Browns fans looking forward to the off-season should be aware that it's not much better. This years team was very weak, yet believe it or not we have a good chance of losing four Pro Bowlers (or alternates).
Several good players have the ability to walk via free agency. The list includes
Travis Benjamin WR, Pro Bowl alternate
Tashaun Gipson, S, Pro Bowl alternate
Alex Mack, C, Pro Bowl
Johnson Bademosi, CB/special teams, Pro Bowl alternate
MItchell Schwartz, RT, starter
Craig Robertson, ILB, situational player.
If we lose Travis Benjamin we are going to be short our best big play wide receiver. The Browns have depth at wide receiver, but Benjamin is the only guy who is definitely better than average, unless you want to count on oft-suspended Josh Gordon. Certainly Benjamin's low salary made him a bargain this year.
Alex Mack is 99% likely to exercise his contract option and walk. On the other hand, the Browns will save 8 million dollars versus the 2016 cap. That's a lot of money for a center, and we will have enough to sign two capable starters for that kind of investment.
Face it, Alex Mack is a bad-ass, now back from last year's injury. He'll probably leave, and I wish him well.
Cameron Erving is experienced at center but he is going to have to develop quite a bit to replace anyone. Right now he is a miserably under-developed rookie.
Although Mitchell Schwartz does not get a great deal of press, he has been a valuable starter. It is not going to be easy to replace him, but having the money from Mack's contract may help.
Mitchell Schwartz doesn't get the love that Joe Thomas does and has never made the Pro Bowl, but like Thomas he has never missed a snap in his career. He's unbelievably tough, plays hurt and is a solid teammate. Such players don't grow on trees.
Johnson Bademosi would be a tough loss on Special Teams, although the Browns seem to be deep in this area. In particular, the Browns are stuck with Justin Gilbert who has not been able to play effective at cornerback, but he has been a very good special teams player, plus other capable gunners like Marlon Moore, Jordan Poyer and others.
Linebacker Craig Robertson improved at inside linebacker, but the Browns figure to add some additional talent at that position. Robertson is good but maybe not irreplaceable. Like other Browns positions the talent does not match the performance, with Nate Orchard, Chris Kirksey, Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger all seeming to have talent but being part of a bottom five unit.
But the big elephant in the room is Joe Haden, who gets a guaranteed $10 million dollars in 2016 as long as he continues to fail the concussion protocol. There may be a very costly injury settlement, and so maybe no salary cap relief once they manage to get rid of him. It's possible he may never again play for the Browns, while costing them the equivalent of two good starting players in terms of salary cap.