Prior to the beginning of the 2020 season, the league and the teams agreed to set a floor for the 2021 salary cap at $175 million due to the pandemic. Now news is leaking out that the 2021 salary cap could increase to around $185 million. The first to report this change was Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, “The NFL and NFLPA began preliminary negotiations last month on the 2021 salary cap. Some team officials believe (and surely hope) the cap will ultimately land closer to $185 million per club — if not a little higher — than the $175 million minimum the sides agreed to last summer as they braced for empty and mostly empty stadiums.” Then on February 4 @Spotrac tweeted, “UPDATE: In light of recent reports surrounding the 2021 #NFL salary cap, we’ve updated our views to work from a $185M league cap (up from the baseline $175M figure we had been using previously).”
NFL teams have to constantly plan for not only the current year’s salary but also for the future. The NFL salary cap is based on the projected revenues for the upcoming year. Normally the salary cap increases from one year to the next. The projected salary cap for 2022 is $209 million. According to Spotrac, the Browns now have $29.6 in salary cap room. At first, this amount looks like good news for the Browns as GM Andrew Berry tries to retool the defense. However, if you dig deeper into the numbers, the cap room the Browns have is solely based on the $30.4 million unused cap space the Browns rolled over from 2019. To create more cap room the Browns are going to have to restructure a few contracts of current players. Turn player salaries into upfront cash.
The first two candidates are WR’s Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Currently, between the two of them, their salary cap number for 2021 is about $ 30.4 million. The wide receiver position group salary as a whole is $34.7 million. That’s a lot of money for a run-heavy, tight end based offense. To make matters worse, Beckham is due over $12 million on March 19, the third business day of the new league year. If the Browns are planning on re-signing WR Rashard Higgins or a free agent wide receiver, Beckham and Landry have to be open to restructuring. The Browns could decide to move on from Beckham and Landry. Their cap hit would be minimal. Beckham’s dead money is being carried by the Giants as part of his trade to Cleveland and Landry’s dead money would only be $3 million, a cap savings of over $11 million. I am, in no way, advocating for letting either player go. Both have helped change the culture of the Browns and are important to the Browns offense in 2021.
The next candidate for restructuring would be DT Sheldon Richardson. Richardson is due $13.7 in 2021. He turns 31 this year and may be approachable to a restructure. He’s on his fourth team and a possible two-year extension with a restructure might appeal to the veteran defensive lineman. If not, the Browns could release him and have a cap savings of around $11 million. However, with the expected departure of DT Larry Ogunjobi, this creates a need on the defensive line. So the Browns would have to either sign another DT or use their draft capital to fill another hole.
Other players who could possibly be open to restructuring are center J.C. Tretter, LG Joel Bitonio and OL Chris Hubbard. Also, keep in mind that TE David Njoku is in the last year of his contract and is due to earn over $6 million in 2021. That’s too much for a third-string TE. Because he carries no dead money, trading him would be a savings of $6 million. Proper restructuring by the Browns could double the Browns current cap space and provide the team with more flexibility in the future. Remember, the Browns still have to work out contract extensions for RB Nick Chubb, RG Wyatt Teller, CB Denzel Ward and QB Baker Mayfield.
Starting the day after the Super Bowl and moving forward to the first day of the league year on March 17, important decisions have to be made. The NFL off-season has begun.