad, not much has changed from a salary cap perspective. They still have well over $20 million to take with them into the offseason and to use next year should they choose. They have very small amounts of cash sitting in the trainers’ room and in dead money, have their practice squad players signed to the league minimum and haven’t made any questionable moves with their money over the summer. The Browns aren’t just cash rich but also cap savvy, which gives them considerable freedom that few other teams can boast.