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Browns are in favorable position to make up ground on division rivals

Mar 04, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

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The Morning Kickoff …

Division leaders, offseason edition: However they arrived at their unlikely partnership, Browns General Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine have to be the envy of the AFC North division.

At least in the month of March, that is.

Even though the application of the transition tag on center Alex Mack was a $10 million hit on their salary cap, the Browns have more cap room than any team in the division, fewer key free agents to re-sign, and fewer salary headaches in the foreseeable future.

What they don’t have is a franchise quarterback and a culture of winning. Oh, well.

Anyways, as teams prepare for the kickoff to free agency on March 11, here is a capsule look at the financial spreadsheet of the Browns and their division rivals.

Browns

Salary cap room: $47.351 million.

Unrestricted free agents: OL Oniel Cousins, PK Billy Cundiff, OG Shawn Lauvao, RB Willis McGahee, S T.J. Ward.

Restricted free agents: None.

Transition tag: C Alex Mack.

Released: LB D’Qwell Jackson.

Big salary cap numbers: LT Joe Thomas, $12.3 million; Mack, $10.039 million; CB Joe Haden, $8.927 million; LB Paul Kruger, $8.2 million; DE Ahtyba Rubin, $8.175 million.

Analysis: They have the most salary cap room but also the most needs. They may set aside a significant portion of cap room for new deals for core players such as Haden, TE Jordan Cameron, LB Jabaal Sheard, NT Phil Taylor and Rubin.

Baltimore Ravens

Salary cap room: $28.129 million.

Unrestricted free agents: OT Michael Oher, CB Cory Graham, WR Tandon Doss, WR Jacoby Jones, TE Ed Dickson, OT Eugene Monroe, DE Arthur Jones, DT Terrence Cody, LB Daryl Smith, S James Ihedigbo, S Jeromy Miles.

Restricted free agents: LB Albert McClellan.

Re-signed: TE Dennis Pitta.

Released: FB Vonta Leach, LB Jameel McClain.

Big salary cap numbers: DT Haloti Ngata, $16.0 million; QB Joe Flacco, $14.8 million; CB Lardarius Webb, $10.5 million; RB Ray Rice, $8.75 million; OG Marshal Yanda, $8.45 million.

Analysis: They have two seasons before Flacco’s cap number almost doubles to $28.5 million. Obviously, something will have to be done prior to the 2016 season. So the Ravens probably are pressed internally under a two-year window to return to the Super Bowl. An immediate concern is the future of Rice, who was arrested three weeks ago on a charge of assaulting his fiancée. A security video showed Rice dragging his fiancée out of an elevator in an Atlantic City, NJ, casino.

Cincinnati Bengals

Salary cap room: $30.364 million.

Unrestricted free agents: CB Brandon Ghee, RB Bernard Scott, DT Tank Johnson, P Zoltan Mesko, WR Brandon Tate, TE Alex Smith, OL Anthony Collins, OL Dennis Roland, OL Mike Pollak, DE Michael Johnson, LB Michael Boley, S Chris Crocker, S Taylor Mays.

Restricted free agents: WR Andrew Hawkins, LB Vincent Rey, WR Dane Sanzenbacher.

Big salary cap numbers: DT Geno Atkins, $9.0 million; CB Leon Hall, $8.7 million; DE Carlos Dunlap, $8.6 million.

Analysis: Bengals fans may be down on the team for failing to win a playoff game for the third consecutive post-season, but the franchise really is in a good cap and roster shape. The good news is that quarterback Andy Dalton still is operating under his rookie contract. The bad news is that Dalton has not proved he can lead the team to the next level. Coach Marvin Lewis has committed to Dalton for at least another season. Unless the Bengals surprise everybody in the draft, their immediate future hinges on Dalton.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Salary cap room: Minus $15.007 million.

Unrestricted free agents: RB Jonathan Dwyer, RB Felix Jones, RB La’Rod Stephens-Howling, WR Plaxico Buress, WR Jerricho Cotchery, WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE David Johnson, TE Michael Palmer, OL Rashad Butler, OL Guy Whimper, OL Fernando Velasco, OL Cody Wallace, DE Brett Keisel, DT Ziggy Hood, DT Al Woods, LB Jamaal Westerman, LB Stevenson Sylvester, S Ryan Clark, P Mat McBriar, LS Greg Warren, S Will Alllen.

Transition tag: LB Jason Worilds.

Big salary cap numbers: QB Ben Roethlisberger, $18.895 million; LB Lamarr Woodley, 13.59 million; CB Ike Taylor, $11.942 million; LB Lawrence Timmons, $11.816 million; S Troy Polamalu, $10.887 million; Worilds, $9.754 million; TE Heath Miller, $9.466 million; WR Antonio Brown, $8.47 million.

Analysis: They have a lot of work to do to get under the salary cap by March 11. They definitely will lose Sanders in free agency and there is speculation they may release Woodley. As long as Roethlisberger is healthy, they are a team to be reckoned with. But they don’t appear to be poised to make a quantum improvement from successive 8-8 seasons unless their draft is extraordinary. Did we mention they gave up their third-round draft pick to the Browns in a trade last year?

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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