Overview and Mea Culpas
The Browns salary cap number became a subject of debate earlier this year, when a reporter asked Carmen Policy his opinion on salary cap numbers posted on our tipline. Policy dismissed the concern about the cap space, offering his opinion that the Browns would be fine.
Well, Carmen Policy knows a lot more about where the Browns are than I do. An accomplished cap manager, Policy is privy to contract numbers which have not been released to the media.
That doesn't mean, however, that we aren't without information which can be used to approximate the Browns cap number. Base salary numbers are available via the NFL Players Association, and some of the more complex contracts have been reported to some degree in the press. ESPN, in particular, seems to relish publishing contract details.
What follows is an estimation of the Browns salary cap space, using the basic rules of calculating a salary cap. Salary cap management is complex enough that some teams carry dedicated cap specialists on the payroll. We'll use the basic rules of cap calculation, but not get into some of the most complex factors used in calculating a salary cap.
Basically, what this means is that the numbers which follow may have a degree of error, and in a few cases that error may be significant. Contracts may have been misreported in the press, or details may never have been published at all. In, addition, it's easily possible to misinterpret where bonuses should be applied, and so forth.
As a result, Bernie's Insiders has absolutely no intention of claiming that these are the full and accurate salary cap numbers for each player. They are calculations using the best information available to us, and should be enough to get us reasonably close to the Browns true cap situation so that we can intelligently discuss the decisions that the team needs to make. Enough mea culpas, let's get to the numbers...
The Bottom Line
Our calculations indicate that the Browns currently have a payroll of $97.1 million dollars. CBS Sportsline, a corporate partner of the NFL, recently came into possession of documents which they reported indicate that the Browns are $22.9 million over the salary cap. This means that that the total payroll would be $97.7 million based on the current cap (as of today) of $74.8 million for 2003.
So, a little over a half-million dollars is missing from what we've been able to calculate. A non-trivial difference, to be sure, which we will try to narrow down as we refine this feature.
Salary Cap Basics
The NFL's salary cap has its start in the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 1994. The amount is set to by taking 64% of the "Defined Gross Revenue" of all clubs and spreading that out over the number of teams. For 2003, the number has been reported at $75 million.
Some rules of calculating the salary cap:
- The top 51 player contracts, tenders, qualifying offers, and offer sheets are used. This is important to remember in the off-season when player rosters swell well beyond that number, all the way up to 80 players. Signing and other bonuses outside of the top 51 are also applied to the cap.
- The "base salary" of a player is applied completely to that year's salary cap.
- A "signing bonus" is pro-rated over the number of years of a contract. A $1 million signing bonus for a five-year contract, for example, would be applied in equal $200,000 chunks for each of the five years. The maximum number of years that signing-bonuses are allowed to be pro-rated is seven years.
- The way signing bonuses are accelerated explains why there are cuts on June 1st. After 6/1, the remaining signing bonus money is accelerated to next year's cap, not the current year. That way, clubs can ditch salary, but not pay much of the cap price until the next year.
- Incentives which are likely to be earned (LTBE, in cap-speak) are applied to that year's cap. That is one of the trickier elements in calculating cap numbers, since those numbers often aren't detailed in the media. Incentives which are considered "likely to be earned" include roster bonuses, reporting bonuses, and workout bonuses.
- You also have to account for the pro-rated signing bonuses, LTBE incentives, etc from the remaining 29 players on an 80-man roster.
- If a player is released prior to the full execution of a contract, the remaining portion of the signing bonus is accelerated to the cap for the year the player is released. Using the above example, if the player with the $1 million bonus was released in Year 3, that year's chunk of the signing bonus would be applied ($200,000) plus the next two years of the contract which was not honored by the team ($400,000).
A First Cut at Browns Salary Cap Numbers
Digging through old newspapers, musty web pages, and the like, we've managed to dig up enough numbers to be dangerous. Here, starting from the highest cap hits and moving down, are our calculations of the Browns salary cap numbers. Grab a cup of salt.
Base salary numbers typically come from the NFL Players Association, although there are a number of cases where those numbers disagreed with other source.
1. Jamir Miller (Estimated Cap Hit: $17,975,000)
Miller was scheduled to receive $3,975,000 in base salary. According to recent revelations in the media, Miller is due to receive a $14 million roster bonus before March. He will never see it, of course, but adding those two numbers together yields the scary cap number above. which has been confirmed multiple times in the media.
