The Cleveland Browns placed cornerback Joe Haden on injured reserve on Monday after he has failed to pass the NFL’s concussion protocol. Haden has suffered at least two concussions this year as well as dealt with a broken ring finger and bruised ribs and, even when on the field, struggled in coverage in ways he hadn’t in years previous.
This is significant, because Haden’s $10.1 million salary for the 2016 season is only fully guaranteed for injury. That means he was only set to earn 100 percent of next year’s salary if he ended 2015 on injured reserve. It seemed, for a while, that the Browns were putting off placing Haden on IR for this very reason. Because on top of that $10.1 million salary, Haden also has $3.2 million in signing bonus owed him next year and another $100,000 in workout bonus. This gives him a $13.4 million total salary cap hit for the Browns next year, thus taking up currently 10.14 percent of the team’s total cap spending for the season.
That’s a steep price to pay for Haden, who, according to Pro Football Focus, only played 290 snaps this year (131 versus the run, 159 in coverage) in five games. And in that span, he was a liability in coverage, giving up 24 catches on 31 targets, for 387 yards, 120 yards after the catch and allowing four touchdowns while defending three passes and notching no interceptions. Further, the Browns have numerous other cornerbacks capable of playing better than Haden, such as Charles Gaines Jr., Pierre Desir, while Justin Gilbert will be returning from his concussion at some point and seventh-round 2015 draft pick, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, proving to be a very promising player before injuring his knee last winter.
To put it in perspective, Haden is set to have the fourth-highest cap hit of any cornerback in the league next year, barring any other corners getting big-money deals in free agency in the spring. At this point, the Browns will have no choice but to keep Haden as a starter. Either that, or they will have a very expensive player on their bench. Trading is almost impossible at this point given how much money any interested team will have to shell out, unless a pay cut or a contract restructuring is on offer and is something Haden is willing to accept. It would be one thing for the Browns to try to move Haden to another team had his 2015 been strong and not ended by multiple concussions; it’s another altogether to convince another team Haden is primed for a bounce-back at that salary.
Now, the Browns will likely have to wait until 2017 to move on from Haden. His injury guarantees for that season are small—only $4 million of his $11.1 million salary is guaranteed should he end the year on injured reserve again, and the dead cap to cut him is $6.4 million, or less than half of what it would cost the team to release him in 2016. The Browns were in between a rock and a hard place with Haden’s 2016 salary; by placing him on IR, they appear willing to remain there.
On Gary Barnidge
The Browns took care of a major piece of offseason business early last week by signing tight end Gary Barnidge to a three-year, $12.3 million contract. The 30 year old is the Browns’ leading receiver so far this year, with 901 yards and eight touchdowns on 65 receptions and for his efforts has been locked up through the 2018 season.
There are few details beyond length, duration and amount of guaranteed money ($5.5 million) that have emerged about Barnidge’s contract so far. But, using those numbers and our knowledge of how NFL contracts are structured, there can be a few educated guesses made about the breakdown of the money.
With $5.5 million in total guarantees, it’s not hard to imagine that $3 million of that is in the form of a roster bonus, prorated to $1 million per year. That leaves Barnidge with $2.5 million in guarantees remaining. Given Barnidge’s age, it’s likely that most, if not all of that $2.5 million comes in the first two years of the contract, along with a little extra. After guarantees, there are $6.8 million remaining, some of which Barnidge is likely to see, and some that he won’t.
That $6.8 million breaks down to $2.267 million per year. However, it will be broken up so that the bulk of that non-guaranteed cash comes in the contract’s final year. It’s money that the Browns won’t have to owe him should he not be on the roster and thus means that any dead-money charges they could incur by releasing him after the contract’s first two years have been paid out will be minimal.
A good comparable contract, not necessarily in terms of cash value but structure, is the one given to the Detroit Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew. In 2014, he signed a four-year, $16 million deal that has $8 million in guaranteed money. $4 million of that is in the form of a prorated signing bonus of $1 million per year. The other $4 million is made up of his 2014 and 2015 salaries—$1.2 million and then $2.8 million. The remainder of his base salary—$3.65 million in 2016 and $4.35 million in 2017—is not guaranteed, which means the Lions can release him during the 2016 offseason and only see dead-money charges equivalent of his remaining signing bonus, or $2 million.
Expect to see something similar out of Barnidge’s contract structure when the full terms of the deal are released. He will get $1 million per year in roster bonus and his only salary guarantees will come in the first two years, if not 2016 alone. The final year’s salary will seem high in comparison, but because they won’t be guaranteed, the Browns can move on from him in 2017 and have low dead-money charges. That’s a smart way to structure a deal such as this; it acknowledges Barnidge’s immediate value while also recognizing he’s an aging player who may not have the same usefulness at age 32 that he has at age 30.