5 Cost-Effective Moves the Cleveland Browns Should Make This Offseason
There are five cost-effective moves the Cleveland Browns should make this offseason.
Restructuring contracts, signing young stars to extended deals, cutting expensive veterans and building through the draft are all ways that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam can keep his bank account healthy.
The key is to find ways to save while improving the on-field product.
5. Restructure D'Qwell Jackson's Contract
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is the heart and soul of Cleveland's defense.
However, there's a problem with Jackson entering the 2014 season, and it revolves around his contract.
The eight-year veteran would receive a $4.1 million roster bonus in March, which would be included in a total salary of $9.43 million. Cleveland sits approximately $46 million under the salary cap, but that total may be too much for CEO Joe Banner to spend on a 30-year old.
Jackson's performance remains stellar, as he played in all 16 games for the third straight season, and in this past campaign, he topped his 2012 combined tackles total with 141.
The Largo, Fla., native told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal back on Dec. 27 that he wants to stay put.
I'll be here next year...We got a good, solid foundation here. I love what we’re doing...So I’ll be the first in line to say I want to be here for the future. No one from the front office has let me know or my agent know that I wasn’t a part of their plans.
When asked about the possibility of changing his current contract to stick around, Jackson replied, "I pay my agent some good money and hopefully he can come up with something to make both sides happy. If that was the case, I trust my team would get something done."
Leadership and passion cannot be calculated by a formula or detailed analytics. Jackson is clearly excited to remain a Brown, and there's no good reason why a restructured deal should not keep him in Cleveland.
4. Sign T.J. Ward to a Long-Term Deal
Finally, the Browns have consistent playmakers at the two safety positions with Ward and Tashaun Gipson. Why let Ward walk away and lose that chemistry?
The duo combined for seven interceptions this season, and in today's pass-first NFL, quality downfield coverage is a necessity.
Top safeties like Troy Polamalu, Eric Berry and Jairus Byrd all hovered between the $6.9-$7.5 million base-salary range in 2013, according to Spotrac, so one would assume Cleveland's No. 43 is going to be seeking at least that.
Locking down Ward long term makes sense for the Browns both in the pocketbook and on the gridiron.
The $8 million franchise tag for a safety is a reasonable last-resort option, but then it's back to the negotiating table in 2015. At that time, who knows what a price tag at the position could be. So $7.5 million annually may end up looking like a bargain in comparison.
3. Cut Jason Campbell
This decision is an easy one for the Browns' management team.
Quarterback Jason Campbell is 32 years old and owed $2.25 million in 2014. Not a shocking amount, but one that could easily be replaced by more economical options via the draft and or a cheaper veteran free agent.
He showed spurts of reliability throughout his nine games in 2013. However, as time went on and Campbell's performance deteriorated, it became clear why No. 17 is a backup.
The reason fellow QB Brandon Weeden is not in this slideshow is simple. Although his efforts were terrible overall this season, Weeden has too much guaranteed money ($7.51 million over four years) to be a cost-effective release.
With Campbell, the Browns can easily cut ties, not look back and better use that money elsewhere.
2. Let Alex Mack Walk Away
This is the toughest cost-effective move of them all and in a perfect world, it would not happen.
Cleveland needs to let Pro Bowl center Alex Mack walk away in free agency.
Mack has played in every game since entering the NFL as a first-round pick in 2009. He displays phenomenal athleticism for a large man and can rumble upfield to make key blocks.
Over the next two seasons, $12.3 and then $10.2 million are deservedly tied up with future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas (his contract expires following the 2018 season). Undoubtedly, Mack will be looking for a long-term agreement.
Do the Browns really want upward of $20 million in 2014 tied up in a pair of offensive linemen?
If the rest of Cleveland's O-line were reliable, then this would be a different conversation, but the Browns have question marks at right tackle and both guard positions. Resources need to be allocated for the overall improvement of the group, not just one spot.
It seems next to impossible to expect a free agent or draft pick to come in next season and step into Mack's shoes. However, these are the tough financial decisions that must be made, and it's up to Cleveland's personnel department to figure out an effective replacement.
1. Save by Filling Key Roles Through the Draft
The Browns may have loads of salary-cap space to entice potential free agents, but the true financial savings come from effectively drafting NFL-ready collegiate players.
Cleveland owns 10 picks in May's draft, and the front office will have a collective microscope on them after an underwhelming 2013 crop of rookie selections.
This Browns team is one of the youngest in the league already. Adding quality choices that can solidify special teams and step into key positional roles is a recipe for success in both the win column and the bank account.
Hitting on the right rookie quarterback, wide receiver, running back or offensive lineman can pay immediate dividends on the scoreboard. Tweaks on defense are certainly needed, but there's no doubt that the most offseason attention is needed on offense.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81