While there has not been a significant amount of salary cap movement for the Cleveland Browns, there have been enough notable personnel additions and subtractions that warrant another look at the Browns’ current cap situation.
On the Rookies
As it presently stands, the Browns are still over $40 million in expected Top-51 cap space. To recap, the Top-51 number stands for the 51 highest cap hits for the 2016 season, which are the only ones to count against the team’s salary cap (even though the final roster will have 53 players). While there are close to 90 players on the present roster, putting that “all-team” cap space at $22.8 million, the Top-51 number is the one that matters in terms of official league business. It’s also worth noting that this number will continue to fluctuate as players are added and subtracted from the roster; it will be close to it’s final resting spot once the 53-man roster is sorted, but even then the true cap number won’t be completely clear until the 2016 season wraps, given the numerous personnel moves that can happen in-season.
That cap number includes the drafted rookie class. All 14 are now signed under contract with Round 3 selection, defensive end Carl Nassib, inking his deal this week. Should all 14 make the 53-man roster—something neither a given nor likely—then the 2016 drafted rookies will cost the Browns around $10,047,339 in cap space this year. The group is led by Round 1 wideout Corey Coleman, who will make $2,119,090 in total compensation for 2016. Emmanuel Ogbah, drafted in Round 2 will make $1,201,753. Carl Nassib, Shon Coleman, Cody Kessler and Joe Schobert will all have cap hits in the $600,000’s, and seventh-round pick, Scooby Wright, is set to earn $465,173 this year granted he is on the active roster for all 17 weeks and 16 games.
That, as noted after the draft, is key. We can only pencil in these rookie cap hits for this year until the final roster shakes out. These rookies will earn $1,000 per week in training camp this summer, but they don’t start being paid their contracted money until the regular season begins and they are on the active roster. Practice squad players, meanwhile, will make $6,900 per week in 2016, so any rookies who land there can make a maximum of $117,300 if they remain there for the duration of the season—also not another given, as practice squads are infinitely more fluid entities than the main roster once the season commences.
Rookie Total Contract Values and 2016 Cap Hits (*=Estimated)
|Player||Max Value||2016 Cap Hit|
As wonderful as it would be to make like an NFL coach and not comment on players that aren’t on the roster, there are relevant Browns-related points to make regarding former quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was handed down a four-game suspension on Thursday for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Manziel is also subject to discipline related to the domestic violence charges against him by former girlfriend Colleen Crowley, a suspension that could span another six or more games on top of the four the currently-jobless quarterback would have to face should he sign with a new team.
But this suspension means that the Browns can recoup a portion of the $4,333,487 in dead money they had to absorb on their salary cap when they released Manziel earlier this year. According to a copy of Manziel’s contract obtained in March by Pro Football Focus, the deal includes his guarantees being voided if he is suspended by the NFL for any reason, as well as being voided if Manziel’s reason for being released is unrelated to “skill, injury or salary cap.” With Manziel’s remaining two contract years including two guaranteed salaries of $1.169 million in 2016 and $1.004 million in 2017, the Browns are set to receive another $2.173 million in salary cap room.
For a team whose dead money has ballooned to over $18 million (after it being at just $7.3 million a year ago), any decrease in those dollars is welcomed. If this money does indeed get returned to the Browns’ coffers, their cap space could be as much as $42.3 million in short order.
With the Browns spending the offseason carrying five quarterbacks on the roster, it was clear that at some point a cut or two would take place. Indeed, that was the case on Thursday, with the Browns cutting 2014 UDFA addition Connor Shaw. Shaw had one Week 17 start for the Browns in 2014, completing 50 percent of his passes for 177 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception, and his 2015 was spent on injured reserve after undergoing surgery on a broken thumb.
Shaw had a base salary of $450,000 in 2016 and no signing or other bonuses. Because he was an undrafted player, none of his contracted money was guaranteed, which means no more dead money will be added to the Browns’ salary cap. Instead, they recoup that cash, giving them a touch more cap space on the year.
The cut reduces the Browns’ quarterback crop to four. Robert Griffin III is the highest-paid of the bunch in terms of cap hit, which totals $5,046,875, but his $3.25 million base salary is lower than that of Josh McCown’s of $4.375 million. As such, McCown’s cap hit isn’t far behind Griffin’s, totaling $5,041,666. Austin Davis has a cap hit of $1,766,666, $1.35 million of that in base salary. Kessler’s $616,197 hit is now the least expensive of the group. All told, the Browns’ quarterbacks room ranks 24th in the league, with a current cap allocation of $12,471,404. That number will almost certainly decrease later in the summer as the roster shrinks in turn.