Based on five straight seasons of double-digit losses, the Cleveland Browns obviously needed more talent on the team. And, given the fact that the Browns entered free agency ranked among the top three teams in salary-cap room, you expected the team to do some spending.
So, why do the Browns still have an estimated $25 million in cap space less than four weeks before the start of the season? Some fans are wondering why the Browns didn't upgrade more at cornerback, safety, inside linebacker, tight end and fullback.
In my conversation with chief executive officer Joe Banner, this was his explanation:
"You have a new coaching staff, and we really feel like that between the free agents we signed and the draft picks, we pushed the limit of how many new people we wanted to integrate into a new organization with a new coaching staff all at once. That’s a big challenge to bring in that many people and get everybody integrated on the same page quickly. We actually feel like we pushed the envelope pretty aggressively."
Of the top 45 players in terms of cap numbers, 15 of them are newcomers to the Browns. That's a 33 percent roster turnover. But, when looking at the number of snaps lost, the Ravens and Steelers have had more turnover than the Browns.
Banner also pointed out that the Browns may use this excess in cap space to keep players on their own team. The Browns have already extended guard John Greco and long-snapper Christian Yount. These names won't capture national headlines, but it's a start.
"We are entering a phase in which we have a lot of players who are in their second and third year who could be very good players. They still have to develop and we’ll see how good they are," Banner said. "We’re entering a period in which it’s going to be a flat cap for a while. We want to be in a position, if those players or some of them turn out to be as good as we hope, we would have the cap room to focus our future signings on our players and have some continuity and really develop a core of players that are young and will be together for a long time."
There are 10 projected starters who fit the category of being in their second and third years. The Browns have two other starters, center Alex Mack and safety T.J. Ward, who are set to become free agents at the end of the year. Cornerback Joe Haden will hit free agency the following season in 2015.
Many will point to unused cap space as a sign that the team isn't committed to winning. But, if the Browns are able to keep that core of players together, it will show the decision-makers have had an eye on the future all along.