With 14 players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, signing the rookies to four-year contracts is a more complicated and expensive process for the Cleveland Browns than for any other team. And things become even more complicated as the offseason wears on and some of these 14 players make the 53-man roster, others are released and others still land on the practice squad to begin their NFL careers.
That’s why pinning down the Browns’ rookie class expenses is hard to do this time of year. It’s not just that the team hasn’t yet formally signed any of these drafted players to their contracts yet, it’s also that whatever those contracts end up costing may not be what the player makes this year or for the next four years of his career. Indeed, the full extent of the Browns’ 2016 spending on these rookies won’t really be fleshed out until the season is over.
If the Browns’ 14 drafted rookies are paid the minimum salaries for their draft positions—something determined by a formula established in the 2011 CBA—they will cost $10,047,781 against the salary cap for 2016. That is not a problem for the Browns, who have nearly $40.7 million in Top 51 cap space (a.k.a. the only salaries that cost against the cap, officially, are the highest 51 of the final 53), bringing them to around $30.6 million in remaining space should all 14 picks be signed at these amounts. The highest salary, of course, belongs to Round 1 pick Corey Coleman, at over $2.1 million, while the lowest would belong to seventh-round pick Scooby Wright, at $465,176 (for reference, the minimum rookie salary allowed for 2016 is $450,000). But that doesn’t mean these rookies will get the minimums owed to them via the CBA’s mandate. None will receive less—though there is a catch—but some may receive more, such as additional signing or roster bonuses or other performance-based incentives. So how can players receive less? By not making the 53-man roster.
Contracts don’t matter until the regular season begins. Rookies get no compensation for OTA involvement, though veterans do get $195 per day granted they participate in three out of five days of practices. All players receive training camp per-week stipends (rookies and first-year players receiver $1,000 per week, veterans $1,900), but the contracted salaries don’t get paid out until games are played—hence why a weekly paycheck in the NFL is often referred to as a “game check.” Thus, while Round 5 pick Rashard Higgins may sign a deal in the coming weeks or months that will net him $496,096 in 2016 pay, if he is released prior to the start of the season, he won’t get any of it, save for the always-affecting-the-cap signing bonus, typically around $40,000 to $50,000. And if he sticks around, albeit only on the practice squad, he’s set to make around $6,900 per week, or $117,300 on the season should he be on the squad for all 17 weeks.
So when you inevitably read in one of these salary cap breakdowns about this being a constantly evolving, fluid situation you can realize that it’s not hyperbole. Where the Browns stand financially at present will not be where they stand after the 14 drafted rookies sign their contracts and that won’t be where they financially stand when they take the field against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. And none of this takes into account any undrafted rookies who could win a roster spot, as well. Though there are guidelines in place for what these rookies will be paid once their NFL careers begin in earnest, everything must be written in pencil about Cleveland’s upcoming spending until the 53-man roster is finalized.