Unfortunately, the 2020 Cleveland Browns season came to an abrupt end. It was an enjoyable wild ride, but now the work begins to build the 2021 Cleveland Browns. Needless to say, the Browns will focus on defense this year, as they focused on offense last year. All the information in this article comes from, http://overthecap.com. Based on a salary cap of $175 million, the Browns have $24.6 million in cap space. This amount includes the fifth-year options for QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward. It’s a no brainer to pick up both options. If the NFL adds the seventeenth game in 2021, the salary cap would increase to somewhere between $185 to $195 million. Let’s see how the off-season might unfold.
First, there are five players who opted out for the 2020 season because of Covid. DT Andrew Billings, OT Drake Dorbeck, G Drew Forbes, G Colby Gossett and G Malcolm Pridgeon. Their contracts are also included in this year’s salary cap. The best of this group is Billings, who can replace the departing DT Larry Ogunjobi, who will test free agency. As for re-signing Browns potential free agents on offense, WR Rashard Higgins has to be the first target. He might try and test free agency again this year, but his relationship with Mayfield might help the Browns. If the Browns do re-sign Higgins, they will have a lot of money committed to the wide receiver position group. WR’s Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, combined, will be owed over $30 million for 2021, with Beckham’s $15.7 guaranteed due to his injury. He is owed $14.5 million on the third business day of the new league. While Beckham is about 25% ahead of schedule in his rehab, he won’t be ready to practice until training camp. This makes a trade now almost impossible. Landry could be a target for a contract restructure. The only other offensive free agent the Browns should try and re-sign would be OG/OT Kendall Lamm. He proved his worth this past season.
On defense, the Browns have to find a replacement for DE Olivier Vernon. This player might already be on the Browns roster. Prior to the season, the Dolphins tried to sneak their 2020 fifth-round pick in DE Curtis Weaver through waivers to place him on IR. GM Andrew Berry plucked him off the waiver wire and put him on the Browns IR. Weaver is an edge rusher out of Boise State who has some skills. The reason he fell in the 2020 draft was because some scouts questioned his work ethic. If the Browns can get him on track, he might be another Andrew Berry steal. As for pending Browns free agents, the team should try and re-sign CB Terrance Mitchell, LB B.J. Goodson, CB Kevin Johnson and S Karl Joseph. Goodson really took over the defense this year and would add veteran leadership for a young position group, while Johnson solidified the slot defender position and Joseph played well down the stretch. Mitchell will test free agency and is more than likely gone. Another Browns defensive player to watch is DT Sheldon Richardson. He’s owed $13.7 million in 2021 and could be a candidate for a restructure or cut.
As for potential free agents from other teams, it’s way too early for projections. GM Andrew Berry likes to sign players in their mid-twenties who are coming off their first or second contract. A perfect example of that type of player would be Cincinnati’s DE Carl Lawson. He’s 25 years old and his 2020 salary was $763,154.00. His market value is somewhere between $8 to $9 million per year. The Bengals have about $34.8 million in cap space, but have 28 free agents and they have to decide if they want to re-sign WR A.J. Green. Also, they’ll be spending a ton of money fixing their offensive line. As the new league year approaches, more teams will be cutting players, because as of right now, there are 11 teams over the $175 million salary cap.
Finally, contract extensions and the draft. There are four extensions that need to be completed. QB Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb, CB Denzel Ward and RG Wyatt Teller. Because the Browns can pick up the options for Mayfield and Ward, Chubb’s extension would be the top priority. Chubb and Teller are signed through 2021, but like the Myles Garrett’s extension, it’s wise to get extensions done early for better team value. Waiting to sign players to extensions usually costs a team more money. As for the draft, the Browns have nine picks and pick 26th in the first round. They have one second, two thirds, two fourths, one fifth, one sixth and one seventh. Berry will again let the draft come to him, but still has the capital to make moves if warranted.
With only $24 million of cap room, four contract extensions, some rather large contracts on the 2021 roster and a defense to fix, the Browns front office will have to be very creative this year. This is a young, ascending team and Cleveland will be a desirable destination for potential free agents.
I trust GM Andrew Berry to keep this wild ride going.