Which Players on the Cleveland Browns Could Become Cap Casualties?

Could LB D'Qwell Jackson, who has been with the team for 8 years, be a cap casualty due to the roster bonus he has coming in March? - Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all of the cap space they already have, we break down how much money the Browns could save by cutting five players.

Why would the Cleveland Browns, a team with approximately $49.71 million $57.45 million in cap space (as of 2/28/14), need to consider restructuring or cutting loose existing contracts? There are several reasons that come to mind.

Even though the Browns have such a large amount of available cap space this season, they might want to open up more cap space in future seasons. For example, let's say that "Player X" has $2 million guaranteed in 2014, and $4 million guaranteed in 2015. Ray Farmer might think to himself, "this player won't help us as much as we thought, and we could really use an additional $4 million in cap space in 2015." The solution? Cut the player this offseason and pay him $6 million against the cap this year (space which otherwise might have gone unspent), thereby freeing up $4 million in cap space in 2015.

Another reason is because you want to be big spenders, but efficient at the same time. If a player is due a decent-sized bonus in March, it doesn't even really matter about the savings: from a business standpoint, if you don't want the player anymore, why pay them $3 million in March, only to cut him before the start of the regular season?

Also, remember that the Browns have ten draft picks, so they might need at least ten more roster spots this year: cuts will have to be made, whether it's from the bottom of the roster or closer to the top. Lastly, with any of the extra money saved, you could turn around and re-invest it in one of your core players, such as Joe Haden.

Last year, I overachieved with my column about projected cap casualties: I listed LB Chris Gocong, QB Colt McCoy, S Usama Young, OG Shawn Lauvao, and FB Owen Marecic. The only player who survived into the regular season was Lauvao. With all of that in mind, let's take a look at five players who could become the next cap casualties for the Browns:

Disclaimer: The five players are listed in order of how much money they make against the cap. A player being listed does not imply that I think they will be cut; instead, it represents an explanation as to why they could potentially be cut or traded, from a cap space perspective.

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UPDATE (2/26): Less than a day after this post went live, the Browns parted ways with LB D'Qwell Jackson. I am leaving the article in tact with my original numbers on cost savings, but see the team's available cap space figures here.

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1. D'Qwell Jackson, LB (2nd Highest Cap Figure) - When it comes to players under contract, this is undoubtedly the biggest decision the front office will have to make this offseason, and we will get an answer sooner rather than later because Jackson is due a hefty $4 million roster bonus on March 15. By not missing any games the past two years, a contract incentive also boosted Jackson's base salary in 2014 from $2.6 million to $3.933 million.

When you factor in Jackson's signing bonus from the 5-year contract he signed in 2012 with Tom Heckert, Jackson's cap hit in 2014 is scheduled to be $9.433 million. If the Browns cut Jackson by March 15, Jackson will still account for $4.2 million against the cap, but they won't have to pay him anything in 2015 or 2016.

At the end of last season, Jackson said that he would be "shocked" if he wasn't a member of the Browns in 2014, knowing full well that a decision would have to be made on him in March. Jackson is viewed as a defensive leader in the locker room, but does he play well enough to warrant the second-highest cap figure on the team? Probably not. I think Jackson will be open to restructuring his contract, something that general manager Ray Farmer hinted that the team would talk to him about. If the two sides can't reach a compromise, though, the Browns might be better served to save money on Jackson now and invest that extra cap space in a younger linebacker on the free agent market.

2. Ahtyba Rubin, DL (5th Highest Cap Figure) - Out of the five names that appear in this article, this might be the one that surprises you the most. Don't get me wrong -- I'm a big fan of Rubin's hustle and style of play, but he's entering the final year of his contract and is set to make $8.175 million against the cap in 2014. If the Browns cut him, they would only have to pay Rubin $1.375 million this season.

Why consider cutting Rubin? If the Browns stick with a 3-4 base defense, the team proved last season that they had good depth on the defensive line with Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, John Hughes, Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, and Armonty Bryant. The emergence of A. Bryant, a seventh-round pick last year, might be the biggest factor. If the defensive staff feels that a combination of A. Bryant and Winn can start, then the money saved on cutting Rubin could be used elsewhere.

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Whether it's a quarterback in the pocket or a running back down the field, Ahtyba Rubin never lacks effort...but will his price tag make him a cap casualty? John Rieger - USA TODAY Sports

While I feel we should be aware of the possibility of the team parting ways with Rubin, I wouldn't bank on it. Yes, cutting him would save a good deal of money, but Rubin is a quality player who has some years left in the tank. If you ask me which three players I'd want the Browns to start on the defensive line come opening day, I'd name Rubin as one of those players. Since Rubin doesn't have any money scheduled in future years, even if he's in the final year with the team, you're going to get a lot of effort and production out of a guy who will be looking to boost his stock in the 2015 free agency class.