2. Courtney Brown (Estimated Cap Hit: $8,171,833)
The teams "defensive foundation" hit some easily attained targets early in his career which boosted his 2003 base salary to a non-shabby $6,500,000 in 2003. Brown also had a $10,031,00 signing bonus which was spread out over six years. Brown also has some unspecified incentive clauses, which are not available and therefore left out of the calculation.
3. Tim Couch (Estimated Cap Hit: $7,950,000)
Couch's contract calls for a base salary of $6,200,000 in 2003. Prior to the 2002 season, Couch voided the last four years of his contract due to his hitting some targets in his original rookie contract. The team exercised an option to buy back the remaining four years of his contract for a tidy sum of $8.75 million. That is not spread out over four years, as one would expect, but five, since the team actually spent the money prior to the 2002 season, spreading out the hit from the option bonus over five years rather than four. So, $6.2 million plus $8.75 million / 5, yields $7.95 million in 2003.
Dwayne Rudd (Estimated Cap Hit: $5,165,000)
Rudd received a $5.7 million signing bonus in 2001 when he originally signed the five-year deal. That amount, pro-rated over five years, when added to his $4,025,000 base salary yields the cap hit above. If Rudd is cut prior to June 1, the team will absorb the 60% if that signing bonus ($3.42 million) this year. If he's cut after June 1, the team absorbs a bit over $1 million this year, and $2 million next year. That $2 million would be "dead money" on next year's cap.
5. Ross Verba (Estimated Cap Hit: $4,850,000)
Verba signed what has been commonly reported as a four-year, $16 million contract back before the 2001 season. The contract included a five million dollar signing bonus, which adds $1.25 million on each year from a cap perspective. Verba's base pay this year is $3,600,000. I have seen this number indicated as higher in other places, so there may be other incentives which weren't reported in the press which kicked in during 2002. Perhaps not.
6. Orpheus Roye (Estimated Cap Hit: $4,437,000)
Roye originally signed with the Browns for six years, with a signing bonus of $7.5 million. That comes out to $1.25 million pro-rated over each of those six years. Roye's base salary in 2003 is scheduled to be $1.75 million. In addition, the Browns DT renegotiated his deal prior to the 2002 season, and got a $750,000 payment for doing so. The renegotiated deal was for four years, so that tacks on another $187,500 for those years. I've seen this amount reported as being slightly lower, so it's possible that this cap estimate is slightly higher than reality.
7. Dave Wohlabaugh (Estimated Cap Hit: $4,414,000)
Wohlabaugh has an eye-popping $3.7 million base salary in 2003, higher even than the remaining two years of his seven-year contract. This is a lot of money for the center of a decidedly average offensive line. Wohlabaugh also has one-seventh of a $5 million signing bonus which applies against this year's cap, which gives us the additional $714,000. If Wohlabaugh is cut before March 1, the team takes a $2.1 million cap hit in 2003. If he is cut after March 1, the team gets hit for $714 this year, and $1.4 million next year. I've seen this number reported $100,000 higher as well, so there may be workout or reporting bonuses in that amount which have not been reported in the press.
8. Corey Fuller (Estimated Cap Hit: $3,800,000)
Fuller originally signed a five-year, $20.6 million contract with the Browns. That contract included a $5 million signing bonus. The Browns are still liable for $1 million of that against the cap this year. Fuller re-negotiated a more cap-friendly salary in 2002, and got an additional $600,000 for his trouble. That was over a two-year span, so that $300,000 hits the cap this year. In addition, Fuller has a $1 million roster bonus and a $1,500,000 salary this year. That all adds up to $3.8 million.
9. Robert Griffith (Estimated Cap Hit: $3,450,000)
Here we see again the challenge of trying to calculate cap numbers without all the information. Griffith's deal was reported as being worth $15 million, including a $3.6 million bonus. However, when his base salaries over those four years, as reported by the NFLPA, are added to the signing bonus, the number comes out to be about $1.5 million shy of the reported figure. Based on this conflicting information, there are likely other bonuses scattered around the four years of Griffith's contract which haven't been reported. What we do know, however, is that his signing bonus is pro-rated to a $900K cap hit this year, and he has a base salary of $2.55 million, with gives us the above number. Due to the bonuses, the above number is likely a bit low.
