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Which Players on the Cleveland Browns Could Become Roster Casualties?

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

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Why would the Cleveland Browns, a team with approximately $42.37 million in cap space, need to consider cutting players on their roster? Besides the obvious reason of saving money, there are several other reasons:

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 2016, and $4 million guaranteed in 2017. Sashi Brown 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 2017." 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 2017.

Another reason is because you want to be big spenders, but efficient at the same time. If a player isn't worth what you originally thought he was worth, it doesn't even matter about the savings: from a business standpoint, you cut your losses and re-invest that money elsewhere.

The Browns will have at least seven draft picks, so they might need at least seven 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 Mitchell Schwartz, and you can front-load a lot of their money this year in order to build cap space in future years.

Lastly, you might just cut players because you don't feel they are valuable enough, either on or off the field.

Two of the players I would have projected to be cut are DT Randy Starks and TE Jim Dray, but the Browns already parted ways with them on Thursday, shaving $4.78 million off of the cap in 2016. Over the years, this column is less about who will be cap casualties and more about who could end up being released if certain circumstances arise. That is why I re-named the title of the column from "cap casualties" to "roster casualties" last year, although my discussion will still be heavily-cap-based.

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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1. Dwayne Bowe, WR (4th Highest Cap Figure) - There has never been a more obvious forthcoming roster casualty (well, besides Johnny Manziel) than Bowe. He will go down as one of the worst free agency signings of all time, which is something that I'd love to hear former Browns GM Ray Farmer try to defend.

Last year, Bowe signed a 2-year, $13 million contract. Farmer didn't believe in investing a whole lot in the wide receiver position, yet he was willing to overpay an aging veteran because he had a previous relationship with him in Kansas City. The contract also included $9 million in guarantees, so this was not a "prove your worth" contract. Bowe received his big payday and tried to get fans excited by making bizarre comments at the beginning of training camp -- such as saying QB Josh McCown was a Top-5 quarterback in the NFL, WR Taylor Gabriel was on the way to becoming a top receiver in the league, and WR Terrelle Pryor would no doubt make the roster.

Bowe then suffered a hamstring injury that carried over into the regular season. As time continued to pass, fans began to wonder why the guy who was supposed to be the team's No. 1 receiver in 2015 was out for so long. Then, a point came where he was clearly a healthy inactive each week, and then the word was that Bowe's injury from training camp set him so far back in the playbook that he never had time to catch up. That is the most ridiculous excuse I've ever heard.

Bowe finished the season with 5 catches for 53 yards. On Les Levine's broadcast this past Monday on 92.3 the Fan, during his "How Come Quickies" segment, a caller said, "How come Bowe makes more money riding a bike than Lance Armstrong?" Fitting. Bowe's cap hit for 2016 is $8 million. That includes $1.75 million in signing bonus money and a $6.15 million base salary ($2.85 million of which is guaranteed). Therefore, the Browns would still have to carry $4.6 million in dead money for Bowe in 2016, but it's still worth it to vacate his roster spot and pick up $3.4 million in cap savings.

2. Tramon Williams, CB (8th Highest Cap Figure) - The Browns have a ridiculous amount of money invested at the cornerback position. Another one of Farmer's mistakes last year was letting CB Buster Skrine walk in free agency and replacing him with an aging Williams. After a decent start to the season, Williams collapsed along with the rest of the defense.

With CB Joe Haden set to return from his concussion issues and CB K'Waun Williams presumably still penciled in at the slot cornerback, I think the Browns are hurting their ability to develop all of the other cornerbacks on their roster. Think of it this way: if you take Williams out of the equation, the following players could compete for a starting role:

  • Charles Gaines
  • Justin Gilbert
  • Pierre Desir
  • Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

I'd also venture to say that Cleveland could find a cheap veteran player in free agency who could perform just-as-good, if not better, than Williams. The group of young cornerbacks above might not seem promising, but Ray Horton has a good track record with defensive backs. And, as much as I just want to cut Gilbert, the Browns would carry too large of dead money this year for it to be a worthy move. If they could trade Gilbert, even for just a seventh-round pick, then I'd be all for it.

