Browns Contracts & Roster Construction Mailbag

I’ve been asked lots of questions on Twitter over the last week and while Twitter is a great platform, trying to respond with a 280 character limit can be a challenge. I wanted to give people more details so I decided to do a one-off mailbag. I hope you enjoy it, any more questions feel free to hit me Twitter @JackDuffin, DM’s are always open.

Myles Garrett and David Njoku got their fifth-year options, what does that mean?

Teams had until early May to decide if they wanted to add an extra season to the contract of their first-round picks from the 2017 NFL Draft. This is done before the start of their fourth and final year of the standard rookie deal. The Browns decided to exercise the option on both players. This is the first time they have used a fifth-year option since Phil Taylor.

This means that Garrett gets $15,184,000 guaranteed for injury next season as defensive end taken in the top 10 and Njoku gets $6,013,000 as a tight end taken between picks 11 and 32. These contracts will become fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year (mid-March).

Teams can still extend these players early and I would expect the Browns to get an extension completed with Myles Garrett during the preseason this year. I wrote about this earlier in the offseason, possibly around the six years, $164 million mark.

Teams aren’t regularly exercising player options for fifth years deals, only 63% between the 2011-2016 draft class. This is set to become even more unlikely after this season. For the 2018 Draft class onwards, their deals will be fully guaranteed at the time of signing, and also the discount for pick 11 through to 32 will no longer be in place. That means the Njoku deal would have cost $9,117,000 instead.

We have the cap space, why not sign Clowney and keep Vernon. It is a one year deal and will be off the books in a year?

The first thing we need to look at is the Browns current cap situation. Once they have signed their draft picks, the top 51 players on their roster will cost $181.5 million. Add to this the $12.5 million they currently have in dead cap plus approximately another $2.5 million that will be created when they trim the roster to 53 players. We are then looking at a salary cap spending of $196.5 million which is only just under the NFL salary cap is $198.2m this year. This doesn’t leave much wiggle room for players going on injured reserve and adding additional players during the season.

This means any additional spending that the Browns do will be coming directly from the salary cap rollover effectively the ‘savings account’. You won’t get this money back next year, once you spend it, it is gone and never coming back. For the past two years the Browns have overspent the NFL’s official salary cap limit and been eating into their cap rollover, despite excessive spending the roster quality hasn’t been great. The current rollover remaining is approximately $30 million. The Browns should be very shrewd with how they spend it.

They have some big bills coming next offseason. They currently have $181 million spent on 46 players plus lots of free-agent starters/key players too. Starting edge Vernon, starting safeties Sendejo & Joseph, both one technique in Billings & Ogunjobi, cornerbacks Johnson & Mitchell, linebacker Goodson and running back Hunt. These players will take significant capital to replace or extend. We will be able to cut/trade some players and draft some more but with the projected salary cap being $215 million that doesn’t leave much wiggle room if you have already spent the cap rollover. Deals to extend any of these one year players will be much more expensive than their current deal. Several of these players were expected to get twice the amount if they did multiyear deals.

The Browns have massive contract extensions for Garrett and Mayfield to agree which will mean significant cuts to the roster in other areas to balance the books. Having additional cap rollover will mean they can hide this additional spending for a few years at least.

The Browns two major free agency signings had their contracts massively backloaded contracts. Conklin costs $8 million in year one before jumping to $13 million and $15 million before costing the Browns $6m after he has left the roster. Hooper is $3.5 million followed by $8.25 million, $13.25 million, $13.25 million, and $3.75 million after he has left. These two deals make it look like the Browns have an extra $10 million of cap space this year but we need to be ready to pay the bill for these players down the line after their contracts expire.

The Browns could easily make the move to have both Clowney and Vernon on the roster in 2020 but this would lead to issues down the line. The current cap rollover would be cut in half, down to about $12.5-$15 million rather than $30 million at the moment. Everything in the NFL comes down to opportunity cost if you do X then you won’t be able to do Y. I would say the most sensible way would be to focus on building a sustainable winner for several years rather than go all-in on the 2020 season at the expense of later years. If you sign Clowney then trade or cut Vernon. Your roster is in better shape and you are likely to get a higher compensation pick after this season.

Why do the Browns need a slot cornerback, they have Kevin Johnson for that?

