The Browns have a lot of money, so why not just spend it all?

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DJackson2

Even before we can get into what the Cleveland Browns should do with their numerous draft picks, we’ll start to get some clues about their goals this season by what they do with free agency. We’ve learned quite a bit already as the Browns made the decision to cut D’Qwell Jackson last week. The agent for Ahtyba Rubin indicated to the press that the Browns and their giant defensive lineman are on good terms, so unless he’s really playing a high stakes poker game, it appears Rubin won’t follow DQ52 out the door. The Browns are consistently linked to Bills free safety Jairus Byrd due to his connections to Mike Pettine in Buffalo. In addition, the Browns still haven’t finalized anything with either strong safety T.J. Ward, center Alex Mack, or even an early extension with cornerback Joe Haden. That’s a lot of moving pieces, but what should the team do? They’ve got lots of money available in cap space. Shouldn’t they just line them all up and pay everyone? Not necessarily.

One of the conversations around Twitter is regarding the Browns, Ward and Byrd. The idea seems to be that these two players are an either-or proposition for the team. While that makes sense from a financial standpoint, there’s little doubt these two would look good together in the same backfield from a purely football standpoint. T.J. Ward is a strong safety playing closer to the line of scrimmage and helping with the run, while Byrd is a free safety guarding against over-the-top passing among other things. The financial considerations are real, though. While these two guys play different positions it would be curious for the Browns to have so much money tied up in that specific part of the defensive secondary. I don’t know which guy the Browns should choose, but I have a tough time thinking it would be a good idea to have $15-20 million tied up on an annual basis in safeties before even considering the extension that Joe Haden is likely to get.

I’ll admit that it feels a little bit strange talking about money all the time with the Browns when they have so much of it available. Even before the Browns cut D’Qwell Jackson, they were expected to have over $45 million available. With that in mind, why did it make sense to cut D’Qwell Jackson and why were we even bothering to talk about the possibilities of cutting Ahtyba Rubin? NFL teams obviously want to run financially efficiently, especially when they’re in the process of rebuilding. The only thing worse than being 4-12 is being 4-12 with limited ability to improve.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the Browns wanted to upgrade at D’Qwell Jackson’s position in the long-run, but their decision to cut him was financially motivated. The Browns have plenty of money today, which is another reason it made sense to cut Jackson now. The Browns take their “dead money” hit in 2014 when they still have that flexibility as opposed to taking a dead money hit when they might be a better team in either 2015 or 2016 when Jackson’s deal was scheduled to run out.

Which brings me back to Rubin. Rubin’s saving grace with the Browns this season is that the 27-year old is in the last year of his deal. So even if he’s one of the more highly paid players on a team that has some redundancy at his position with Desmond Bryant, John Hughes, Billy Winn, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, and Phil Taylor, the Browns don’t need to get out in front of any future obligations. In Rubin’s case there are none. If anything, I still think the risk of him being traded is pretty high. He is set to make a lot of money, but he’s also ripe to get traded and have a new deal handed to him by some team in need of a 330-pound defensive lineman who is still in his 20s.

If that happened, Rubin would presumably be happy with most contracts that paid him anything north of the $6.8 million in cash ($6.6 in salary + $200k workout bonus) that he’s scheduled to pull in this year. Rubin’s cap number is $8.175 million for the Browns, but the player could definitely get some additional security in the form of guaranteed money on an extension if he were to be traded and extended by the receiving team.

As far as the Browns go with their finances, the factor that will continue to haunt this team isn’t about who they have and how much they’ve spent. The idea will continue to be who they don’t have that they haven’t been able to spend their money on. The Browns should consistently maintain financial cap flexibility as long as they’re searching for a quarterback. That position will always be a priority and require the most money. The Browns desperately want to find that guy, and when they do, they presumably don’t want to have to worry about paying him while keeping the rest of the team intact.

Image: Candice Vlcek/WFNY

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    Spending for the sake of spending–because hey, we’ve got it now–is never a good decision, in sports or life in general. Yes we have a lot of cap space. Yes we have had cap space for some time without doing much. But once the spending starts, that huge bankroll can dry up quickly. A Byrd/Ward combo at safety? Fun on paper. But if it keeps us from extending existing talent in the near future or keeps us out of the running should a legitimate game-changer hit free agency, then how fun is it really? There’s a balance to be found between spending and on-field performance, and winning the spending battle rarely pays off the way a team might hope. Build through the draft, augment via FA when you’re ready to make a move beyond the middle of the pack. We can get back to basic respectability at least without needing to make it rain just because we can. This isn’t an Expendables movie–gotta keep some bullets in the gun.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Yes. Great breakdown.

