D'Qwell Jackson has been the loyalest of soldiers for the Cleveland Browns since he was drafted in the second round by Phil Savage in 2006.
He’s played for one good team and a bunch of bad ones. He’s played inside in a 4-3 and inside in a 3-4. He’s been grounded from day one and he has been a team captain. But when it comes to financial decisions regarding the salary cap and what a guy is paid, all that probably won’t matter much when it comes to this offseason.
The Browns -- and their new coach -- will decide if Jackson is due a $4 million roster bonus in March based on if, at the age of 31, he can help the team into the future.
Jackson’s position is interesting. His salary cap figure in 2014 is set to be $8.1 million. He will be 31.
Paul Kruger’s salary cap figure will be $8.2 million He will be 28.
Based on those numbers it would seem the Browns would have a simple choice: keep both, or keep neither.
But in the NFL world where people are judged based sometimes on whether they are an addition of a new regime or a holdover, simple doesn’t always enter into the equation.
Here are some facts on the decision the Browns have to make:
Jackson has averaged 145 tackles the last three seasons, per ESPN Stats & Information.
His $8.1 million salary cap cost is less than Terrell Suggs will cost the Ravens. But Baltimore has already put Suggs on notice that his $12.4 million cap cost in 2014 might be too high.
Jackson ranks seventh in the AFC in salary cap cost at linebacker.
Pittsburgh’s Lawrence Timmons ($11.8M) and Lamar Woodley ($13.6M) are also considerably higher, as is Kansas City’s Tamba Hali ($11.5M).
Other linebackers due offseason rosters bonuses include Kansas City’s Hali and Green Bay’s Clay Matthews. Hali is due $2 million; it would be a shock if he didn’t get it. Matthews is due $5.5 million.
Jackson’s cap cost is more than Dannell Ellerbe of Miami, less than Paul Posluszny of Jacksonville and more than Navorro Bowman of San Francisco.
It’s worth wondering if linebackers typically see a dropoff in production as they age. According to an ESPN study, linebackers who average 75 tackles per season do not. Production actually stays fairly level, especially when compared to running backs. Backs who carry the ball an average of 75 times per season go from averaging 791 yards per season at age 28 to 570 at age 30 to 220 at age 34. The initial two-year dropoff is 28 percent. Linebackers go from 132 tackles at age 29 to 112 at age 30. That’s a one-year drop of 15 percent. But from there the production is consistent: 112 (age 30) to 112 to 113 to 99 to 110.
This season, the Browns spent $22.1 million of their salary cap on linebackers, 63 percent above the league average of $13.5 million.
As they head toward 2014, they are set to spend $24 million of their salary on linebackers, with Kruger, Jackson and Barkevious Mingo accounting for just more than $20 million of that figure.