If we can be honest, the NFL salary cap (along with the NBA salary cap) are highly complex things that both make sports fun and too complicated at times. While front offices will call it “just an accounting mechanism,” fans and media will wax and wane about salary cap space until the cows come home.
Generally, folks are split down the middle that the salary cap “isn’t real” or is “very limiting.”
For the 2023 NFL free agency period and the Cleveland Browns, those conversations have converged all offseason so far. Deshaun Watson has a huge cap number but could also be restructured quickly to create a ton of cap space. Is that just kicking the can down the road or good planning by GM Andrew Berry?
Depends on who you ask.
Another nuance of the NFL salary cap is the rollover cap space. At an overly simplified level, if a team doesn’t use $1 of cap space in 2022, it gets added to the league’s official salary cap number for 2023. Since the Browns had a chunk of rollover money, they now have the highest salary cap number in the NFL by over $13 million:
The NFL has finalized its year-end club adjustments, which factor in incentives, roster bonuses, carryover cap space, etc. That figure was then added to or subtracted from $224.8M to determine each team’s adjusted cap number for 2023.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 6, 2023
A look at each team’s adjusted cap number: pic.twitter.com/sxbs04nXE6
That number is in line with what Cleveland’s expected salary cap would be for this year and explains, partially, why Berry was not ultra-aggressive at the trade deadline last year. Despite having the highest adjusted salary cap, the Browns will need to release or trade John Johnson III, as expected, and restructure Watson’s contract, also expected, to have about $30 million of cap space to work with.
Thankfully, given the popularity of the sport, the NFL’s salary cap continues to rise year after year. With high-priced players all over the roster, Berry will need that to continue. Thankfully, he budgeted for it with a lot of rollover cap coming in from last season.