The Cleveland Browns' free-agency plan is muddled by who they want to be versus who they’ve been.
They want to be a team that builds through the draft, fighting the urge to toss crazy cash at the top free agents this week. But some of the league’s worst teams have a lot of cap space for a reason.
They haven’t drafted particularly well and their draft picks aren’t worth re-signing. By default, they have to spend.
So the Browns are stuck somewhere in between, needing to fill roster holes with $40-plus million in cap space left while trying to not overdo it.
Cleveland's been inactive on the open market thus far, especially compared to the other teams with the most cap space. That doesn’t mean the Browns won’t pounce on a top target; they’re prepared to make a competitive push for tight end Charles Clay and are evaluating the cornerback and outside linebacker spots.
According to Spotrac.com, the Browns were fourth in cap space as of Wednesday at around $41.6 million after giving restricted tenders to four players. Only the Jags, Raiders and Titans have more space.
The Browns have to spend about $70 million over the next two years based on CBA rules.
Here’s how those teams have spent since the new league year began at 4 p.m. Tuesday (*significant signings only)
Jaguars, $63.7 million in cap space: TE Julius Thomas (five years, $46 million), DT Jared Odrick (five years, $42.5 million), RT Jermey Parnell (five years, $32 million), CB Davon House (four years, $25 million), OLB Dan Skuta (five years, $20.5 million), OLB J.T. Thomas (three years, $10 million)
Raiders, $59.6 million in cap space: C Rodney Hudson (five years, $44.5 million), NT Dan Williams ($15 million guaranteed), Lee Smith (3 years, $9 million), RB Roy Helu (two years, $4 million), LB Curtis Lofton (reported $10 million guaranteed)
Clearly, the Browns did not plan to target the priciest free agents. They believe they can add depth and find a few quality starters from the mid-tier bin of players, maybe snagging a couple top 100 guys but no flashy moves.
Indy-bound outside linebacker Trent Cole would have been an ideal signing for Cleveland -- a productive pass-rusher on a modest deal (two years, $16 million with the Colts). That’s their model, and it's why Dwayne Bowe and Stevie Johnson could be receiver options if they are cut by their current teams.
Eventually, the Browns must get moving. Spending solely from the discount rack won’t help this team, either.