Andrew Berry and the Cleveland Browns are spending money like there’s no tomorrow.
And after David Njoku‘s somewhat surprising $56 million haul, we want to know who is next.
But at the same time, we have a leery eye on the future, because there is, indeed, a tomorrow.
While the Browns appear to be in great salary cap shape this season, it is not as great as meets the eye.
The #Browns and franchise tagged TE David Njoku have reached an agreement in principle on a large new 4-year, $56.75M contract extension, sources tell me and @TomPelissero. He gets $28M guaranteed at signing on the deal that averages $14.1875M per year, the fifth highest paid TE.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 27, 2022
That is because of the dreaded tomorrow and the 2023 salary cap Berry is already working to fix.
Cleveland rolled over a cap surplus each of the last 2 seasons, raising the subsequent year’s salary limit.
Right now, the Browns are about $32 million under the 2022 cap, but already $29 million over the 2023 cap.
And they are 2 players short against that 2023 total even before their 21 free agents hit the market.
Keeping To The Plan
Future dead money is beginning to accumulate and will offset much of the expected bump in future salary caps.
And that could eventually temper Berry’s use of deferred bonuses to hold down free agent salaries.
But Berry’s plan to build a competitive team fast with free agents on short deals is already shifting.
Part 2 of that effort is to draft well and let the younger, cheaper players spell the veterans.
Browns are signing Denzel Ward to a 5-year, $100.5M contract extension, per @AdamSchefter
The deal makes him the highest-paid CB in NFL history 💰 pic.twitter.com/zO0HoAthn5
— PFF (@PFF) April 18, 2022
Cleveland’s entire 2020 draft class has a chance to start at their respective positions this season.
That is effectively 7 fewer free agent veterans to sign.
Berry has his starting QB, RB-1, WR-1, TE-1, and 2 guards, plus a premier corner and edge rusher locked in with big deals.
And he needs his draft picks to offset those costs by filling the positions between them.
2023 Free Agents: Who Else Gets The Big Bucks?
Each of the Browns’ remaining 2023 free agents is no sure thing to return to the team.
But with 2022 already renegotiated, Conklin is probably not the next big deal we’re looking for.
Kareem Hunt will have to cut his salary in half if he wants to be a Brown for the rest of his career.
The #Browns and RB Nick Chubb have an agreement in principle on a 3-year contract extension worth $36.6M, per sources. $20M fully guaranteed. A huge deal for the bell cow in Cleveland. 💰 💰 💰
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 31, 2021
And it is more likely he will test free agency with Jerome Ford or D’Ernest Johnson ready to take his role.
One of the most intriguing free agents is cornerback Greedy Williams.
Finding enough money to keep Williams on board will require Berry’s best salary cap gymnastics.
And Greedy’s best deal might come from another team, meaning Berry is done extending players for now.
Looking Ahead To Next Year
But their deals will not break the bank nor will they extend much beyond the season.
That is because most of Andrew Berry’s first draft class becomes free agents in 2024.
And decisions on extensions (and Jedrick Wills‘ fifth-year option) will be made next year.
Sources: The #Browns have agreed to terms with guard Joel Bitonio on a contract extension, locking up their second big-time guard in two days. First Wyatt Teller, now Bitonio.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 10, 2021
Breaking out in 2022 could make any of them the next Browns player to sign a lucrative extension.
Even as they monitor the draft for the next wave of low-salaried fill-in players.