Cleveland Browns salary cap and signings through 2021

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns throws the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns throws the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns have financial flexibility with a young core of star players on the roster. How could they manipulate free agency going forward?

The five-year NFL spending cycle ends after 2021, where salary cap space carrying over ends and starts over again. This exercise in Cleveland Browns spending through that season will give a clearer picture of the Browns’ salary cap going forward.

While it’s not possible to predict who exactly will be resigned, this gives us a greater understanding of how many players the Browns can re-sign and add in free agency. What happens to the cap room if the Browns sign Gerald McCoy or someone like him next offseason?

Right now if present contracts are honored (nobody gets cut) and after draft picks are factored in, the Browns are about $32 million under the cap this season, $17 million under in 2020, and $70 million under in 2021 (after accounting for 4% increase in the cap in 2021). This adds up to $111 million that can be spent through the 2021 season (all numbers according to

In 2020, the Browns’ top free agents include LT Greg Robinson, S Damarious Randall, and LB Joe Shobert. I predict they keep two out of the three at around $9 million a year and replace the other with someone already on the roster with LT Desmond Harrison showing readiness to take over at LT in 2020.

Other notable free agents in 2020 are C JC Tretter, WRs Rashard Higgins and Jaelen Strong, and QB Drew Stanton. I predict they keep three. Tretter will cost around $5 million a year in his age 29 season, and QB Drew Stanton at $3 million a year as well.  And they could keep one of the recievers at $4 million a year as Breshad Perriman was offered last season.

So that’s $30 million on our own free agents in 2020, with that same figure for those players in 2021 still under contract. That leaves the Browns with $59 million to spend in 2021.If the Browns wanted to free up additional cap space, the prime candidates to cut or trade after the 2019 season would be LB Christian Kirksey and RB Duke Johnson.

If the Browns see some good development in their rookie linebackers, the Browns could cut Kirksey’s $10 million salary with $2.4 million in dead money and a savings of $7.5 million. They would also have an additional $10.5 million available in 2021.

Duke Johnson is only getting paid a little over $3 million in 2019, with two of the top running backs in the league ahead of him in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. If they cut him in 2020, they’ll pay him $1.5 million and save $3.3 million in 2020, as well as save $5.9 million in 2021.

DE Chris Smith hasn’t shown much high level play and if the Browns cut him in 2020, they pay him $1.16 million and save the team $3.75 million. The cutting of these three players adds 31 million to be spent on a free agent at $15.5 million a year for 2020 and 2021, or a combination of two or three players. Added to the $59M, that leaves the Browns with $90M to spend in 2021 free agency

In 2021, Myles Garrett should get around $18 million on his 5th year rookie contract drafted top 10 in the first round, and TE David Njoku at around $9 million for his rookie option.

The top free agents should be 31 year old DE Olivier Vernon, RB Karrem Hunt, and DT Larry Ogunjobi. The Browns re-sign Ogunjobi at $9 million and add Olivier Vernon for one more year at $14 million. If they don’t add Olivier Vernon, they could spend that save money on a young star pass rusher in 2021.

They also have free agent offensive line backups in 32 year old Eric Kush and backup OT Kendall Lamm, as well as CB Terence Mitchell. The Browns resign capable backup CB Terrence Mitchell at $3 million a year like his current contract and T Kendall Lamm around his current $2 million a year. That leaves $45 million. If they trade for Gerald McCoy and he plays out his contract at $13 million a year for 2019 and 2020, that leaves them $19 million to sign someone they like.

In this scenario, the players not resigned would be replaced by players already on the roster, players drafted in 2020 or 2021, or free agents. They could also choose to keep LT Greg Robinson, at $10-12 million a year for two years. If they keep him, that takes away 22 million over 2020 and 2021.

They also don’t re-sign aging strong safety Morgan Burnett in 2021 in this scenario, so that if they can’t replace him with 2019 4th round pick Sheldrick Redwine, they draft a safety in 2020 to groom behind him, or they sign a free agent safety in 2021.

That doesn’t leave the Browns with any glaring needs, other than the starting strong safety role in 2021. To have a complete roster, I would like to add both a rotational edge rusher and defensive tackle. After adding someone like Gerald McCoy, they would likely have to add someone in free agency in 2020, unless they can find an immediate contributor in the 2020 draft. Chad Thomas could still develop a lot in his sophomore season, though hasn’t shown much at all yet. They could also draft or sign a linebacker to replace Kirksey.

In the 2020 draft the Browns could target immediate contributors at defensive end as well as a linebacker that can fill in the middle and can cover the passing game in the first few rounds, as well as a safety to take over at starting strong safety in 2021.

To fill out the roster, they could also draft a wide receiver to replace the one they let walk. In the 2021 draft, they can draft an interior offensive linemen, pass rusher, interior defensive lineman, and wide receiver to replace players that may walk in free agency.

Where does this leave the Browns in salary cap space in 2020 moving forward? Are they stuck? The Browns could see a chance at a Super Bowl in one of these seasons and backload contracts going into 2022 and beyond to be able to sign additional players under the cap before 2022. This is the year the Browns give the 5th year rookie option to Denzel Ward and Baker Mayfield, which makes the cap room tighter going forward. There are a decent amount of Browns free agents, including CB TJ Carrie, G Austin Corbett, WR Antonio Callaway, and LB Genard Avery, and 32 year old DT Sheldon Richardson.

The Browns should have the cap room to resign at least two of these players, with three drafts in that time to replace players that won’t be resigned. They could also cut another player or two if need be.

After acquiring some high priced players in the past offseason, the Browns still have enough cap room to sign their own free agents and bring in some talent as well. If they continue to draft well, they can use that to replace some of their own free agents, and use that extra salary cash to add players from other teams.

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It’s difficult to predict exactly what will happen, but showing these possible outcomes gives us a picture of what the Browns can do going forward.