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A View on How the Browns Will Deal with the Salary Cap Issues in 2012

Football Outsiders is out and doing Division by Division looks at the salary cap and how it affects each team around the league.

To see about the entire AFC North – click HERE

Here’s the Browns breakdown, and some of the background on how they think things will play out for the team.

Estimated Cap Space: Around $25 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (11): Mike Adams, Oniel Cousins, Phil Dawson, John Greco, Artis Hicks, Peyton Hillis, D’Qwell Jackson, Brad Maynard, Dimitri Patterson, Alex Smith, Steve Vallos

Restricted Free Agents (0): None

Franchise Tag Candidates: Last year, the Browns used the franchise tag on kicker Phil Dawson at a cost of $3.175 million in base salary. The new collective bargaining agreement has changed the calculation of the franchise tag, reducing the numbers across the board, but retained the “120 percent of the previous year’s salary” component that would make a second franchise tag for the 37-year-old Dawson worth $3.81 million in 2012.

Had Peyton Hillis not followed up his breakout 2010 season with a forgettable and injury-plagued 2011, he could have been a legitimate option for the running back franchise tender that is projected to be worth around $8 million. That is a steep price to pay for a running back with one season of good production, though. Retaining inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson may be a higher priority. Jackson bounced back from a pair of injury-shortened seasons to lead the Browns with 158 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2011. Franchising Jackson would cost the Browns nearly $9 million in base salary.

Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures:
Left guard Eric Steinbach missed the 2011 season with a back injury and is due $6.6 million in total compensation that could be cleared from the cap if he were released. At the very least, the Browns will seek to reduce Steinbach’s $8.3 million imprint on the cap. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas signed a seven-year, $80.5 million contract extension last August that included a $10.5 million base salary and $11.9 million cap number in 2012. Thomas’ base salary became fully guaranteed on February 9 and the Browns could possibly convert some of that into a signing bonus to reduce his 2012 cap number. Older veterans such as cornerback Sheldon Brown ($5.467 million cap number, $3.8 million in potential savings) and right tackl

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