As I mentioned in my previous article “State of the Browns”, Cleveland’s current salary cap situation will need to be addressed. According to https://www.spotrac.com/ the Browns are $9 million over the estimated $225 million 2023 NFL salary cap. The current 2023 payroll for the Browns which includes active contracts, dead money and the 2022 carryover is $262 million. Subtract players who will not be resigned and that puts the overage at $9 million. Because Cleveland is in a win-now window, cutting core players is not an option. The most logical thing to do is to restructure large contracts. No one can ever claim this front office is illogical. Restructuring is not a pay cut. The team is basically taking existing salaries and converting them into upfront money better known as a signing bonus. The league allows teams to convert any salary above the league minimum for the position of the player into a signing or roster bonus. To help the cap hit of the bonuses, voidable years, years the player isn’t on the roster, can be added to the contract. Who are the most likely candidates for restructures?
Quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson’s 2023 salary is $43 million. So logically he’s first on the list. The league minimum for a quarterback in 2023 is $1,080,000. He is currently signed through 2026 and in 2022 his salary was $1,035,000 with a signing bonus of $45 million spread out over the life of the contract, $9 million per year. His cap hit for 2022 was $10 million. Make his 2023 salary the league minimum, take the remaining amount as a restructure bonus, add a voidable year in 2027 and Watson’s cap hit for 2023 is a little over $19 million. This would save the Browns around $36 million.
Wide Receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper’s 2023 salary is $20 million. The league minimum for a wide receiver in 2023 is $1,165,000. He is currently signed through 2024 with voidable years for 2025 & 2026 to spread out his original restructured contract when he was traded to the Browns. That contract made his 2022 salary $1,120,000 and the rest was a signing bonus. His cap number for 2022 was $4.9 million. Make his 2023 salary the league minimum, take the remaining amount as a restructure bonus and add another voidable year for 2027 and Cooper’s cap hit for 2023 is $8.7 million. This would save the Browns around $15 million.
With just these two restructures, the Browns would be $40 million under the 2023 salary cap. Other players who could be eligible for restructures are: DE Myles Garrett, LG Wyatt Teller, LG Joel Bitonio and RB Nick Chubb. Like I said earlier, restructuring is not a pay cut, the player is still getting the money in his contract, just in a different manner. GM Andrew Berry has some work to do and I trust him to make it happen.