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How the Cleveland Browns benefitted from the NFL franchise tag deadline

The Cleveland Browns enter free agency with a plethora of appealing players available following Tuesday's deadline for teams to apply the franchise tag.

CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from Jan. 20, 2021.

NFL teams had until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday to apply the franchise tag to pending free agents. And while the Cleveland Browns, as expected, ultimately didn't opt to use any of their available designations, they did walk away from the deadline as one of the league's big winners.

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With the league's salary cap falling from $198.2 million in 2020 to $182.5 million in 2021 as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, teams seemed more hesitant to use the franchise tags, which places a one-year tender on a player with a salary equaling the average of the top five salaries of that player's position. While nine teams did use the franchise tag on Tuesday, many chose not to, bulking up the upcoming free agency class.

While that would seemingly benefit most teams in the league, that's especially true for the Browns, who currently possess the ninth-most cap space in the NFL at $24,866,244, according to OverTheCap.com. Furthermore, Cleveland is clearly in acquisition mode, looking to build on last season's 11-5 record and run to the AFC divisional round.

"We always want to be known as an aggressive front office," Browns general manager Andrew Berry said last week. "We have enough flexibility to adjust and maneuver as is appropriate. If there is a player who we think has the right value, I think we have the capability to be aggressive in pursuit. I also think we are fortunately in a position this offseason with what we have on the current roster and the overall resources, not just in terms of cap dollars and picks, where we can be very selective and also allow things to come to us."

While the New Orleans Saints' decision to franchise tag safety Marcus Williams and the New York Jets doing the same with safety Marcus Maye took two of Cleveland's potential targets off the board, many more impending free agents who would seem to make logical fits for the Browns were left untagged. Those players include:

  • Edge Carl Lawson (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • S John Johnson III (Los Angeles Rams)
  • Edge Shaquil Barrett (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
  • CB William Jackson III (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • S Anthony Harris (Minnesota Vikings)
  • Edge Trey Hendrickson
  • Edge Yannick Ngakoue (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Edge Matthew Judon (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Edge Romeo Okwara (Detroit Lions)
  • Edge Melvin Ingram III (Los Angeles Chargers)
  • Edge Haason Reddick (Arizona Cardinals)
  • Edge Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh Steelers)

With Cleveland is likely to prioritize its defense in the weeks ahead, the number of available difference-makers certainly stands out. That certainly rings true at Edge/defensive end, a position where talented players -- especially young ones -- don't often hit the open market.

This year, however, will be different, at least in part because of the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. And following Tuesday's franchise tag deadline decisions, the Browns find themselves positioned even better than they were previously heading into the start of free agency on March 15.


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