In 2023, the easiest path to the playoffs for the Browns is to win their division. That will take at least four wins. So where do the Browns stand with the other AFC North teams when talking about salary cap space, re-signing key free agents and team needs?
The 2023 NFL salary cap is set at $224.8 million.
Cleveland Browns. Salary cap: $14.5 million over the cap. Key free agents to re-sign: LB Anthony Walker, DT Taven Bryan, C Ethan Pocic and CB A.J. Green. Team needs: defensive line, safety and wide receiver. The Browns will need to restructure some contracts to address their needs. Primary candidates are QB Deshaun Watson, DE Myles Garrett, WR Amari Cooper and LG Joel Bitonio. I expect GM Andrew Berry to make one big splash signing and one trade for need.
Cincinnati Bengals. Salary cap: $35.6 million under the cap. Key free agents to re-sign S Jessie Bates, S Vonn Bell, TE Hayden Hurst, CB Eli Apple, CB Tre Flowers, TE Drew Samples and RG Max Scharping. Team needs: defensive tackle, cornerback and offensive tackle. The Bengals have the money to sign their players and some free agents. The problem comes with contract extensions. In 2024 DT D.J. Reader, WR Tyler Boyd, QB Joe Burrow, CB Chidobe Awuzie, LT Jonah Williams, WR Tee Higgins, S Brandon Wilson and LB Logan Wilson all become free agents. There are reports that Bates will walk and Higgins is a trade candidate.
Baltimore Ravens. Salary cap: $26.9 million under the cap. Key free agents to re-sign: CB Marcus Peters, CB Kyle Fuller, QB Lamar Jackson, LT Ja’Wuan James, DE Justin Houston, DE Jason Pierre-Paul and CB Trayvon Mullin. Team needs cornerback, wide receiver and defensive end. The Ravens are in good shape except for one thing, what to do with Lamar Jackson. There are reports that the team will franchise tag him. The 2023 franchise tag for quarterbacks is $32,416,000.00. That is the average of the top five salaries for quarterbacks in 2023. The main reason it’s that high is that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 2023 salary is $46 million. Needless to say, the Browns will wait to restructure Watson until after the Ravens have officially tagged Jackson.
Pittsburgh Steelers. Salary cap: $1 million under the cap. Key free agents to re-sign DT Larry Ogunjobi, QB Mason Rudolph, LB Devin Bush, CB Cameron Sutton and DT Chris Wormley. Team needs: cornerback, linebacker and offensive tackle. The Steelers always seem to be up against the cap and seem always to know which free agents to let walk. Pittsburgh drafts replacements every year and never seems to suffer for it. Reports are the team will not re-sign Devin Bush or Mason Rudolph.
Each team has work to do before the beginning of the new NFL year. Important dates to remember: February 21-March 7, Franchise and Transition tag period. March 13 – 15, Early Negotiation Period for free agents, March 15, Start of the League Year, free agents can be signed and trades become official.