Q: I saw that the Browns carried over more than $30 million in salary cap space from last year. So where do they stand heading into free agency?
A: The Browns did carry over a league-high $30.4 million, according to the NFL Players Association, which released the totals for each team last week. But that number had already been factored into Cleveland’s expected salary cap space. The carryover gives the Browns a little more than $20 million in room for 2021 — 11th most in the league — if the cap comes in at the established floor of $180 million. The cap could be set higher, which would give every team more room.
A look at the salary cap carryover for 2021: pic.twitter.com/Q5JELBem2u
— NFLPA (@NFLPA) February 19, 2021
The reduction in the salary cap for 2021 stems from a decline in revenue due to the lack of attendance during the pandemic. The 2020 salary cap was $198.2 million, up $10 million from 2019. With the traditional jump in a normal year, the Browns would have had about $50 million available to spend on free agents and contract extensions.
Q: I was surprised to see the Eagles let Doug Pederson go after five years that included three winning seasons & a Super Bowl title. I am not asking for insights into the Eagles’ messy reality but I would love to see Coach Kevin Stefanski be our coach long into the future. What goes into job stability for an NFL coach beyond winning games? Can Coach Stefanski give us Browns fans the long-term success & stability we crave?
— John Palazzo
A: Another deep question, John. I appreciate that.
I know you said beyond winning, but it starts there. Pederson wouldn’t have been fired if the Eagles had made the playoffs again this season. The other factors are more complex but include alignment with the bosses, relationships with the players and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the league. Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh are great examples.
As for Stefanski, I’m always hesitant to jump to too many conclusions after only a year, but the optimism of fans feels justified. Not only was he named NFL Coach of the Year in his first season as a head coach at any level, he showed the intelligence and steadiness that will serve him well through the inevitable struggles of a long career. Another area in which he has an edge over his predecessors is philosophical agreement with general manager Andrew Berry and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. That removes many of the obstacles that sabotaged previous regimes. And he didn’t have any problem connecting with the players and earning their trust despite the difficult circumstances of the season. So I think it’s fine for fans to plan for a long-term future with Stefanski.
Q: Once again you are GM Petrak … the Packers call and offer Rashan Gary the DE and a third-round pick for Odell Beckham Jr.?? Your thoughts?
— Randy Clar
A: I’m intrigued, but not enough to part with Beckham.
If I were the GM, I’d lean heavily toward keeping Beckham. The offense needs someone with his speed, playmaking and ability to stretch the field, and that was abundantly clear in the playoff loss to the Chiefs. While injuries have kept Beckham from reaching his vast potential in two years with the Browns, I think he’s their best option for a dynamic No. 1 receiver in 2021. I never bought into the argument the offense was better off without him and expect him to take a huge jump in his second season with Stefanski and with an improved and more confident Baker Mayfield.
I understand Beckham’s $15.75 million contract for 2021 makes trading him attractive to some and a possibility for the Browns. Berry could do a lot with that money and would have to listen to offers for Beckham, even if he chooses not to shop him. But the Browns have enough salary cap space to give Beckham another year, so it would take a strong deal for me to move him. While I liked Gary coming out of Michigan, he has only seven sacks in two years off the bench in Green Bay and was used as an outside linebacker in its 3-4 scheme. I would hold out for a top-20 pick or a better player to even consider dealing Beckham.
Q: Is there any scenario where you could see both OBJ and Jarvis Landry not being with the Browns next year?
A: While we’re on the subject …
The answer is no. A trade of Beckham is possible if unlikely. I don’t feel the same way about Landry. He’s been one of the catalysts of the turnaround with his performance and leadership, and I can’t see the Browns jettisoning him even though he’s due $13.2 million in 2021. The Browns are a playoff team looking to reach the Super Bowl, so breaking up the potent offense doesn’t make sense. Receivers are going to get paid big bucks in today’s, and the Browns have a pair with Pro Bowl credentials.
Q: It seems money is first in free agency. Relationships second. Does coordinator Joe Woods (or his assistants) have any relationships with top defensive free agents we should pay attention to?
A: During his time in Denver and San Francisco Woods coached some of the biggest names who could potentially reach the market — defensive end Von Miller, cornerback Richard Sherman, edge rusher Shaquil Barrett and safety Justin Simmons.
Safety Anthony Harris played for the Vikings during the tenures of Stefanski and much of his staff, while cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods played for the Cowboys during run game coordinator Ben Bloom’s time in Dallas. It’s certainly a good idea to look for any such connections.
Q: This class of free agent safeties is supposed to be strong — any names the Browns should keep their eye on?
A: Simmons and Harris are the top names on the list, coming in Nos. 6 and 7 on Pro Football Focus’ ranking of free agents, but I don’t see the Browns committing big money to the position. Grant Delpit is expected back after missing 2020 with a torn Achilles tendon, and Ronnie Harrison impressed after being acquired before the season.
What’s more likely is the Browns add a less expensive safety who would provide insurance if Delpit doesn’t return to health or play in the three-safety package Woods likes to use. Malik Hooker, Tre Boston and Jaquiski Tartt could fit in that role.