With free agency set to begin on March 17th, it’s time to take a look at the Cleveland Browns’ cap space heading into the 2021 offseason. Let’s start with the NFL salary cap, which is the one number we don’t know about yet.
NFL Salary Cap
Every year, we are used to the NFL salary cap jumping, which creates more space for players to sign new players or be able to pay players currently on the team who are scheduled to make more money in the later years of their contract. That won’t be the case this year.
For perspective, the salary cap in 2019 was $188.2 million. Last year, it was $198.2 million. Pre-pandemic, it was expected that the salary cap in 2021 would be up to $210 million. Instead, it’s very possible that it will be set at just $180 million, a significant decline if you think about teams who had no cap space remaining to begin with.
ESPN had a great article earlier this year about the salary cap. Based on lost revenue in 2020, the cap really should have been set at about $160 million for this upcoming season. That would have been an extreme decline, though, so it was agreed that the salary cap “floor” would be set at $180 million this year. In exchange, teams would essentially “borrow” $20 million in cap from future years. For example, instead of the cap rising $20 million in 2022, maybe it’ll only rise $10 million, with that extra space being used to cover this year’s shortfall. That will be a league-wide thing, not a team-by-team thing.
The final salary cap number for 2021 has not yet been announced, but it’s expected to be between $180 and $185 million, favoring toward the lower end of things. For now, our projections will use $180.5 million, since that is what Over the Cap uses in their estimations.
Carryover Space and Adjustments
The Browns led the entire NFL by carrying over $30,366,604 in unused cap space from the 2020 season to the 2021 season. Cleveland has often been leaders in the area of carrying over unused cap space, but it makes an even greater difference this year, given the reduction in the NFL salary cap.
There are also adjustments made to the carryover amount, which are to account for things like certain incentives that players earned during the season, or players not receiving their active roster bonuses due to missing games. I am deriving this number based on the final carryover amounts that Field Yates of ESPN posted. The Browns appear to have -$956,913 in adjustments.
NFL 2021 Salary Cap: $180.50 million*
Browns’ Rollover from 2020: $30.36 million
Adjustments from 2020: -$0.96 million
Browns’ 2021 Adjusted Salary Cap: $180.50 million + $30.36 million - $0.96 million = $209.91 million
Estimated by Over the Cap / DBN
How much money do the Browns already have committed toward the 2021 salary cap? To determine that, we need two figures: the top 51 salary cap figures on the team, and the amount of dead money that was committed to players who are no longer here. For example, we cut DE Chad Thomas last year, and he will still count for $262,235 against the cap this year. That is dead money — we can’t do anything about it.
Browns’ Top 51 Cap Total: $188.61 million
Browns’ Dead Money for 2021: $0.51 million
Browns’ Total Cap Spent for 2021: $188.61 million + $0.51 million = $189.12 million
When you subtract the two subtotals above ($209.91 million - $189.12 million), you can see how the “$20.79 million in cap space” figure was derived.
As you can see in the figure to the right, as of March 6, the Browns are 11th in the NFL in available cap space. At least they aren’t the Saints, who are $60+ million in the red.
Note: We cross-referenced OverTheCap, Spotrac, the NFLPA database, and other sources for our data.