An attempt to explain the recent contract restructures

The Cleveland Browns and general manager Andrew Berry have been busy this week. They have restructured the contracts of all of Joel Bitonio, Myles Garrett, and most recently David Njoku. This has allowed for them to clear an NFL-leading $37 million in cap space.

Do not expect the Browns to spend much of that amount, however, as they are being strategic with their money to make what they are doing and how they are spending money sustainable long-term.

Sure, if a player gets hurt or the Browns want to make a move at the deadline to give them another push, this also gives them that flexibility. However, expect the majority of it to already be allocated toward making their cap situation sustainable for as long as they feel their competitive window is open.

Here, I do my best to break down why the Browns are doing what they are doing and how it works for them long-term.

This only works with an ownership group that is willing to spend money

In order to make this work, the team has to convert the base salary (what counts against the cap) to a signing bonus for the player. And those bonuses have to be paid out in cash to the player. This means that ownership has to front that money when that base is converted to bonus.

And for all of his faults as an owner thus far, Jimmy and Dee Haslam have been more than willing to do that. The Browns have led the NFL in cash spending each of the last three seasons because of Haslam’s willingness to pay out these bonuses.

As a result, this gives the Browns and Berry the ability to manipulate about a 5-to-15 percent advantage against the cap year in and year out.

The basic premise: $1 in 2023 is more expensive than $1 in the future will be

The basic premise of these restructures is that the dollar is always more expensive in the current year than it will be in future years. Outside of the 2021 season due to the pandemic where the salary cap dipped by about $16 million, the number has continued to skyrocket.

So while Garrett’s $12.8 million that was converted would have been about five percent of the cap in 2023, the Browns instead parsed that amount throughout multiple seasons, spreading out smaller bits of the bonus over a larger cap number.

The OBR’s Jack Duffin is the best in the Cleveland market at this stuff, and here is what he has to say on how the Browns will strategically spend:

“The salary cap isn’t going to jump a full 15% every year to cover their spending. They are working roughly two years out in advance so as the salary keeps rising they will keep spending more as a percentage of the salary cap.

So, this year the Browns are likely looking to spend the 2025 salary cap in terms of cash spending on the 53, practice squad, injured reserve, and everything else. Then once we get to 2024 they will probably look to spend the 2026 salary cap number.”

Using Juan Thornhill's contract as an example

It is this same concept that makes void years on contracts so advantageous. Look at new safety Juan Thornhill’s contract for example. He signed a three-year deal worth $7 million per year with the Browns this offseason. However, he has four void years after that three-year deal where the Browns will pay out a prorated bonus to him.

This allows the Browns to keep his cap hit low in the three seasons he is actually under contract, but by allocating part of his cap hit as a prorated bonus, they’ll just pay him $2.3 million in 2026 and 2027, then $1.1 million in 2028 (which will be scraps of the salary cap by that point).

Money depreciates over time as the salary cap continues to skyrocket, so the Browns are allocating chunks of money using today’s market into that ballooned number to have their cake and eat it too.

Common misconceptions that will be said

“Well, they have $37 million in cap space. Why aren’t they going all in?”

This model does not work if that $37 million is allocated for rollover cap. If the Browns spend that money, or at least a large chunk of that money, then their cap space will not be manageable long-term.

“Why don’t they restructure every big contract then?”

It would not be wise for the Browns to restructure the contracts of players whose immediate future is in doubt with the franchise. Three players this generally applies to are wide receiver Amari Cooper (due $20 million next year), running back Nick Chubb (nearing 30 years old in a running back market where he is already making more than younger backs), and guard Wyatt Teller (cuts will still have to be made elsewhere/continued health).

It does not make sense to stretch a player’s contract down the road another two or three seasons if the Browns have the ability to get out of the contract the following offseason.

“Go get Aaron Donald!”


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Story originally appeared on Browns Wire