These Business Decisions Await New Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski And His Future Gm Partner

The future of Kareem Hunt is among decisions that must be made soon by the new Browns' football operations department. (Rob Lorenzo)

The future of Kareem Hunt is among decisions that must be made soon by the new Browns' football operations department. (Rob Lorenzo)


You must have an active subscription to read this story.

Click Here to subscribe Now!

Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Now that their coaching search is over, the Browns will soon get back to the business of football.

Kevin Stefanski will be introduced at a FirstEnergy Stadium press conference at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Immediately thereafter, he can dive into assembling his coaching staff.

Stefanski also will sit in on interviews with prospective GM candidates.

Interviews have been lined up so far with Andrew Berry, the Philadelphia Eagles vice president of football operations and former Browns personnel executive; and George Paton, Minnesota Vikings vice president of player personnel/assistant GM.

Once the new front office is set and Stefanski has his staff in place, evaluations must be made on veteran players with upcoming contract issues.

The 2020 league year begins on March 18. So it’s not too early to discuss players whose contracts are up and some whose contracts pose future decisions.

(Contract information courtesy of overthecap.com.)

Unrestricted free agents

Linebacker Joe Schobert: The quarterback of the defense turned into one of the finest draft picks of the first Paul DePodesta Analytics Era. A fourth-round pick, No. 99 overall in 2016, Schobert was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2017 and made an alternate this year. He had his best season in his contract walk year (133 tackles, four interceptions, nine passes defensed, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery). Schobert also mentored rookie Mack Wilson into a competent starter. Not re-signing Schobert by now is a puzzler. Perhaps the sticker shock of the new contract for Carolina’s Shaq Thompson ($54 million/four years) was a factor.

Wide receiver Rashard Higgins: Baker Mayfield’s security blanket in the quarterback’s rookie year was given the second-round tender of $2.025 million prior to his third season as a restricted free agent – clear indication he was in good standing entering the 2019 season. Then he fell into Freddie Kitchens’ doghouse and never got out. A knee injury in Game 1 kept him inactive for four games. Then he had two receptions over the final 10 games, including a game-winning TD against Buffalo.

Left tackle Greg Robinson: A favorite of GM John Dorsey played 2019 under a one-year prove-it contract for $7 million in salary and bonuses. What he proved was it was time for the Browns to upgrade the left tackle position.

Restricted free agent

Running back Kareem Hunt: Despite a pending NFL suspension that turned out to be eight games, Dorsey signed his former Chiefs draft choice to a one-year deal for $645,000 plus about $200,000 in earned roster bonuses. Dorsey was almost a life coach in assisting Hunt’s ongoing therapy from an off-field assault of a woman caught on video. Once reinstated for the ninth game, the 2017 NFL rushing champion was a dynamic and selfless addition to the offense. The Browns can restrict Hunt’s departure in free agency by giving him a contract tender that would guarantee draft choice compensation. The options are first-round tender ($4.66 million), second-round ($3.278 million) or original round, which was third round for him ($2.144 million).

Players under contract

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.: When Beckham declined to refute speculation of wanting to play elsewhere, Dorsey assured him he wouldn’t be traded. That’s when Beckham said, “I’m not going anywhere.” With Dorsey gone, however, the analytics regime might reconsider making Beckham a one-and-done Brown. In the third year of his five-year, $90 million deal inherited from the Giants, $12.79 million of Beckham’s $14 million base salary becomes guaranteed on March 12. That would seem to be an artificial deadline to explore a trade, if the Browns are so inclined. There would be no salary cap charge in doing so.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon: The other big-ticket item acquired from the Giants by Dorsey enters the last season of his five-year, $85 million contract. His guarantees are gone and there would be no cap charge in parting ways. Otherwise, Vernon’s $15.25 million salary would be tops on the team.

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry: Perhaps Dorsey’s best trade acquisition, his $13 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on March 22. It’s the last contract guarantee in his five-year deal, which enters Year 3.

Linebacker Christian Kirksey: His 2019 season ended with a pectoral muscle injury after just two games. His 2018 season ended after nine games with a hamstring injury. With guarantees expired in his four-year contract, trading or releasing him would result in a $2.4 million cap charge.

Defensive end Myles Garrett: Cleared to return to the team facility in December during his indefinite suspension for clubbing Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph with his own helmet, reinstatement appears to be a mere formality after a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell sometime after the Super Bowl. Entering his fourth season, the Browns have a May 2 deadline to exercise Garrett’s fifth-year option in 2021 at a cost estimated to be $16.3 million.

Tight end David Njoku: Another member of Kitchens’ doghouse, he has a fifth-year option decision pending May 2. Estimated cost: $6 million.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield: How important is 2020 to him? After the 2020 season, he is eligible for a new contract, or the Browns could merely exercise his fifth-year option in May of 2021.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson: More than half of his $11.9 million base salary -- $6.5 million – becomes fully guaranteed if on the roster March 20.

Cornerback T.J. Carrie: The guarantees in his four-year contract are done. In the third of a four-year deal, he’s scheduled to have a base salary of $6.75 million. Trading or releasing him would result in a cap charge of $1.8 million.

Right tackle Chris Hubbard: Entering his third year (in a five-year contract) for a base salary of $6.175 million, his guarantees are up. Trading or releasing him would cost a cap charge of $2.4 million.

Strong safety Morgan Burnett: A favorite of the neutered Packers Alumni in the personnel department, he ended the season with an Achilles tendon injury. His second year is worth a $2.5 million base salary. A roster bonus of $625,000 is paid on March 20.