10. Gerard Warren (Estimated Cap Hit: $2,865,000)
Warren, like Brown, has a complex contract, with seemingly innumerable bonuses and escalators built in, according to reports in the press. The year 2003 seems relatively simple compared to previous and later years. Warren will receive $865,000 in base salary, and his initial signing bonus of $12 million is spread out over six years. Putting the two together gets us to $2.865 million. This number is likely slightly low if workout or other bonuses are in the picture. References to those bonuses are difficult to find in the press.
11. Kenard Lang
(Estimated Cap Hit: $2,680,000)
Lang signed a five-year, $17 million deal prior to the 2002 season. Lang has a $1.9 million base salary in 2003, and also has a $100,000 workout bonus this year and succeeding years. The signing bonus of $3.4 million, for salary cap purposes, is divided over the five years and yields a $680,000 hit per year. After this year, the Browns will need to pay a $1.6 million signing bonus to trigger the last three years of the deal, which have base salaries of $900,000, $3.7 million, and $4.5 million.
12. Earl Holmes
(Estimated Cap Hit: $2,625,000)
The Browns, I think, did a very good job of negotiating Holmes' contract, but now they have some tough decisions to make. Holmes, according to reports out of Pittsburgh, received a $2 million signing bonus over the course of a five-year contract ($400K per year for salary cap purposes). The Browns were in the catbird seat with Holmes in 2002, because his base salary was a low $525,000. For 2003, however, he is owed a $1 million roster bonus and his salary shoots up to $1,225,000 (according to the NFLPA, noting that some accounts in the press have it higher). Those two amounts, plus the pro-rated $400K signing bonus, yield a figure of $2.6 million.
13. William Green
(Estimated Cap Hit: $2,485,714)
I'm sort of shadow-boxing with ghosts on this one, which could be way off based on the information that's been made public. Green received a signing bonus of $4.1 million as part of a seven-year deal. That results in about $586,000 hit against the cap. The Browns had the opportunity to pay a $1.6 million buyout to Green this year, which reduces his later salaries. I've found absolutely nothing regarding whether the Browns paid that, so I'm going to assume that the Browns paid the bonus and that it counts towards this years cap. I could be wrong on that, and am trying to get more information. This buyout reduces Green's base salary this year to $300,000, but overall would result in a cap hit that you see above.
14. Daylon McCutcheon
(Estimated Cap Hit: $2,450,000)
McCutcheon appears to have a simple contract, but who knows if there are bonuses not reported in the press. Cutch signed a three-year deal with a $2.1 million signing bonus. Even the math is easy: that's $700K per year against the cap. His base salary is $1,750,000, so the overall cap hit is easy to calculate.
15. Ryan Tucker (Estimated Cap Hit: $2,150,000)
Again, the math seems desperately easy, so something must be wrong. Tucker signed a four-year deal with a $2.6 million signing bonus. His base salary is $1,500,000 this year.
16. Kevin Johnson
(Estimated Cap Hit: $1,750,000)
KJ signed a five-year deal with a $3.5 million signing bonus, so that hits the cap at $700,000 per year. The Browns will have to pay him $2 million in 2005 to trigger the last two years of the deal, but that's a long way off, so let's not sweat that for the moment. KJ gets a $100,000 workout bonus each year, which is a lot more than webmasters get to work out, although we need it more. His base salary is $950,000.
17. Chris Gardocki (Estimated Cap Hit: $1,415,000)
Gardocki is in the last year of a five-year, $6 million contract he signed in 1999. It took a bit of digging, but I found out that Gardocki got a $700K signing bonus when he signed that deal, which results in a little over $100,000 being added to his base salary for cap purposes.
18. Brant Boyer (Estimated Cap Hit: $1,150,000)
He's worth every penny, for sure. Boyer gets a $1,050,000 base salary this year. His signing bonus was $300,000 over a three-year deal. Convenient for amateur capologists trying to do the math in their head.
Here are the remaining cap numbers we have calculated for players owed less than a million dollars in 2003. Dead money is in italics. Players outside of the top 51 cap hits, who therefore do not count against the cap, are shaded gray.
This listing will be maintained and refined as additional information becomes available. Any other amateur capologists who have additional information which can feel free to contact me.