Q: As of this moment the Browns have more salary cap space available than any other NFL team. Other than losing, being one of the 4 most frugal teams in the NFL is a constant these last 8 years. If owner Jimmy Haslam believes this roster can be competitive, what’s the rub with spending some money now?
— John Palazzo
A: This submission has a lot of layers. I’ll start with answering your actual question.
I don’t think Haslam has ever had any problem spending money, and especially now. General manager Andrew Berry was active at the outset of free agency, committing $102 million to right tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper and backup quarterback Case Keenum on the first day. Haslam has been vocal about his belief the roster was good enough last year to reach the playoffs and certainly feels that way after the additions. I don’t think spending concerns have kept the Browns from adding anyone else in free agency. Rather, I think Berry has been careful to keep money and room under the cap because he wants the flexibility to sign key players to extensions over the next couple of years. The process began with defensive end Myles Garrett’s five-year, $125 million extension and will likely continue with quarterback Baker Mayfield, cornerback Denzel Ward and possibly running back Nick Chubb.
As for the organization’s history of having a ton of salary cap space, the two biggest reasons are rosters largely lacking talent worth paying big bucks and former GM Sashi Brown’s teardown of the roster in 2016. He chose not to pay quality players already on the team, then stocked up on draft picks, which led to a prolonged rebuild. The strategy has kept the cap number low since. For all the errors made by the Haslams, a willingness to spend isn’t among them. If they were really pinching pennies, they wouldn’t have fired a bunch of coaches and executives and paid them not to work.
Q: Are players afforded a route to rejoin the team after opting out?
A: Nope. At least not in 2020.
The agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association said the decision to opt out was irrevocable for the season. I’m sure the owners didn’t want players using the opt-out as leverage to renegotiate contracts, so they demanded a hard deadline. Plus, it would be difficult to be a GM knowing your best players could walk away at any time.
The rule may seem harsh — Major League Baseball allows players to opt back in – and players may have regrets for a variety of reasons, but it makes sense to me.
The players who chose to opt out — five Browns — have their contracts toll to 2021. So they will rejoin their teams at the start of the next offseason program.
Q: Scott, if you were a betting man, what is the number of players the Browns place on the reserve/COVID-19 list? I set the over/under at 7.5.
A: If you know me at all, you know I’m a betting man. So this is my kind of question — without intending at all to trivialize the seriousness of the pandemic and the health risks involved with having COVID-19.
Just looking at the over/under from a purely football perspective, I would have to take the over. But I’m cheering for the under.
The Browns have already had five players placed on the list, even if punter Jamie Gillan, quarterback Garrett Gilbert and receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley were quickly activated from it. I just think the overwhelming likelihood is that at least three more players will be forced to go on the list, especially considering false positives require a trip there. The virus remains too widespread in Ohio and the country to feel confident no more players will be infected. The season is long — hopefully — the league isn’t operating in a bubble and football is a contact sport that lends itself to transmission of the disease. More cases are going to happen. The key to completing a successful season is how they’re contained.
Q: Is it time to be concerned about the guard situation yet?
Individually, the opting out of Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett or Malcolm Pridgeon isn’t a big deal. Collectively, they put the guard spot in a danger zone.
While the roster on the team’s website isn’t gospel, until Michael Dunn was signed Sunday, Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller were the only guards listed. That’s not enough depth, especially when Teller is expected to have to win the starting right guard job. The reality is a combination of rookie center Nick Harris, center Willie Wright and tackle Chris Hubbard will get time at guard and possibly challenge Teller. But the lack of numbers — even with Dunn — is troubling.