Why the 2023 NFL Offseason Starts Now for the Browns

john johnson cleveland browns
BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 28: Browns safety John Johnson III (43) celebrates after intercepting a deep pass during the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Browns versus Baltimore Ravens NFL game at M&T Bank Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

The Cleveland Browns are in a phase that none of us under the age of 40 have been alive for: the Browns are legitimately in a Super Bowl Window.

When your team has players like Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin, Amari Cooper, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Grant Delpit, the time is now. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t Madden and the Browns cannot possibly keep this entire team together for the next decade.

Every team must make tough decisions every year. The teams must decide if they bring in free agents, which players they should bring in, which players they should release, and which players they should not re-sign.

We saw it this year with the departures of JC Tretter, Austin Hooper, and Jarvis Landry (even though he could re-sign with the Browns). The team must always make decisions not just for this year, but for the next five years.

Andrew Berry has shown he is excellent at acquiring talent and re-signing the core players, but can he keep this team afloat without putting this team into “cap hell”, where the Browns start an offseason millions over the cap and have to push guaranteed money years into the future just to keep the team compliant with the salary cap? Can he do so while keeping this team competitive in the future? These are the types of issues great teams like the Rams and the Buccaneers have.

Since Andrew Berry is always looking ahead, the purpose of this article is for me to do so as well. As of today, there are five (5) players under contract for the 2025 season and sixteen (16) for the 2024 season. The Browns 2022 draftees, once signed, will be as well. Expect there to be more extensions, trades, and an emphasis on getting the most value out of the draft as possible.

Example Proposed Contract Extension – John Johnson III

Andrew Berry has already shown the ability to get the big deals done. So here is an example of a move he could do with a young player to reduce his cap in both 2023 and 2024 where cap space is limited and make it enticing to the player.

John Johnson III will be playing the final non-void year of his contract in 2023, when he will be just 27 years old, the age most players enter their second contract. Here is a proposed 5-year/$45 million extension with $25 million guaranteed. This extension will absorb any bonuses previously in place, for the purpose of this example.

YearSalaryBonusCap Hit

Under his current contract, John Johnson III will have a cap hit of $13.5 million dollars in 2023 and a void year cap hit of $8.85 million. The type of deal recommended above would save $7.365 million in 2023 and $350,000 in 2024 (and have Johnson playing at the age of 28). Perhaps it could even be structured for less salary in 2024 and more on the back end of the deal. Nevertheless, this would be a good way to keep a solid player for years to come and help with the salary cap.

Contract Decisions for Expiring Contracts

Coming up after the 2022 and 2023 seasons, there are going to be some significant decisions to be made about contracts. For Berry, that means addressing these this summer and into the 2023 offseason, as he must always be looking and thinking ahead.

Contracts expiring in 2022:

  • David Njoku (Franchise Tag)
  • Greedy Williams
  • Kareem Hunt
  • Jack Conklin
  • Anthony Walker Jr.
  • Chris Hubbard
  • D’Ernest Johnson
  • Ronnie Harrison
  • Charlie Hughlett – Long Snapper who should be a Pro Bowler, but that’s a different article.
  • Ethan Pocic (newly signed center to compete with Nick Harris)

Contracts expiring after the 2023 season:

  • Jed Wills (pick up 5th-year option?)
  • Grant Delpit
  • Jordan Elliot
  • Jacob Phillips
  • Harrison Bryant
  • Nick Harris
  • Donovan Peoples-Jones

Note: Not every player expiring in 2022 or 2023 is listed above.

Each one of these players is expected to play important roles for the Browns this year, whether starting or as quality depth and playing special teams. I would look for several of these players to get contract extensions going forward. But I would also look at players like Jordan Elliot and Jacob Phillips that haven’t produced at the level as they were expected, to not be offered extensions.

The same could be said for Delpit and Wills if they cannot stay healthy and produce to their top level. While it may seem crazy to not resign players of their ability, the expectations are higher. They have to be. If not, the Cleveland Browns will not be competing for Super Bowls. Also, the salary cap is tight and these are tough decisions for every contending team.

Emphasis on The 2023 NFL Draft

The Deshaun Watson trade is, in part, what helped open the Super Bowl window. Having a franchise quarterback will always put you in a position to win in the NFL. That said, with massive contracts for Watson, Garrett, Ward, Teller, Chubb, and Bitonio, the Browns have to find younger, cheaper options to fill the gaps in the roster and find hidden gems in the middle-and-late rounds.

The good teams find players in the late rounds and turn them into stars.

Some of those guys are Hall-of-Famers, or soon to be inducted, in the case of Tom Brady, if he ever retires. Some, however, are role players who were productive and helped their teams win many, many games.

While I am not expecting 2022 6th Round Pick Michael Woods II to be Jerry Rice or even Joe Horn, the players that we drafted are needed to perform vital roles as depth players now, and could potentially develop into solid players that help us win. As of today, the Browns have a 2nd Round pick, two 4th Round picks, two 5th Round picks, a 6th-round pick, and a 7th-round pick. They could have one or more compensatory picks as part of the hiring and development of minorities for GM.

2023 Team Needs

The biggest needs for next year’s free agency and draft are unknown. Peoples-Jones, Cooper, and Bell could be a solid trio or we could realize we need more help. Njoku and Bryant could be great, but what is Njoku’s long-term status? Did Wills step up as the left tackle, or do we need to look for a replacement and move him to right tackle? Did we do enough to upgrade the defensive line? Do we have enough at linebacker and safety? Which cornerback will Berry draft and when since “you can never have enough cornerbacks”?

The 2022 season and elite amateur (college) scouting will provide Andrew Berry with those answers, and he will be prepared to address those issues. In the meantime, we can look at his past decisions, how aggressive he is, how he drafts, and know that he will not be casually waiting for things to happen. Berry, Stefanski, and this Browns organization will make those things happen. It is their nature and it is their identity as a front office and a coaching staff.

What do you think?

Andy Gibbs

Written by Andy Gibbs

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