Kevin Johnson has never been a true slot cornerback in an NFL defense. He has flirted with the position a few times but not been a season-long starter. His career has been riddled with injures so he shouldn’t be a player who can lock down a spot without any cover behind them. If he is playing at his 2019 level then you are going to get a very good player (22nd/122th PFF Cornerback Rankings) despite only starting two games. His two previous years were poor with 2018 a near write-off due to injuries.

With slot cornerback being a starting position on the majority of NFL defenses, you need to have a player you are comfortable starting every game. The flip side is the Browns end up with a three safety base meaning the slot will only play dime packages. But an upgrade is certainly something the Browns should be looking at. The three players at slot cornerback I highlighted in my free agency piece last weekend were Logan Ryan, Darqueze Dennard, and Javien Elliott.

Realistic contract structures for Landry and OBJ if they want to stay on the Browns together?

I am on the record saying it is likely either Landry or Beckham are traded next offseason, this will clear up some cap pressures and allow them to move cap space towards Myles and Baker plus other positions. But if they were to look at keeping them what would the cost of the deal be and when would they be signed. I’m working on the basis they do both at the same time, as that is the way the question was put to me. They could possibly just keep them here until their deals run out rather than offer an extension/restructure.

Let’s first look at the deals they each have, I will work as if it is next offseason as I can’t see any changes coming in this year. Landry would have two years remaining, a cap hit of $14.8 million in 2021 and $16.6 million in 2022. The guarantees are all gone other than $1.5 million of signing bonus each year which is a sunk cost. Beckham has three years remaining, $15.75 million in 2021, $15 million in 2022, and $15 million in 2023. There is no signing bonus left as the Giants had to eat this due to the trade. $12.8 million of his 2021 salary becomes guaranteed on March 12th of that year plus $1 million in each of these three years at the end of July. This means that if the Browns were looking to do a double deal, it likely wait until the 2022 offseason. They could look to act early but it would be silly to rush into a deal with older players and non-guaranteed contracts. The players likely both want another payday possibly their last big one considering they are 30. You see players become more restless about their contract once the guarantees expire.

The market could easily move in the next 24 months plus you have to guess what their level of play might be. The current top tier of the wide receiver market using Over The Cap’s ‘average per year as a percentage at the time of signing’ metric is Jones 11.7%, Thomas 10.2%, Beckham 10.2%, Cooper 10.1%, Hopkins 9.7%, and Hill 9.6%. This means Beckham is likely wanting a deal in the 9.5% to 11.5% range. Landry would drop into tier two with Evans 9.3%, Cooks 9.1%, Hilton 9.1%, Adams 8.7%, Thielen 8.6%, and Landry 8.5%. That leaves a range of 9.3% to 8.5% for his deal.

Looking at these 12 deals, the majority are five years deals with eight of them falling into this category. Adams & Thielen got four-year deals and Jones & Hill got three-year ones. At the hypothetical time of signing during the 2022 offseason, Landry would have one year left and Beckham two they would possibly look to aline them by giving Landry one more year in his extension than Beckham.

The salary cap is hard to predict this far out as we are waiting on TV deals, using a figure of $227.5 million, these deals would be approximately:
Beckham – $68 million, 3 years
Landry – $82 million, 4 years

The Browns would likely blend these deals and spread the money across the remaining years, rather than add it all to the end of the deals. There would be a signing bonus but no major guarantees in the deal once they are 33 if we are using Jones’ deal as a template. I wouldn’t expect any real discounts from players. You hear lots of talk from fans and pundits but it rarely ever happens in extension talks. This is a long way away if they want to keep both, don’t expect a deal anytime soon.

Is it 53 or 55 players the Browns can keep on their roster this year?

There has been lots of talk of 55 man rosters for the 2020 season. This isn’t actually the case, below are the confirmed rules as set out in the NFL CBA.

The practice squad will increase from 10 to 12 players. Then in the 2022 season, this will increase again to 14. Some teams will be assigned an additional practice squad player through the International Player program as the Browns previously were with Tigie Sankoh.

The Game Day active roster has been increased from 46 players to 48. Teams must carry a minimum of eight offensive linemen in that 48. I think the league is aware of a lack of quality offensive line talent. By making sure that at least 256 are active every week, it will mean more players are getting solid time to develop.

Team rosters will remain at 53 players. Each week, two Practice Squad players can be elevated. These players can then be signed by another team as all practice squad players can be. After the third time they are elevated they must go through the waiver system meaning they can be claimed to other teams practice squad before returning to the Browns practice squad. This means these two roster spots are likely special teams contributors on game day if that.

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