Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry will have several standard housekeeping issues to complete this offseason.
In addition to the Senior Bowl (January 31 to February 4 in Mobile, Ala.), the Scouting Combine (February 28 to March 6 in Indianapolis), and the start of free agency when the new league year opens on March 15, Berry will need to focus some of his attention to the team’s salary cap.
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According to Over The Cap, the Browns are currently a bit more than $14.4 million over the expected cap of $258.7 million for the upcoming season. Cleveland has eight players under contract who carry a cap hit of $12 million or more, from a “low” of cornerback Denzel Ward’s $12.2 million to the high of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s $54.9 million.
There are various ways that teams work to get under the cap, from restructuring contracts to shift the cap burden down the road to prorating signing or roster bonuses or backloading a contract to push more of the money into later years, just to name a few.
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One popular option is to designate a player to be released after June 1. Under that scenario, a player like safety John Johnson III, who is entering the final year of his three-year contract and carries a cap hit of $13.5 million, could be designated as a June 1 cut and save the Browns $9.75 million on the salary cap and reduce his dead cap money from $12.6 million to $3.75 million.
While Johnson is a player who has been held up the most as one who could help the bottom line, another surprising name to keep an eye on is wide receiver Amari Cooper, according to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Safety John Johnson III and 3 other players the #Browns must make big decisions on in 2023: https://t.co/oZp9FO6mHw— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) January 27, 2023
The Browns were undoubtedly happy with the production they received from Cooper (78 catches, 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns after being acquired from the Dallas Cowboys for just a fifth-round draft pick), Cabot points out that Cooper carries a cap hit of $23.8 million this season and Berry could pocket $20 million in cap savings if he designates Cooper as a post-June 1 cut.
From a purely mathematical standpoint, a move like that would make sense, as any general manager would enjoy an extra $20 million to fill roster holes.
But from an on-field standpoint, releasing Cooper makes little sense. The Browns already head into the offseason needing a true second wide receiver (Editor’s note: Unless you think Donovan Peoples-Jones is already that or could become it) to help Cooper, so moving on from him would simply create an unneeded roster hole that would subsequently need to be patched.
Berry needs to do some work to gain some salary-cap relief this offseason, and while the financial numbers may say that moving on from Cooper is the right call, it is hard to see Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski agreeing, given what Cooper brings to the team on the field. If anything a restructure or extension seems more in line for the veteran wide receiver.