Nick Chubb Deal Done, Plenty Still to do for Browns
The Cleveland Browns and Nick Chubb delivered good news with the announcement of a three-year contract extension, but that is just the first item the team needs to get done this offseason to ensure the team's future if they want to call it a success. The Browns also want to get extensions done with Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward, plus have a handful of other young players in contract years the Browns could look to extend sooner than later.
It's fair to say the Browns have been relatively slow getting the ball rolling on a huge offseason of contract extensions. Chubb's deal was agreed to on the eve of the month of August. By contrast, Myles Garrett's extension was done in the middle of July last year and his was the only one they were trying to get done.
Chubb embodies everything the Browns aspire to be, so rewarding him with a contract looks great both within the locker room and outside of it. The team also wanted to knock out his deal so they could get a more accurate look at the salary cap.
It's not as if Chubb's deal would determine whether the Browns would pursue contract extensions with Mayfield and Ward, but it might alter how they structure those deals financially. In other words, which years they pay them more than others.
Chubb's three-year $36.6 million deal could have an impact on how the Browns pursue deals with players like right guard Wyatt Teller, safety Ronnie Harrison and tight end David Njoku, all of which are in contract years.
It will definitely have an impact on fellow running back Kareem Hunt. The recent deals the Browns have signed have escalated to go along with a growing salary cap. Should Chubb's deal have a relatively low salary in 2022, it could enable the Browns to keep both backs for at least one more year. Hunt is set to earn $6.25 million that season.
If Chubb's deal has him earn a significant salary in 2022, it could be more difficult to keep the duo together after the 2021 season.
With Chubb's deal done, the Browns can turn their focus to Mayfield and Ward. Even if the Browns and their respective agents have not gotten into the nitty gritty of contract details, no one is going to be surprised by the overall money involved. That should enable the Browns to be able to get these deals done relatively quickly as long as the players want to do it. They would just need to get together and iron out the details.
Reportedly, Ward's camp has had more conversations with the Browns front office than Mayfield's to this point.
Both Mayfield and Ward want to continue their careers in Cleveland, which certainly helps grease the wheels on a deal. So even as slowly as this process has taken to get started, the Browns could roll out these two extensions in the next week or two and suddenly be in great shape.
In that respect, Chubb getting his deal done could help. Mayfield and Ward are both under contract through 2022, so they could wait and potentially get more money as the salary cap for 2023 should rise significantly. However, they might be more inclined to make the same calculation Chubb did, going for certainty rather than potential.
"I don't like uncertainty and I know here in Cleveland what I have with the players and coaches, just the city of Cleveland. I don't know how would things would be anywhere else, so Cleveland's where I want to be and that's my main focus, being here in Cleveland." - Nick Chubb, June 15th
Not only certainty in terms of the team, but also with respect to money. A deal now guarantees those players generational wealth. Delaying that a year is easier said than done even if it's for a larger sum.
The Browns are in position to be a good team for the next few years, so particularly a player like Mayfield might be inclined to get a deal done now rather than later. His agent will try to get every dollar he can, but Mayfield would still be taking less overall by doing the deal now with the salary cap set to jump in 2023. There's an inherent risk if Mayfield were to get injured or play poorly that could reduce his value on a contract in 2022, though it didn't hurt Dak Prescott's earning power after a significant ankle injury.
Mayfield's no fool. Taking a deal now can be extremely lucrative and save the Browns money overall, which would allow the front office to put the most talent around him. Yes, he could wait and get more in another year or two, but he would then need to do more with less.
Mayfield wants to win. In almost every press conference, he makes a point of saying that winning is more important than anything, including himself. He's extremely competitive with an eye towards the Super Bowl.
It's certainly possible his competitiveness also extends to the financial aspect and is seeking to get the biggest deal of anyone, but he may view his endorsement deals as a way to make up for helping the team in their pursuit of the Super Bowl. After all, he's already proven to be a great pitch man and rings would only make him more valuable for years to come.
This calculation by Mayfield could come down to how much he trusts general manager Andrew Berry and the rest of the front office to put talent around him. Getting Chubb's deal done certainly doesn't hurt and Berry's track record to this point is impressive, not only adding talent, but coming up with creative and smart ways to pay for it. The Browns have become the envy of the league in terms of building their roster almost overnight.
Contract extensions with players like Teller, Harrison and Njoku will likely be more complicated. Beyond the decision on whether the Browns want to extend these players, the players and their agents have to make a calculation on their worth.
If they wait and play great, they potentially potentially enable a top of the line deal on the open market after the season. That deal would almost certainly be with another team as the Browns are not in a position to outbid other teams. Injuries, which all three of these players suffered just in the 2020 season, could make a drastic impact on their value.
The Browns could tag one of them, be it with the franchise or transition version, then work out a long term deal.
Like with Chubb, how much they like playing in Cleveland with the Browns will be a factor. Do they view this situation as a special one and want to keep this group together for the long haul? That certainty could make them amenable to a deal now.
Berry said he's not averse to potentially getting a deal done during the season. Of the three players, this seemingly would apply most to Njoku and Teller.
For Njoku, it's a matter of finally putting together all of the promise he's shown and becoming the star tight end the Browns were hoping for when they selected him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
With Teller, not only do the Browns want to see more from him, but they also have a player in Drew Forbes who might be ready to ascend to stardom in his own right. Teller was a revelation last year at right guard. He was as good as anyone in the entire league in the running game and became a weapon for the Browns offense, often the tip of the spear for the ground game.
Unfortunately, Teller also missed six games due to injury. He suffered a strained calf, which kept him out but has zero impact on his long term health. If Teller is intent on getting every dollar he can on the open market, the Browns could have his replacement on the roster in Forbes. Just like with Teller, the team wants to make sure Forbes is truly capable of stepping in should Teller leave.
If the Browns do extend Teller, Forbes could become the heir to Joel Bitonio's throne at left guard. Bitonio's current deal is set to end after 2022 while Forbes' rookie deal expires in 2023.
Ronnie Harrison might be the one the Browns want to get a deal done with the most. He fits everything they want in a player. Harrison turned 24 in April, came in and played at a high level after the Browns acquired him from the Jacksonville Jaguars last year and he's poised for a bigger year in 2021 with more help around him. This presents a unique opportunity to have three talented safeties locked up for at least two more seasons after this one.
John Johnson III's deal is extremely salary cap friendly (look at this deal now after seeing Chubb's reportedly deal) while Grant Delpit is on his rookie deal. In 2022, those two contracts add up to $11.81 million. If they structure a deal with Harrison that starts low and escalates, they can easily keep all three. It entirely depends on whether Harrison wants to be with the Browns for the long term.
After playing collegiately with Alabama, a team that is always competing for championships, winning two while Harrison attended, he started his NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that finished last in the AFC South with a combined record of 11-20.
After going to the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs with the Browns and reason to believe they can achieve more, Harrison may not be in a hurry to leave.
Unlike both Teller and Njoku, Harrison is the only player that doesn't have an obvious replacement. Yes, Delpit could step in and start, but if the Browns are intent on having three safeties that can regularly contribute as part of their defensive scheme under Joe Woods, the Browns do not have another safety that has proven they can step in and play. That might be another driving force in getting a contract extension done sooner than later with Harrison.
Chubb's deal is welcome news, but it is only the first item on a long to-do list if the Browns are truly going to be successful in ensuring the team's future. The best case scenario would see the Browns lock up both Mayfield and Ward as well as at least one of Teller, Njoku and Harrison before the start of the season.