Managing the salary cap is difficult within the NFL. There must be a balance between retaining a team's best players and knowing when it is time to part ways. The teams that walk that fine line the best typically find themselves in contention for a Super Bowl. Teams use draft selections and traveled veterans as a way to add value. The Cleveland Browns are no exception. Value is king in building championship rosters, and as you'll soon see, Cleveland has several players who fit the billing.
In order to sign tight end Austin Hooper and right tackle Jack Conklin to lucrative contracts this offseason, the team had to find cheap, viable starters. On every championship roster, you'll find a number of salary cap bargains. Typically, these players are on their rookie contracts. Sometimes, they are signed in free agency to one-year prove-it contracts. So today we're going to dive a bit deeper into the Browns' roster to pinpoint the five players who present the biggest "value" for the franchise from a salary cap standpoint. We will be referencing Spotrac for all cap numbers, using each player's 2020 cap hit, and ranking them in order of value.
1.Baker Mayfield, quarterback
2020 salary cap hit: $9.01 million
Mayfield is a rhythmic thrower and the offense was not clicking under former head coach Freddie Kitchens last season. As a rookie, he set the league on fire throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His fiery style of play has drawn praise and criticism, including Nick Bosa's mock flag plant on Monday Night Football, across the globe.
New head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense should play to Mayfield's strengths. The offense calls for significant motion and misdirection. The quarterback thrives when rolling out of the pocket on play action opportunities. With an arsenal of offensive talent around him, the Oklahoma product should return to productivity in 2020 if the coaching staff remains true to their identity. Delusions of grandeur grounded last season's air attack. Relative to positional value, $9 million is a small price for a starting quarterback in today's NFL. The former No. 1 overall selection did a lot of talking prior to last season and it ended up in disarray for the franchise. He has opted to move silently through the shadows this offseason.
2. Nick Chubb, running back
2020 salary cap hit: $2.01 million
Cleveland had drafted Chubb in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft to initially back up Carlos Hyde. It did not take long for the team to realize that they had a special talent on their hands. The Georgia product's rise to a starter's role was swift. Over the past two years, he has averaged 5.08 yards per carry and has yet to miss a game.
Anyone convinced that Chubb might regress in 2020 is likely mistaken. The 24-year-old will be an important cog in Stefanski's new offensive scheme; a scheme which drew frustration from Stefon Diggs last season because the team was relying so heavily on the ground game. Chubb's skill set is perfect for a wide zone blocking scheme. He displays the speed, burst and supreme vision necessary to identify and attack gaps. Last season, he rushed for 1,494 yards and eight touchdowns on 298 carries.
3. Greedy Williams, cornerback
2020 salary cap hit: $1.47 million
Williams missed four games with a hamstring injury in 2019. Few starters, especially at a premier position like cornerback, can be found for under $1.5 million. The former second-round pick accumulated 47 tackles and two pass deflections in 12 games as a rookie. It is unclear how the LSU product might translate to Joe Woods's new defensive scheme opposite Denzel Ward. Historically speaking, the Tigers have done a supreme job of producing professionals in the defensive backfield.
The knock on Williams as a draft prospect was his unwillingness to tackle. Although inconsistent, he showed great improvement in that arena last season. If the pass rush can show improvement with Myles Garrett's return, it will only make Williams' job easier.
4. Larry Ogunjobi, defensive tackle
2020 salary cap hit: $2.38 million
Ogunjobi is entering his fourth season with the Browns. During that time, he missed three games. Despite recording 5.5 sacks each of the past two seasons, the 26-year-old took a step backward in 2019. The hope is that he returns to form along the interior defensive line. Sheldon Richardson, Andrew Billings, newly drafted Jordan Elliott and Ogunjobi are a solid collective of talent at the defensive tackle position.
Entering a contract year, Ogunjobi should be motivated to reach peak performance. He has trained with Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins every offseason since being drafted. Cleveland hired defensive line coach Chris Kiffin from the 49ers, which should provide the franchise with a wealth of pass rush knowledge.
5. Mack Wilson, linebacker
2020 salary cap hit: $752,201
The linebacker unit is the weakest on Cleveland's roster. There are some intriguing options competing for the team's starting roles, including Wilson. The Alabama product will earn less than $1 million this upcoming season after the team moved on from veterans Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey. He compiled 82 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one interception in what was primarily intended to be a reserve role.