    The one point I question is the idea of “having too much money in a position”. Why not? That’s only true when you’re paying guys who aren’t playing almost all the snaps, but otherwise why is it any different than paying a CB and a LB?

    I’ve always felt that players should be paid based on how many snaps they’ll be on the field in addition to their skill levels, their contribution per play, and the like. It’s why Ks and PRs don’t get big bucks no matter how good they are, while QBs who not only touch the ball every offensive play but determine who else does are so important. On the flip side, D’Qwell Jackson wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great, and having him on the field every snap was similarly good but not great. At that price he needed to be great, and he just wasn’t worth it.

    A FS and SS are also both integral to the defense on almost every single play. If you can get top-level talent in those positions, it lets you do more and cover up the slightly lesser talents on the DL or at LB, and you can rotate those players more to make them even more effective.

    The Browns shouldn’t get Byrd because they “have the money”, but because having such a secondary coupled with a young, attacking front line will make the defense great.

  • mgbode

    Craig, so many good points throughout this article, but I am going to have to strongly disagree here:

    The Browns should consistently maintain financial cap flexibility as long as they’re searching for a quarterback.

    Unless we are planning on finding the next Peyton or Brees in UFA (and they would have to agree to sign with us over other teams), then we are going to draft our next QB (or Hoyer will solidify his status). As such, we have some years of not having a big QB-hit on our cap-sheet. We should use those years to our advantage (see: Seahawks, 49ers) not throw away one of the few advantages we have at our disposal.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Just to add to that: DQ played 99.9% of snaps last year. Ward 97%. Gipson 96%. Skrine/Haden 92%. Our other LBs and DL were nowhere close.

  • RGB

    Yeah, ask the Ravens how that big QB contract is working out…

  • mgbode

    On the question of the secondary and how much $$ to spend: I have already noted my feelings on saving that space for a QB. But, the other side is that we could have a truly elite group and that is worth paying to have. Having portions of the team that can separate you from other NFL teams is extremely important. It is even more important when you don’t have a known elite QB.

    Ward+Byrd+Haden is a truly special group. It would be among the best in the NFL especially if Skrine can continue to improve or we could find a very good CB2 (Skrine is just under league average IMO, which is still not bad).

    What other group could we have to be elite as a group next year?

    OL: Re-sign Mack, Sign Geoff Schwartz(RG) and either draft a very good LG or move Mitchell there (I have my doubts on the switch) and draft Greg Robinson at #4 for RT. We could go from being soft on the run and good pass-blocking to a special group for both very quickly.

    WR/TE: Right now, we have 2 tough spots to fill in Gordon and Cameron. But, after them, we have little else. It would take a hit in the draft (Sammy?) and probably find a WR in FA (Decker?) to elevate this group enough.

    QB: It just takes one. So, if Hoyer is it or we draft the correct player, then we can solve this situation quickly (though it would still likely be a building experience to an extent).

  • Harv 21

    Agree with much (though have no idea why Buffalo would not franchise Byrd). But seems to me that an org as disheartened, unstable and poorly performing as the Browns might be wise to invest in players who are high-performing, home grown and in or entering their prime. The template used by the Steelers or Pats – immerse them in the winning culture and discard them when their price threatens a balanced roster – can’t work here yet. If a guy like Rubin is both performing well and positively impacting future cornerstones like Taylor, Wynn and Sheard, it might be wise to pay him a little extra until something good can finally take root. Because until now a strong part of the player culture appears to be “please don’t let me rot here.”

  • Kildawg

    Don’t want to be like Pittsburgh here; they’re stuck in cap purgatory, their QB (easy target for us Browns fans to poke fun at) is ripe for an extension, and they have many players north of 30 still expected to be major contributors. That’s never a good combo, and another similar team to That Team to the East is Dallas.

