Get excited, Browns fans. No team in the National Football League may be more primed for success over the next few years than yours. And I have the data to back it up.
Typically, January is a time of year when Browns fans are stuck at home, watching other teams in the playoffs compete for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and left wondering “When is it going to be OUR turn?” Well, I am here to tell you… SOON!
This is not wishful thinking or a case of yours truly typing with rose-colored glasses after doing half a dozen keg stands of orange Kool-Aid. All it took was a little research and a basic understanding of how NFL teams operate in a salary cap world.
The first thing I decided to do was take a look at Team Salary Cap Projections heading into 2019. I figured this would be an easy place to start because the Browns always seem to be in great shape when it comes to the cap and how much is available to spend on talent in the upcoming year. I mean, if there was a trophy for hoarding cap space, the Cleveland Browns would be the most-dominant dynasty in the history of the NFL. #ThanksSashi
So I headed over to Spotrac.com, which is a one-stop destination for all things major league sports contracts, player salaries, team cap numbers, etc. In examining the projected caps for 2019, I noticed the Browns are fourth with approximately $75 million, behind the Colts ($122M), the Jets ($98M), and the Bills ($81M). However, the Jets only have 39 players under contract for 2019, so a good chunk of that money is going to be used quickly. The Browns, on the other hand, have 58 players signed through next year, followed by the Colts (53) and Bills (51). The Los Angeles Rams round out the top five with $74.7 million to spend and 39 players signed.
However, to narrow the focus on the immediate future of the Cleveland Browns, using the data available on Spotrac, I created a spreadsheet that compares all of the 2018 playoff teams (and the Browns) in terms of Projected Cap Space, Number of Players Signed for 2019, Average Age of the Roster, and the Salary Information for what many consider to be the four most important positions in football: Quarterback, Left Tackle, Edge Rusher, and Cornerback. Here is what I found:
As you can see, the Colts are the clear leader when it comes to 2019 cap space and they just barely edge out the Browns for Average Age of Roster at 25.19. However, two of their premier positions are filled by players who are 30 or older and are set to become Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) after the 2019 season. While Andrew Luck arguably played his best football in 2018, other parts of the roster will soon need to be addressed if the Colts are going to contend in the AFC year after year.
The Rams have almost as much cap space as the Browns, but their Left Tackle (Andrew Whitworth) is going to be 37 and entering the last year of his contract. It’s hard to imagine Whitworth will be re-signed and Jared Goff will be as protected as he is now by someone else. At the very least, it’s a situation worth monitoring. Also, as mentioned previously, the Rams (like the Jets) only have 39 players signed going into next season so that cap number is somewhat deceiving.
In fact, there are caveats with every team’s situation if you go down the list...
The Texans have a lot of space and a young QB/LT combo but their Edge Rushers (JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney) have questions. Watt turns 30 this year and Clowney is a UFA. With a projected Market Value of $16.6 million dollars a year, per Spotrac, it’s hard to imagine the Texans re-signing him.
The Seahawks will have a 30 year old Russell Wilson who is up for renewal in 2020, a 34 year old Left Tackle in Duane Brown, and only 46 players signed for 2019.
The Ravens have a very promising future with rookie QB Lamar Jackson at the helm but perennial all-pro Edge Rusher Terrell Suggs is 36 and an UFA. Their best corner (Jimmy Smith) is 31 years old and they have less than half the cap space that the Browns do, not to mention the question of what to do with Joe Flacco, who carries $16 million in dead cap if he’s cut before 2020.
I could go on and on, but you can see for yourself. Nearly every team who competed in the playoffs this year has a reason why their window may be closing within the next few seasons. The Cowboys and the Bears are the only other teams, besides the Browns, that have the four most important positions filled by players under 30. But they each have far less cap space and they are both NFC teams, so there is no threat of them competing with Cleveland for a Conference Title.
What I really set out to find was if there were any other teams currently in contention who boasted a similar or better situation than the Browns and it’s honestly hard to find one. The Browns enter 2019 with second year Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has already broken the record for touchdowns thrown by a rookie, a Left Tackle in Greg Robinson who is an UFA but can easily be re-signed to a mid-level deal that won’t take a major hit to the cap, 3rd year Pro Bowl Edge Rusher Myles Garrett, who has yet to turn 23 and will have two years left on his rookie deal, and second year Cornerback Denzel Ward who made the Pro Bowl as a 21 year old rookie.
Simply put, you won’t find another team in the NFL with the cap space and young talent that the Browns have. No wonder newly promoted Head Coach Freddie Kitchens had little trouble filling out his staff. And if there’s one thing Browns GM John Dorsey has a shown a knack for, it’s being aggressive when it comes to adding talent to the roster as he did in 2018, with the additions of Jarvis Landry, Terrance Mitchell, EJ Gaines and Damarious Randall. Of course, that’s not counting his first draft in Cleveland, where he added Mayfield, Ward, 2nd rounder Nick Chubb, 4th rounder Antonio Callaway and 5th round pick Genard Avery.
ATTENTION NFL: This is not just some Browns fan daydream. With the amount of available cap space, 11 draft picks, next to nothing tied up in the four most important position groups on the team, and a triumvirate of John Dorsey, Freddie Kitchens and Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns are going to be Super Bowl contenders very, very soon.