When looking at the Cleveland Browns’ salary cap situation this year, we’ve often discussed sunk costs, whether in the form of dead money or expensive players not performing up to their contracts. But there’s another form of sunk cost when talking about NFL salary caps—the kind that comes as a result of the money owed to players placed on injured reserve, physically unable to perform and non-football injury lists. The good news for the Browns is that very little money is currently wrapped up in ailing players—just $1,973,475 at this time. Only the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals have less. The Carolina Panthers lead the league in injured reserve cash, with $26,347,647 allocated to hurt players; the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers come in second and third.
Currently four players are on the Browns’ injured reserve list—linebacker Scott Solomon (ankle), offensive tackle Michael Bowie (shoulder), cornerback Charles Gaines Jr. (hamstring) and quarterback Connor Shaw (thumb). They also have three players on the physically unable to perform list—running back Glenn Winston (knee), tight end Randall Telfer (foot) and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (knee). None of these players have significant salary cap hits this year. The most expensive among them is Solomon, with a cap hit of $660,000. Bowie is making $585,000, Gaines $410,457, Shaw $318,000, Winston $447,529, Telfer $423,090 and Ekpre-Olomu $408,031.
Gaines began the season on the injured reserve-recall list and is back on the practice field but has yet to be activated to the 53-man roster; the same is the case for Winston. Meanwhile, Telfer and Ekpre-Olomu will likely revert to injured reserve. The PUP list rules are pretty clear—those placed on it at the start of the regular season can begin practicing in Week 6. Teams then have six weeks—as in, the day after Week 6 through the day after Week 11—to activate those players. If they do not, they must be placed on injured reserve, be released or return to practice. That then opens another three-week practice window for those players; if they do not take up a spot on the 53-man roster by then, injured reserve is the final destination.
This means, of course, that Gaines and Winston would bump two other Browns players off the 53-man roster when and if they are activated, which could open up the Browns to dead money charges on their salary cap. These dead money charges should be easy to weather, though, given Cleveland’s prodigious cap room and the odds being high that those cut for Gaines and Winston aren’t high-value players. Cleveland’s IR cash could obviously change with other players suffering season-ending injuries as the season progresses (such as cornerback Joe Haden and his now-multiple concussions), but for now the injury bug has been biting the team very lightly, leading to little money tied up in hurt players.
The desire to not having a ton of cap space in the training room is an obvious one. High-contract-value players are likely high-on-field-value players, so the more expensive an injured player the bigger the void left. And if a team is going to spend its money, it wants to do so on players who can make a positive impact. Lots of money wrapped up in hurt players means no one is benefitting, in a football sense, from those dollars spent. For now, even with the missed games mounting for certain Browns players, none of these injuries have been significant enough to warrant the Browns’ injured reserve list growing exponentially. That injury luck combined with those currently hurt simply not having high-value contracts has led the Browns to having under $2 million of their cap space belonging to the walking wounded.