Tramon Williams

CB Tramon Williams had his share of struggles in 2015, and one could say he played a major role in 2-3 of the team's losses. With the team having several young but inexperienced cornerbacks in the pipeline, could Williams end up being a surprise roster casualty? (Photo: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Williams' cap hit for 2016 is $6.98 million. That includes $500,000 in signing bonus money, $300,000 in the form of a roster bonus, and $6.2 million base salary ($2.8 million of which is guaranteed). He is under contract through 2017, but his only guarantee in that year is his $500,000 signing bonus money. Therefore, the Browns would carry $3.8 million in dead money for Williams in 2016, but they would pick up $3.18 million in cap savings.

3. Johnny Manziel, QB (19th Highest Cap Figure) - The Browns have made it clear they are done with Manziel, and I am pretty much finished talking about him, just like Pep Hamilton abstained from mentioning him during his introductory press conference the other day. Earlier this week, we did explain why the Browns have to wait until March 9th to make the move, though (and the same thing applies to other players with guarantees in their base salaries).

Manziel's cap hit for 2016 is $2.25 million, all of which is guaranteed. He also has $2.084 million in guarantees in 2017, which will accelerate on to the current cap year when the Browns cut him. Therefore, the Browns would have to carry $4.33 million in dead money for Manziel in 2016, meaning they would actually lose $2.08 million in cap space this year. It's well worth it at this point.

4. Austin Davis, QB (21st Highest Cap Figure) - When the Browns signed Davis to $4.173 million contract extension through 2017 last years, fans wondered if it was an insurance policy in case Manziel ever went off the rails. Well, it looks like the Browns can cash in on that insurance policy, but here is the problem: they really don't need Davis either since Josh McCown is already the veteran quarterback on the roster.

Cutting Davis is a move the Browns won't make right away, but I could see it happening some time after the draft. If the Browns select QB Jared Goff, QB Carson Wentz, or some other quarterback at pick No. 2 or No. 32, then that automatically bumps Davis down to third-string again. The Browns still have Connor Shaw on the roster, who I like better than Davis. Even if Shaw isn't the answer as a third-stringer, Cleveland could end up drafting two quarterbacks in this year's class, or they might find another undrafted free agent.

Fortunately, Davis' contract extension didn't include much guaranteed money in 2016 and 2017. His cap hit for 2016 is $1.77 million. He has $333,334 in signing bonus money over the next two years, so that is the only amount in dead money the team would have to carry in 2016, leading to a cap savings of $1.43 million.

5. Malcolm Johnson, FB (39th Highest Cap Figure) - There is no particular incentive in rushing to cut Johnson, but I'd have to imagine that once head coach Hue Jackson has had enough time to evaluate Johnson's blocking and the limited impact he had as a receiver, the team might as well look elsewhere at the position. There are already a couple of other candidates on the roster who I think have some more upside either at tight end or fullback, including E.J. Bibbs, Luke Lundy, and Randall Telfer.

Johnson is set to make $554,863 in 2016, and cutting him would only result in a dead cap hit of $89,589, which is the remainder of his signing bonus money through 2018. The move would allow the Browns to save $465,274 on the cap. One calculation we are kind of cheating with in all of these cuts is the fact that when calculating the Top 51 salaries, if you cut one player, another minimum salary player bumps up in to the Top 51. The cost of a minimum salary player is $450,000, so cutting Johnson really just saves $15,274 is we really wanted to get down to the details.

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Using all of these approximations, if all five players were on the Browns in 2016, they would make a combined $19.552 million. Let's assume that the Browns decided to flat out cut Bowe, Williams, Manziel, Davis, and Johnson. Cleveland would owe $13.153 million in dead money, meaning it would create $6.4 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 $42.37 million to $48.77 million.

Under Jimmy Haslam, the Browns often like to say they will be less active in free agency and focus more on the draft, but that doesn't mean they won't be willing to fork out a lot of money for one or two big-name players. Additionally, the extra cap space could be used to commit more money toward the likes of C Alex Mack (if he opts out), RT Mitchell Schwartz (UFA) and FS Tashaun Gipson (UFA).

Please feel free to leave your thoughts on whether the Browns should cut ties with any of the players in this article, or if there are some other players you think are worth purging from the roster (without adverse cap effects).