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Cleveland Browns’ salary cap situation heading into 2021

What is the Cleveland Browns’ salary cap situation for 2021, and how can they open up more salary cap space this offseason?

Cleveland Browns salary cap situation heading into 2021
Feb 25, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Andrew Berry speaks to the media during the 2020 NFL Combine in the Indianapolis Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a promising season in 2020, what is the Cleveland Browns’ salary cap situation entering the 2021 NFL season? Let’s take a look at the Browns’ salary cap situation, as well as which players they could release, restructure, or extend to create additional salary cap space in 2021.

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The Browns project to be around $25 million under the salary cap in 2021

As of March 7, the 2021 NFL salary cap projects to be around $185 million. The Browns will carry over $30.4 million in cap space to the 2021 season and have a $-1 million adjustment applied to their cap per Spotrac. Therefore, the Browns’ current salary cap projects to be $190.0 million.

As it stands, the Browns have around $189.3 million in commitments to their top 51 highest-paid players, with an additional $0.5 million in dead money. As such, the Browns are currently around $24.6 million under the salary cap heading into 2021.

To view the most up-to-date numbers for the Cleveland Browns’ salary cap space, check out our team by team 2021 salary cap space article, which is updated daily.

Cleveland has a handful of potential options for releasing players

The Browns are in a fascinating position this offseason. Cleveland has cap space to make a few additions to build upon their promising 2020 season. However, if they want to add several free agents this offseason, more roster moves will be required.

David Njoku presents one of the biggest question marks for the Browns

Cleveland’s former first-round selection, David Njoku, is set to play on his fifth-round option in 2021. Until the new league year begins on March 17, his $6 million base salary does not become guaranteed. Therefore, the Browns could move on from their tight end and save the full $6 million.

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In his career with the Browns, Njoku has topped 50 receptions just once (2018). In total, he has 112 receptions on 187 targets, with 1,279 yards and 11 touchdowns. Additionally, the Browns committed to making Austin Hooper one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league last offseason.

The Browns have several mid-level players they could consider moving on from

  • Adrian Clayborn, EDGE – Cap savings: $3.0 million; Dead money: $500,000
  • Andy Janovich, FB – Cap savings: $1.4 million; Dead money: $0
  • Charley Hughlett, LS – Cap savings: $1.1 million; Dead money: $0
  • Chris Hubbard, OT – Cap savings: $3.7 million; Dead money: $1.3 million
  • M.J. Stewart, CB – Cap savings: $1.2 million; Dead money: $0
  • Ronnie Harrison, S – Cap savings: $2.2 million; Dead money: $0

The Browns have players they can extend or restructure to create cap space in 2021

The Cleveland Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry has key decisions to make on players in the coming years. The Browns have a number of marquee players due to enter the final years of their deal in 2021 and 2022. Therefore, Cleveland could consider utilizing extensions to open up 2021 salary cap space.

A decision looms on Baker Mayfield

What should the Browns do with Baker Mayfield? It is a tough call. At times, he has looked like the franchise QB they drafted him to be. However, there have also been head-scratching moments in his first three seasons. Mayfield is eligible for an extension this offseason.

The Browns also have the opportunity to pick up his fifth-year option. The cost of his fifth-year option is projected to be around $18.8 million, which is a good value on a QB in the current market. As it stands, the Browns essentially have Mayfield under contract for two more seasons at a total of around $29 million. With Mayfield counting just $10.6 million against the Browns salary cap in 2021, look for them to push the extension decision into the next offseason.

The decision to extend Nick Chubb will be a key focal point for the Browns in the next 12 months

With Chubb set to enter the final year of his rookie deal, the debate will rage about a potential extension. Chubb has been superb for the Browns and has played 44 of the 48 regular season games since he was drafted.

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However, the debate surrounding extensions for running backs is always hot. Therefore, with Chubb set to count just $4.2 million against the Browns’ salary cap in 2021, and with the potential to franchise tag him around $12-15 million in 2022, look for the Browns to potentially wait another year before extending Chubb.

The Browns have some decisions to make on defense

After extending Myles Garrett last offseason, the Browns now need to decide who will be the key pieces they invest in to complement him. Denzel Ward is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal. Like Mayfield, Ward is eligible for a fifth-year option, which would carry a projected value of $13.2 million in 2022. However, with Ward set to count $9.4 million against the Browns’ salary cap in 2021, they could save around $3 million by getting an extension done this offseason.

On the defensive line, Sheldon Richardson is scheduled to be a free agent after 2021. Richardson played 74 percent of the Browns’ snaps in 2021. In those games, he recorded 4.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 10 QB hits. He has been a valuable part of that DL group and on pace to count $13.2 million against the Browns’ salary cap in 2021. Therefore, the Browns could consider an extension, which would offer potential savings of around $8.3 million in 2021.

Could a restructure be in the cards for Odell Beckham Jr.?

The guarantees in Beckham’s contract for 2021 were not due to become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2021 league year. However, $12.8 million of his $14.5 million in base salary for 2021 is also guaranteed for injury. With it unlikely that Beckham passes a medical between now and March 19, the Browns do not have the option of moving on from him this offseason.

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However, the Browns could consider restructuring the deal to reduce his team-high cap number of $15.8 million. With two years remaining on his deal, the Browns could shift as much as $9.8 million into future years with a conventional restructure.

The issue would be the additional cost if they decide to move on from Beckham after the 2021 season. Additionally, Myles Garrett’s contract is due to ramp up in the coming seasons, so pushing more of Beckham’s cap into later years may cause fiscal constraints.

The Browns could also free up salary cap space in 2021 with restructures for J.C. Tretter, Joel Bitonio, Jack Conklin, and Jarvis Landry.

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