Now that the Cleveland Browns have trimmed their roster to 53 players and have established a 10-man practice squad, there is increased clarity about the team’s spending against the salary cap for the 2016 season. There will doubtlessly be changes to these numbers as players are added and subtracted from both the active roster and the practice squad, but unless something drastic happens there shouldn’t be too much significant movement between now and the end of the season.
One thing to keep in mind immediately is that the Top 51 Rule no longer applies. The Top 51 Rule mandates that from the first day of the league year to the day before the first regular season game, only the top 51 salary cap hits on any team’s roster count against its cap. Now, all 53 active roster players, those on the practice squad, anyone on injured reserve and those on the PUP or NFI lists all count as spent money for all 32 NFL teams.
This isn’t a problem for the Browns, who continue to have a glut of excess salary cap space to work with. In 2016, they carried over $20,724,144 in cap space from the previous season. With an added $682,150 in adjustments, the Browns had up to $176,686,294 to spend this year when adding in the $155.27 million per-team cap. Of that, the Browns have spent $127,827,934 on active contracts, dead money, injured reserve, NFI and practice squad players. This breaks down to $89,844,099 spent on active contracts, $2.295 on injured reserve, $26,166,268 on dead money, $1,173,00 (minimum) on the practice squad, and $7 million in NFI money, the cap hit of Desmond Bryant who suffered a pectoral injury while lifting weights, a non-football injury.
An important thing to note about the practice squad is that while players may come and go from the 10-man group, some earning only $6,900 for one week of service, some earning $117,300 for being there for all 17 weeks, the Browns will be on the hook for the full $1,173,000 in minimum 10-man practice squad salary for the year, as they will be paying some combination of 10 players for the full 17 weeks of the season. This final cap number could vary, though, as $6,900 per week is the minimum, not the maximum, a practice squad player can be paid. It’s possible, though not guaranteed, that the Browns could pay a practice squad player $12,000 or even $25,000 per week at some point in the season.
With under $90 million in active contracts, the Browns are one of the lowest spending teams in the NFL. They are also the possessors of the most cap space, at $48,858,360. They are spending the least on their offense, at $43,307,989, while they rank 28th in defensive spending, at $43,336,110. One important thing to note about the defense: Cornerback Joe Haden counts $13.4 million against the salary cap this year. Without him on the books, the Browns would easily have the lowest defensive payroll in the league, at just under $30 million.
This should come as no surprise, as there are 17 rookies on Cleveland’s 53-man roster, along with two first-year players, eight second-year players, four third-year players and eight fourth-year players. These are often some of the cheapest contracts in the league, especially as all of the Browns’ Round 1 draft picks from 2011-2014 are no longer on the payroll (other than as dead money). Haden continues to be the only player on the roster earning double-digit millions this season, though Joe Thomas is not far behind at $9.5 million.
The next question is whether or not the Browns will be open to spending their multi-millions in free agency in 2017. This hasn’t been a spendy team no matter who has been at the helm of personnel, so it’s hard to imagine that Cleveland will be spending even half of their carry-over cash in a year where the salary cap could be upwards of $165 million per team to begin with. The only exception would be the ability to acquire a talented, and therefore expensive, veteran quarterback or if Robert Griffin III performs so well this season that a higher-value contract extension is warranted. But the good news is that the Browns can be ready for anything, from a financial standpoint, whether it means signing—or cutting—players.
All contract and salary cap data via Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted.