Breaking Down The Browns Free Agency Contracts

Although free agency kicked off several weeks ago, the final numbers for all these deals have just been announced. The agents are quick to give the max number on the contract to the media to report but these regularly aren’t what the player will actually earn. Now we have all of these I will look at the deal and touch on how much the draft class will cost too.

All numbers as always are from Over The Cap, you can view the up to date Browns Salary Cap Position by visiting their site, they are the best resource for contracts in the NFL.

What Are Void Years?

It will be important to understand about void years when reading the details of these contracts. I went deeper on them earlier in the offseason and you can check that out here in part four.

Void years are effectively fake years created in a contract so you can stretch that signings bonus over the maximum of five years if a player has less than that in his contract. When the Browns signed Jack Conklin they gave him a $15m signing bonus. Rather than this stretch across his three years deal, they added two fake years on the back to make it $3m a year rather than the original $5m a year over the three years.

A GM shouldn’t be given praise for using void years, buying things on a credit card is easy. It is important to balance borrowing money from the future to pay for extra players now. When you get into those future years you are often able to spend much less money as the Saints have found this offseason. They have become a necessary evil in the NFL the last two offseasons due to the COVID salary cap implications.

John Johnson – $33.75m/3years

John Johnson was an absolute steal for the Browns, PFF had predicted he would get $55m/4 at $13.75m a year, the Browns managed $11.25m a year. Both PFF & Over The Cap had predicted he would have guarantees in his deal keeping him on the roster for at least two years, he has $24m guaranteed. The structure the Browns used wasn’t a surprise, very similar to Hooper’s deal, this pushed the larger cap hits into the future, it effectively keeps him here for all three years unless they are ready to face a large dead cap charge in 2023 due to the heavy backloading. There is a 2022 option bonus worth $6.75m which is effectively a second signing bonus, this is why the prorated bonus goes up in 2022. The Browns likely sacrificed the fourth option year on the deal in exchange for a lower overall salary. His deal is timed up perfectly for the Browns to decide between extending him or Delpit in 2023 as they likely only have one on the roster on a large veteran deal. This is the sequencing Andrew Berry has regularly spoken about.

Troy Hill – $9m/2years

Troy Hill was predicted to sign a two year deal in free agency for around $10m a year, so the number he got was very similar to that. The one big surprise and masterstroke from Berry was getting this to be a one year deal with a team option for a second year. They can pay him the $4.5m and walk away after one year if they want, this is incredibly beneficial for a team as most free agency signings don’t work out. He has been PFF’s best slot corner for the last two seasons so getting such a team-friendly deal for a corner that is elite in the slot and okay on the boundary is phenomenal. There is the chance for $1m of incentives in the deal but terms aren’t announced for these yet.

Malik Jackson – $3.75m/1year

This was a very reasonable deal, we don’t really know much of his market. There are incentives that can take this deal to $4.5m but we don’t have terms yet. This deal is likely an indication that they aren’t very high on the 2021 Interior Defensive Line draft class. Teams usually keep 9 defensive linemen with only 4 of them on the interior. This would mean the room is possibly full unless they are planning to add one more and go with 4 Edges. It means three players are on one-year deals alongside Jordan Elliott so many players will be wanting to excel to maximise their 2022 value.

Takkarist McKinley – $3.6875m/1year

Takk signed a one year deal worth up to $4.25m if he hits his incentives. Currently, the exact incentives haven’t been released, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see void years confirmed in this deal. This move gave them some insurance if they don’t end up securing Clowney. They really like his upside after trying numerous times last season to claim him on waivers. He was predicted to get anything up to $9m a year in free agency so was a steal for the Browns. If the Browns sign Clowney then he is likely to be a one-year deal with no chance of doing another due to Garrett’s contract getting more expensive whereas they could easily keep Takk around in that $6-7.5m a year range for 2022 & 2023 if he does well and they need some more time for a rookie answer to develop into an ED2.

Anthony Walker – $3m/1year

Anthony Walker signed a solid deal, more than I would like to spend on a linebacker personally but nothing crazy compared to the positional market. He has $500,000 in Pro Bowl incentives so please make sure you don’t vote for him at the end of the season. His one-year deal gives the team a starting option while they see if Phillips can develop into the player they hoped he can be. If he does then Walker will be back on the market in 12 months time.

KhaDarel Hodge – $2.133m/1year

Hodge got a restricted free agency tender so can be cut easily due to no guarantees on his deal. Don’t be surprised to see a battle for the 6th wide receiver spot between Hodge, Natson & a late day 3 pick. He showed flashes and has been a great performer on special teams so can be a good contributor from that 6th spot on the roster.

Rashard Higgins – $1.1275m/1year

Higgins is being paid $2,377,500 by the Browns this year but due to it being registered as a four-year qualifying contract it will only count against the salary cap for $1,127,500. This is there so mid-tier veteran players aren’t forced out of the NFL because rookies are so much cheaper. There is a deeper explanation of how this works here by Brad from PFF, it is under the veteran minimum section. When they move on from the two more expensive veterans in the Browns wide receivier room he has a great chance of stepping up and getting more snaps. He is unliekly to be one of the two starters due to his lack of natural athleticism but that won’t stop him being a solid WR3.

Malcolm Smith – $987,500/1year

This is another deal like Higgins where he is paid more than what will count on the salary cap as he qualifies for the veteran salary benefit. He is going to be paid $1,212,500 from the team although only $987,500 will count on the cap. One of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL last season according to PFF and some veteran quality amongst a young room.

Cody Parkey – $987,500/1year

He is going to be paid the same as Malcolm Smith and get the same salary cap charge but there is one difference. His guarantees are only $200,000 which means they don’t see him as a lock to make the roster. This means it is highly likely we see a UDFA prospect come in during camp to compete or if he has a cold streak during the season then they cut him.

JoJo Natson – $875,781/1year

He is set to be paid $1,127,500 but it will count as less on the cap. I would be shocked if he makes the roster, it seems unlikely considering he has no guarantees. It wouldn’t surprise me if they try and stash him on the practice squad and elevate him to the team if the same rules are in place as 2020. They are set to add more talent to the wide receiver room during the draft and this likely pushes him off the bottom of the roster. But keep an eye out as he could flash in camp and replace someone like Hodge.

Conclusion

The Browns were very measured and careful during free agency as I had predicted all offseason. The days of chasing the big expensive names is likely gone as they need to change the focus of their off-seasons to extending their young exciting core. They have $13m in cap space remaining and somewhere around $1.5m-$2m of that will go on their draft class depending on how many picks they make and trades. This leaves them enough room to continue their pursuit of Clowney and an outside corner like Steven Nelson.

Berry was looking at the bigger names in the edge discussion but they are very responsible and set ceilings for how much they will pay and refusing to budge on that. No player outside of a quarterback will dramatically change your roster so there is no need to chase them at values they don’t deserve. The new look, smarter Browns are here and looks like it will be here to stay. When/if deals are completed for more free agents I will add to this piece.

I hope you enjoyed the piece, if you have any questions feel free to ask me on Twitter at @JackDuffin, my DM’s are always open.

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