The dog days of summer are upon the NFL.
NBA free agency continues to dominate the conversation as ridiculous contracts are handed out to those not considered franchise talents.
For example, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck signed the richest contract in NFL history last week. Eight different NBA free agents signed deals with more guaranteed money than Luck’s $87 million, and LeBron James isn’t even counted among those because he has yet to officially re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers
The question then becomes: Why aren’t NFL players compensated to the level of NBA athletes when professional football is more profitable? The answer is threefold.
First and foremost, an NBA roster is much smaller. Second, the players’ union isn’t as strong in the NFL. Finally, the NBA is a player’s league, whereas the NFL is an owner’s league.
The NFL will likely never see fully guaranteed contracts across the board due to the regularity of injuries and the relatively short shelf life of a player’s career. Owners being able to get out from under bad contracts allows them to protect their product... or so they believe.
A couple Browns contract situations are quite interesting over the next two years.
1. John Greco remains the forgotten man along the offensive line. The 31-year-old blocker holds a $2.925 million cap hit this season—this highest of the four-year extension he signed in 2013. A year from now, he becomes extremely affordable. He’s only owed $975,000 next season. For an experienced and a reliable veteran who can start at all three interior positions, this makes Greco very valuable to the team’s offensive line plans.
2. To provide an example of Greco’s effectiveness last season, the right guard surrendered 26 quarterback hurries. Thus, he gave up a hurry every 35 pass plays. On the other hand, Cameron Erving surrendered 24 quarterback hurries while playing 489 fewer snaps.
3. With the losses of Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz in free agency, many automatically assumed the Browns offensive line will greatly struggle. However, the consistent presence of Greco and Joe Thomas along with a healthy Joel Bitonio places the Browns in a much better position up front than they’ve been publicly portrayed. Of course, the team will take a step back at center and right tackle, but there are young players in place with an opportunity to excel.
4. The Browns signed Alvin Bailey to a three-year, $6 million free agent contract. His cap hit this season is only $1.3 million. He’s currently slated as the starting right tackle going into training camp. After signing with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2013, he started eight regular-season game the last two seasons at both tackle and guard. Keep this in mind: Bailey is 24 years old - he’ll turn 25 in August - and only three months older than this year’s second pick in the third round, Shon Coleman
5. With the organization holding Coleman out of offseason activities due to a knee injury, it may be harder than expected to pry the starting right tackle spot away from Bailey. Spencer Drango will also prove to be a factor in this competition. The fifth-round pick impressed coaches during OTAs and camp due to his work ethic and quick adjustment from left to right tackle. Bailey remains valuable, though, because he can play multiple positions. Something to expect: One of these linemen will likely serve as a blocking tight end in certain heavy formations Hue Jackson likes to utilize.
6. Plenty of discussions started after my previous report from a source which stated there is a feeling certain young players on the roster won't get a fair shake with this coaching staff because the coaches already have "their guys." First, it should be pointed out some of this is natural with any coaching staff changes and an organizational shift in philosophy. With that said - the concern is the previous coaching staff failed to develop some of the young players on the roster, and they’ll never get the opportunity to realize their potential.
7. Concern also arose, because the staff continues to say all the right things publicly, but the line of communication has been somewhat lacking from the start in regards to certain players. Whereas Jackson and his coaches made sure to assuage any concerns coming from key veterans, some of these young players weren’t provided the same courtesy. At least, this is initial impression given, and the thought is not everyone will receive a blank slate.
8. Barkevious Mingo and Justin Gilbert are two of the players who appear in line to receive an opportunity to prove themselves despite showing very little promise on the field. In both of cases, the opportunity cost is more tempting than simply accepting the potential sunk cost of two former first-round picks.
9. For Mingo, this season will serve as an important crossroads. The organization already declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. This season he’ll carry a $5.2 million cap hit. Despite Mingo’s lackluster play through the first three seasons, teams are hoping the Browns don’t retain him beyond this year. There are coaches around the league who still love his talent and believe he’s been used incorrectly since putting on a Browns uniform.
10. While the Cavaliers finally put “There’s always next year” to rest, the tired saying is actually a positive for the Browns. This season will be difficult, but the front office placed the team in fantastic position to complete a roster overhaul by 2017. Not only do the Browns own four picks in the first two rounds next year, but the team is also projected to have an NFL high $63.9 million in cap space if Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant and Tramon Williams are released by the start of the next league year.