With the Cleveland Browns’ first wave of roster cuts completed, it’s a good time to take another look at the team’s financial situation. Keep in mind, of course, that this will change significantly yet again when the roster is reduced to 53 players on Saturday and the 10-man practice squad comes together the following day.
Of note is the Browns’ increasingly growing amount of dead money, or guaranteed cash that was still on the contracts of released players that counts against Cleveland’s salary cap. Currently, their dead money totals $22,775,805 and is the second-highest amount in the league, behind only the New Orleans Saints, and comes from the releases of 16 players. Most of this is accounted for by six: receiver Dwayne Bowe ($4.6 million), safety Donte Whitner ($4.5 million), quarterback Johnny Manziel ($4,333,487), linebacker Karlos Dansby ($3 million), linebacker Barkevious Mingo ($2,567,182) and linebacker Paul Kruger ($1.2 million).
Yes, Mingo was traded to the New England Patriots. But the fact that his remaining guarantees count against the Browns’ cap points to one thing: Offset language that was included in his rookie deal. Offset language essentially means the Browns would have had to pay only the difference between his Cleveland salary and his Patriots salary—but only if Mingo was released and then signed by the Patriots before the end of his rookie deal. Now that he’s been traded, that offset language is moot and the Browns pick up the dead cash that remained on Mingo’s contract.
Still, the Browns are not in a bad situation at all when it comes to the cap space they still possess. As the roster currently stands, at 75 players, their cap room totals $38,620,254. When the Top-51 Rule is factored in (as in, only the top 51 hits of the expected 53-player roster count against the cap), that number rises to $57,743,254. The real number, once the roster settles, will be somewhere in between though closer to the higher number, meaning that the Browns will have a lot of cash to carry over to 2017, money that can be used to offer new contracts or extend existing ones to the team’s veterans as well as to sign free agents; it can, of course, also be spent sparingly as it was this year and then carried over into the 2018 league year. No matter what, expect Cleveland to have among the most if not the most cap space available this season.
With so much money on hand, it should come as no surprise that the Browns are among the lowest spenders in the league this year, with just over $105 million in expenditures, which drops to just over $94 million in Top-51 spending. On offense, the Browns rank last, with $43,824,171 in cap commitments this year; on defense, the Browns rank 27th, with $49,346,064 on the cap. Both of these numbers will drop once the roster is reduced. Why so cheap? Because the team is extremely young. There is just one cap hit over $10 million on the roster this year—cornerback Joe Haden, who costs $13.4 million for 2016. Further, the Browns have a number of lower-cost veterans who have signed recently as free agents, such as linebacker DeMario Davis ($3.2 million), tight end Gary Barnidge ($2,562,500), safety Rahim Moore ($1.85 million) and cornerback Jamar Taylor ($899,475) among them.
If you have been following along with the Browns’ salary cap situation, not just this offseason but in the previous few years, much of this will seem familiar. The Browns yet again have stockpiled cash and not committed excessive cap resources to what is a very young and thus inherently inexpensive roster at certain positions. What will be even more intriguing, though, is the cap repercussions of the weekend’s personnel moves. Cleveland has certainly shown a willingness to part ways with pricey contracts and have not equated cap hit with either talent or fit in the team’s offensive, defensive and special-teams plans.
All salary cap and contract data via Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted.