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Browns Salary Cap: What it Costs to Cut QB Johnny Manziel

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel's demotion from starter to third string could spell the end of his career in Cleveland. So what would it cost the Browns to move on from him after the 2015 season?

As we all know, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel’s weekend antics—and the fact that he was completely disingenuous about staying out of the public eye or away from bringing negative attention to his team—has cost him the starting job that head coach Mike Pettine gifted him with a week ago. Not only is Manziel not the No. 2 on the depth chart behind Josh McCown but he’s been demoted all the way to third string behind Austin Davis. He’s not even likely to dress for Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.

This one last chance to live up to Pettine’s and the Browns’ 2015 motto of “words into actions,” has likely sealed Manziel’s fate in Cleveland. Once supported by the front office and owner Jimmy Haslam, that support seems to be running out. Regardless of what happens in terms of who keeps their jobs and who gets fired at the season’s end, Manziel is so far out of favor that no current or would-be Browns coaching staff will be willing to hitch their wagon to his rapidly falling star.

So, what do the Browns do next? And what, from a salary cap standpoint, would it cost the Browns to separate themselves from Manziel, when and if they so choose to? 

When Manziel was drafted with the 22nd-overall pick in 2014, his rookie contract salary was already set. Teams must follow a strict set of guidelines when compensating their draft picks, as mandated by the CBA. While picks in Rounds 2 and beyond have a slightly more fluid compensation structure, in Round 1, it’s mostly a set-in-stone thing. He signed his contract of June of that year, a four-year deal worth $8,248,596, with $7,998,596 of it guaranteed, and $4,318,980 of that guarantee coming in the form of a signing bonus paid in equal amounts over each of the deal’s four years. It also came built-in with a fifth-year option, as is the case with all Round 1 NFL draft picks. It’s more than fair to assume that option will not be exercised by the Browns.

In 2015, Manziel accounts for $1,874,681 of the Browns’ total cap hit, with $794,936 of it salary and $1,079,745 in signing bonus. In 2016, he’ll be making $1,169,872 in base salary and hanover $1,079,745 in signing bonus, for a cap hit of $2,249,617. If the Browns cut him outright at the close of the 2105 season, they will absorb $4,624,170 in dead money—his 2016 and 2017 base salaries plus his prorated roster bonus. Should they do it now, it will be slightly higher than that, accounting for the fact that 11 of his 17 weeks’ worth of paychecks have already been doled out. These are all cap figures the Browns can absorb, given their over $20 million in cap space they have currently and the potential for up to $175 million to spend in 2016. It is, though, also an admission of failure, and an embarrassing one at that.

But the embarrassment has already taken hold. The Browns need to find a way to save face for the Manziel debacle, and barring a willing trade partner, may just have to absorb Manziel’s dead money and move on. At this point, the only team that seems a potential trade partner for Manziel is the Dallas Cowboys, whose owner Jerry Jones had to be physically restrained from drafting Manziel in 2014 by his own son. But the Cowboys aren’t exactly cash-flush right now, with just over $12 million in current cap space and an ill-advised contract extension likely ahead for defensive end Greg Hardy. And after the public relations debacle the Hardy signing has been in the first place, there’s no guarantee that he’ll get his extension; and it could also serve to turn the Cowboys off from a problem child like Manziel when the dust settles.

So, if the Browns want to move on from Manziel, they’ll likely just have to eat his contract and chalk it up to (yet another) Round 1 failure. As long as it serves as some kind of positive learning experience for the team’s decision makers on personnel and the draft, then perhaps something good can come from the failed Manziel experiment. 

Salary cap and contract data via Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted

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