3. Jason Campbell, QB (8th Highest Cap Figure) - After a couple of solid performances last season, Campbell came right back down to earth and looked awful by the end of the year. If Campbell is our starter at any point in the future, we are in big trouble. With that in mind, his future with the team comes down to, "how much money are the Browns willing to pay a backup quarterback?"

Because Campbell played 45.39% of the team's offensive snaps in 2013, he triggered an incentive to increase his base salary in 2014 from $2 million to $3 million. Campbell is due a roster bonus of $250,000 on March 13, bringing his cap hit in 2014 to $3.25 million. He's not worth it -- I'd rather bring another veteran backup quarterback in, or draft a later-round quarterback and mold him into a backup. If the Browns cut Campbell, who is in the final year of his contract, they won't owe him a penny this season.

4. John Greco, OG (11th Highest Cap Figure) - Last offseason, I don't know if you could've found a stronger advocate for Greco becoming a starting offensive guard than me. I had been impressed with how he filled in during the 2012 season for an injured Jason Pinkston, and when the team signed him to a 4-year contract extension at the start of training camp last year, I approved of it. It seemed like Greco could develop into a quality guard, and his contract was not very lucrative. Unfortunately, Greco disappointed with his play last season, enough to the point where I lost the confidence I once had in him. Another question that comes up is, "does he fit Kyle Shanahan's zone blocking scheme?" I don't know.

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John Greco had a bit of a disappointing season last year. Bruce Kluckhohn - USA TODAY Sports

Those questions will be answered by March 15, which is when Greco is due a $1.7 million roster bonus. Greco's base salary in 2014 is just $730,000, bringing his total cap hit for the year up to a rather small $2.43 million. Greco is under contract through 2017, and his cap hit each year from 2015-2017 is currently below $1 million. His original contract included incentives for if he was a starter, though, which could add millions of more dollars to those base salaries. We're not clear on the specifics of those incentives yet, but it's something to keep in mind.

Greco seems affordable on the surface, but if he is kept and keeps on playing, he might end up costing more money. If the Browns plan on overhauling the guard position this year, cutting Greco by March 15 would not cost them anything. If the team can't re-sign or tag C Alex Mack, though, Greco's stock receives a boost since he can also play the center position.

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5. Brandon Weeden, QB (12th Highest Cap Figure) -
Last, we have Weeden, who was a first-round pick in 2012. The team already netted a first-round pick for Trent Richardson, but it'll be difficult to find a team that wants to acquire Weeden via a trade.

Weeden has already reportedly expressed an interest in playing for another team in 2014, although I believe those comments were made because he (understandably) feels his days as a starter in Cleveland are over. He sees the writing on the wall: the Browns are either going to go with Brian Hoyer, or draft another quarterback. At best, that would turn Weeden into a third-stringer to start next season.

Weeden is currently set to make $2.204 million against the cap in 2014. Weeden is under contract through 2015 and isn't due bonuses on any particular date, so there is no rush to parting ways with Weeden prior to the draft. Here is the unique stipulation associated with Weeden, though: if you read the introduction of this article, Weeden would basically be equivalent to "Player X." By that, I mean that in 2014, it is cheaper for the Browns to keep Weeden on the roster than if they cut him. If the Browns cut Weeden, he will count for $4.204 million against the cap this year.

That's where the Browns have to decide how they want to distribute the loss on Weeden: no matter what, Weeden will at a minimum get that $4.204 million. The question is whether we just want him off our roster to free up space for next year, or if we want to keep him around as a backup -- one who is less expensive than Campbell and also under contract through 2015.

Photo Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

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Using all of these approximations, if all five of these players were on the Browns in 2014, they would make a combined $25,492,950 million. Let's assume that the Browns decided to flat out cut Jackson, Rubin, Campbell, Greco, and Weeden. Cleveland would still owe a combined $9,779,362 million to those players, but it would create $15,713,588 million extra cap space this year (plus some extra space in future years as well). This scenario would raise the Browns' overall cap space from $49.71 million to $65.42 million. That is a whole hell of a lot of ammunition for free agency, and it might make it even more reasonable to re-sign younger, core talent like C Alex Mack, SS T.J. Ward, and CB Joe Haden.

Some of you might have expected to see WR Davone Bess and WR Greg Little on this list. They are certainly cap casualties, but I held each of them off the list. For Bess, I need to see if the Browns will be able to void his $3.067 million guarantee. If so, then great -- he's an easy cap casualty to add to the list.

The decision on Little is also somewhat dependent on Bess. If we cut Bess, that leaves Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin, and Josh Cooper as the team's other receivers besides Little. Because Little's cap hit is so little (heh) at $1.059 million, he should probably be kept around as a lower depth chart receiver since I don't see us being able to upgrade the wide receiver position so quickly.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts on whether the Browns should cut ties with any of the players in this article, or keep them.

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