  • Kildawg

    Sam Shields from GB would be a solid grab, shoring up the CB2 spot and letting Skrine thrive as the nickel corner. I’ve only heard stories about Dixon and Minnifield, and seeing that would certainly be something.

  • Garry_Owen

    Yessir. A defensive backfield of Ward/Byrd/Haden would do great things for the team, as a whole — even potentially elevating the play of the QB (He Who Cannot Be Named). It’s about so much more than salary: like field position, recovering from offensive mistakes (like a Weeden underhand INT), minimizing defensive plays, maximizing time of possession, etc. Rising tides elevate all ships, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc.

    Of course, this presupposes that Byrd would be available. I doubt he will be.

  • Garry_Owen

    Just let us know if you want more stories. Man, those were the days. The hot topic of debate among my junior high friends was “Who’s better? Dixon or Minnifield?” (I was a Minnifield man.) Those debates were so much better than anything having to do with “Hasgrums,” “Lombanners,” “draft strategies,” or “coaching searches.”

  • mgbode

    yes, but our best contributing players are in their 20s, we don’t have a $20mil QB on the payroll, and we don’t have Jerry Jones as our GM. Getting into such a cap situation wouldn’t happen for 5yrs or more and could be avoided during that timeframe with intelligent choices.

    Regardless, if we got a SB win during the timeframe (as a certain team did), then I wouldn’t be complaining.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Personally I’d like them to go after Grimes. He seemed perfectly healthy last year, played great, and is still young. Get him, Byrd, and re-sign Ward? Skrine at nickel, McFadden dime, and Gipson as a backup/third safety? That’s a great secondary with a lot of guys to rotate in up front.

  • Harv 21

    and now cleveland.com is reporting that Buffalo will NOT franchise Byrd, who last season demanded to be the highest paid safety in the NFL and held out of training camp after being franchised. Not a huge Ward fan, think he’s good-not-great, but do they really want to chase a safety who is very good but not dominant but who will demand to be paid as dominant?

  • Natedawg86

    And if we do land a franchise QB in the draft, if we get him in the first rd he will be locked up for 5 years, and 2-3 (i believe) 4 years

  • mgbode

    just don’t wait out the entire CB market until he is the only one left and get stuck holding the bag when he chooses Miami instead.

  • Kildawg

    If the Browns do win a Super Bowl, they can suck for another 15 years or so. Shedding that stigma of not winning one, much less making it to one, would make what comes next much more bearable.

  • Kildawg

    Too bad Grimes is staying in the cesspool known as Miami. He would have looked good next to Haden. I think it will be one of Ward, Byrd, or Whitner that is signed to play Safety with Gipson.

  • TSR3000

    I would take relevance.

  • Porck

    Boy the way Clay mathews played.
    Songs about Bernie made the hit parade.
    Fans like us had it made
    Those were the days.
    And you knew who they were theeeeeeeeen!
    Slaughter, Newsome and Brenanennnn!
    Mister we could use a man like Schotenheimer again

  • Porck

    Didnt need no Flying J
    Even though Model needed a welfare state
    Gee how byner/mack ran great
    Those were the days

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    the vampire of deferred cap gratification needs to be stabbed in the heart with a wooden stake made of ash.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    the vampire of deferred cap gratification needs to be stabbed in the heart with a wooden stake made of ash.

  • mgbode

    Whitner + Gipson would be atrocious.

  • Petefranklin

    If Hoyer does look good this year, he’s in for a big payday. I speculate that maybe Rubin’s money is earmarked for Hoyer in 2015.

  • Petefranklin

    No FA WR divas please. Farmer should have many options to add 2 starting WR’s through the draft this year. One of the first rounders needs to be a WR 1b to go with Gordon IMO. I want the kid from Oregon St.

  • mgbode

    rookie WRs rarely contribute a ton right away. we need a veteran along with a rookie (and most WRs are divas, so not sure why you single out FA WR?).

  • Mr Ed

    What the hell is wrong with everyone here? You have a glaring hole in the middle of your defense (MLB) which needs to be filled with your 1st pick or your defense will be as porous as ever. QB, WR, OG, CB and S are luxuries until you fill the LB spots.

  • mgbode

    ILB is more important than QB? Thank you for enlightening me on that point. I hope that you find the Browns being at Mack’s pro-day in Buffalo a positive sign (he could be a Willis-type dominant ILB in a 3-4).