Last week, news broke that the Cleveland Browns were trading Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional fifth-round pick.
So over the last week, I’ve spent a fair amount of time investigating the financial implications of everything that Cleveland has done over the past four months, dating back to the Deshaun Watson trade that set all this in motion.
My conclusion: Cleveland has wedged itself into one of the worst cap situations in recent NFL history.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick look at the Cleveland Browns quarterback situation.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback Depth Chart
About 5% of the Cleveland cap is out the door with Mayfield, as they’ll pay $10.5 million of his salary while he’s in Carolina this year.
And remember – the Browns open the season in Carolina this year. They’re literally paying Baker to play against him.
Then, there’s the Watson contract. Watson – whatever else he is – is a very effective quarterback for $10 million. But the problem for the Browns is that he will almost certainly miss major time this season with the ongoing NFL investigation into his massage parlor behavior.
Let’s assume the NFL suspends him for the 2022 season. It might be more, it might be less, but let’s just put one season on it so that we can forecast from here.
That means the Browns will need to navigate this upcoming season with journeyman quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett, who is signed to a 1-year, $4.5 million contract, has started five games in the past two seasons. He started 15 games for the Colts in both the 2017 and 2019 seasons; the Colts were a combined 13-21 in those two seasons.
Cleveland was forced to sign a short-term solution over a long-term quality backup not just because of their bad cap this year but because of the Watson cap hit over the remainder of his contract. While he is only a $10 million dollar financial liability this year, his current deal creates a $55 million cap hit every season from 2023 through 2026.
The last quarterback currently on the roster is Josh Dobbs, who makes $895,000. Considering Brissett’s injury history, it is distinctly possible Dobbs will start multiple games for the Browns in 2022.
Before we wrap up the quarterback money, let’s also remember to include the $2.3 million dead cap hit for Case Keenum, who is currently rostered by Buffalo.
All that money adds up to roughly $28 million, which is… not unreasonable. It’s a lot of money, for sure, but it’s not some record-breaking amount of money or anything. All that money combined is about what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will make this year.
So what’s the big deal, then? Why is this such a bad quarterback situation?
Well, let’s put it this way. The Packers are paying $28 million and getting Aaron Rodgers.
The Browns are paying $28 million and getting Jacoby Brissett and Josh Dobbs.
If you spend this much money at the quarterback position, you don’t have that money to spend elsewhere. The depth chart is a little more shallow. Teams need their big-money quarterbacks to make huge plays to make up for the lack of talent elsewhere on the roster.
Cleveland won’t have that option.
This is the total opposite scenario from when Mayfield and the Browns were at their best. He played on a small rookie salary, and the Browns had tons of leftover cash to spend on a great offensive line, two powerful running backs, good receivers and effective defensive pieces all over the field.
The Browns will have to make do with a heavy quarterback tax and no true starting quarterbacks available.
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