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Browns' Contract Evaluation: The Tight Ends

Our position-by-position examination of the Cleveland Browns' 2016 spending and salary cap situation continues with the tight ends.

While continuing on our ongoing look at the state of the Cleveland Browns’ positional groups, we at the OBR are also continuing to look at the financial impact of each position group at the same time. Fred Greetham just broke down the tight ends, so now it’s time to examine what kind of salary cap commitments the Browns have made to the five who are currently on the roster.

In terms of both on-field performance and 2016 payday, Gary Barnidge leads the way. Barnidge was the Browns’ top receiver in 2015, with 79 catches on 123 targets for 1,043 yards and nine scores. He had 343 yards after the catch, 52 first downs and 16 receptions of 20 or more yards, all without fumbling the ball once. Though he turns 30 years old in September, the relative lack of tread on his tires means he should remain a fixture in Cleveland for at least a few more years, something the former regime wanted to make the case, which led to the Browns and Barnidge agreeing to a three-year, $12.3 million extension in December—likely the last and one of the few smart things former general manager Ray Farmer did correctly in his two years at the position.

The deal pays Barnidge a total of $3.25 million in guaranteed money and gives him a $2,562,500 cap hit for 2016. Given that just over $2.4 million of that would be dead money should the Browns cut him this year, there’s no worry that the Hue Jackson-coached and collaboratively personnel-managed powers-that-be would move on from him just yet. Should that happen, it won’t be until 2017 (cap hit of over $3.8 million, dead money of just over $1.6 million) or 2018 (cap hit over $5.12 million, dead money of just $812,500). Barnidge will be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 should he play out the terms of his deal.

Fellow tight end Jim Dray is costing the Browns nearly as much as Barnidge in 2016, should they keep him. But the fact that he’s not produced on the field the same way that Barnidge has opens him up for release this offseason by the new regime. Dray signed a three-year, $5.625 million deal with the Browns in March, 2014 and 2016 is its final year. He has a total cap hit this season of $2.075 million but the dead money, like most contracts in their last years, is equal only to his remaining signing bonus of $300,000. Dray had only 16 passing targets in 2015, with six catches netting him 61 yards and zero scores. Also not helping his cause is the fact that he wasn’t on the field much last year, playing only 40.7 percent of the Browns’ offensive snaps (compared to 85.2 percent for Barnidge). But he did appear on 35.8 percent of Cleveland’s special teams snaps, an area which Dray may remain valuable. But for over $2 million? This is why it would not be a surprise to see Dray cut once the league year begins on March 9.

Two other Browns tight ends were rookies in 2015—Randall Telfer a sixth-round draft pick, and E.J. Bibbs, an undrafted free agent. Telfer spent the year on injured reserve, having been battling a broken foot. And with the men who drafted him now gone and Telfer’s health remaining a question, he could be another roster casualty in the spring. He’s set to cost a nominal $554,384 against the Browns’ cap this year but only $176,304 in dead money. It will depend on Telfer’s foot being fully healed and the new coaching and front office staffs seeing potential in him to keep him around through the summer. 

Bibbs, meanwhile, seemed to be one of the Browns’ most promising undrafted rookies in training camp last year but played sparingly in 2015, appearing in seven games and seeing just two passing targets with a lone, seven-yard catch. He’s set to earn $525,000 this season but as an UDFA, none of that is transferred to dead money if he’s released. Still, the Browns need to carry more than one—and ideally, more than just three or four—tight ends on the roster at least while it sits at 90 men until summer’s end, and Bibbs seems to hold enough potential to stick around.

Rounding out the position is Connor Hamlett, an undrafted player who spent the summer with the Jacksonville Jaguars and was waived in September, with no other team picking him up. The Browns signed him to a reserve/futures contract in January, with a one-year value of $450,000. This will assure that Hamlett is at least a camp body and gives him a shot to stick around on the 53-man roster or practice squad in 2016. His contract, too, does not count against the salary cap if cut; this is a typical low-risk signing that all teams make when their seasons end. But because Hamlett was an offseason signing by the new brain trust, he seems to have a bit more job security than someone like Telfer.

For this spending, the Browns are currently in the middle of the league in tight end spending—at 16th, exactly—with $6,721,747 committed to the position in 2016 so far. Of course, this can change once the league year begins and players are both released and signed and again during the 2016 draft and the undrafted free agent signing period which follows. But if would be surprising for the Browns’ outlay of cash for tight ends rises significantly in the coming months. Barnidge is established as their top pass-catcher at tight end and if Dray remains, he will be useful both as a blocker and on special teams. Another blocking tight end could be in play, depending on the fates of Bibbs and Telfer, but again, the Browns aren’t likely to make enough moves at the position to see this area of expenditure increase in a significant way in 2016.

All contract and salary cap data via and unless otherwise noted.

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