Salary Cap Salts Browns Dynastic Outlook
By: Adam Burruss
The Browns are stacked with talent for the first time in 30 years. The fact that they can be competitive again is a shock to many across the sports world. They finally seem to have their franchise QB, a fantastic offensive system to compliment his style of play, and the defense is insanely talented. On paper, this team can compete for the Super Bowl for years to come, and it has all the analysts buzzing. Is it right to put them into this position? Are their current players and coaching good enough to bring them to the promised land?
I don’t think anyone can truly make a projection about those things because football isn’t here yet. You can analyze the preseason and training camp all you want, but nobody has the answers. Thus, I want to ask a different question.
Who is not going to be here for the future?
Cleveland spent this offseason filling up their cap space with marquee free agents. This is a dual-sided coin, as being immediately competitive limits what you can give to your homegrown guys. The Browns, for the first time in years, will eventually have to get rid of good players to stay competitive. Thus, I’m going to talk about players who could be gone in the coming years.
Jarvis Landry just came off of a Pro Bowl season and was one of John Dorsey’s first big acquisitions. He is a leader on the team and has good relations with both Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield. Of course, he has four years left of his contract, and he is performing at a high level. This doesn’t completely protect him, though. The Browns need to sign their rookies in the next few years, and through 2022, Landry either takes up the first or second most cap. While he is a good wide receiver, he’s not a transcendent talent like Odell Beckham Jr., and this hurts his case quite a bit. It should also be noted that the Browns have a crowded WR room, and Landry’s style of having a high volume of catches can be recreated by cheaper options. Is Landry a talented enough receiver to be kept on the team? It truly depends on how well he plays in the offense and if the need to keep him outweighs the need to sign guys like Garrett, Njoku, Ward or Mayfield to large contracts in the future.
Speaking of cheaper options, hello Mr. Higgins. While he’s not a superstar by any means, Higgins is a good player. He will certainly be the Browns’ WR3 this year, and if he’s solid, he will most likely be extended. He’s an unprotected free agent though, and if the Browns don’t want to pay him, they don’t really have to. I’ll make the case that Higgins would still be a cheaper and just as effective option as Landry, and if the Browns see him that way, they will keep him. That’s not a guarantee though, and some team that sees high value in him could scoop him up for a decent amount of money. If he has a good year, he’ll be getting paid somewhere.
Joe Schobert & Christian Kirksey
A theme you’ll see in this is younger options replacing the older ones. In that respect, I’ll have to give credit to John Dorsey for thinking ahead. Schobert is due an extension and Kirksey has a pretty hefty contract. Solution? Draft guys to mold behind them. The depth of Takitaki and Wilson behind these two is a great security blanket when deciding who to keep. Schobert is a fringe Pro Bowler who is better in pass protection than run blocking, and Kirksey is a somewhat underwhelming and previously injured member of the team. While both of these guys are great, they would have to seriously over perform in order to receive extensions or to be kept on the team. At least one of these guys will be gone by next year, and I would bet on it being Kirksey. If both under perform, don’t be surprised to see them both gone.
Randall has played well and is obviously due a large contract by somebody, considering the need for great safeties and the price tag rising. The backup option here would be Sheldrick Redwine, who is rangy and versatile. Since the Browns needed a safety anyways, they now either have their backup option for Randall or the guy who can maybe play SS besides him if Randall’s play convinces Dorsey. Losing Randall would hurt the team, as he is a key piece to the secondary, but it’s a possibility nonetheless.
If I wrote this a year ago, I would’ve confidently said that Tretter was on the chopping block as Austin Corbett was clearly the future at center. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s working out quite as well as everyone expected. However, if the front office still believes they can get cheaper options or they don’t offer as much as Tretter thinks he’s worth, expect him to be gone. With the upcoming extensions, he may be one of the few guys the Browns are unable to keep. Truthfully, I dislike this option. Good offensive linemen don’t grow on trees, so it’s important to pay your guys when you know you have one. Thus, while it’s an option, it seems like a worse case scenario if he’s unable to get the extension he deserves.
As I mentioned earlier, I hate the idea of losing good linemen. However, the Browns have done what’s necessary to move on from Bitonio if they really have to. Although he is signed for the next 4 years, the amount of cap space he takes up increases with every year. While he’s good, the staff clearly have thought about this, as they drafted Drew Forbes in the 6th round. While it’s tough to get rid of the people who do a good job protecting their quarterback, if Forbes develops and the team is in a cap crunch, Bitonio could be shipped out of Cleveland. I personally don’t believe in it, but it seems that Forbes could turn into a quality option. If this happens, the loss won’t sting as bad and the Browns can pay their top tier guys the money they deserve.
When it comes to football, all things are balanced. If you’re as bad as the Browns have been, you have the opportunity to draft the players to make your team good. If you’re good and you hit on all of your picks, you will eventually have to give them their compensation. The Browns will have to retain some players, and of course, let go of a few. This can be considered a good problem to have, but this is an important part of the game. In the upcoming years, we will see how John Dorsey handles this and if he does it in a way to keep the team competitive.