In March 2014, the New England Patriots and free agent cornerback Brandon Browner agreed on a three-year, $12.35 million contract. Browner, after missing the first four weeks of the regular season due to a suspension, quickly became a starter opposite All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and helped the Patriots field one of the better secondaries in the NFL.
Browner gave the Patriots' defensive backfield a physical edge and was an integral part in the team's Super Bowl win after a) successfully covering Chris Matthews, after the Seahawks' receiver took advantage of smaller defensive backs Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan, and b) orchestrating a textbook jam on wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to give Malcolm Butler a free lane on his game-winning interception.
With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, it is time to turn our attention to the future, which holds a $2.0 million roster bonus – due on March 10; the first day of the 2015 league year – for Browner. Will he get paid, though?
The Patriots have some tough decisions to make this offseason; they potentially have to restructure the contracts of Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Danny Amendola as well as re-sign pending free agents Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski (among others). To do so, the team needs cash, and might view Browner's contract as a source of it.
Browner will hit the Patriots' 2015 salary cap with $4.8 million, the ninth highest cap hit on the team. Due to the structure of his contract, releasing the 30-year-old prior to the day he receives his roster bonus (March 10) would result in the Patriots saving $4.8 million as the contract does not include any guaranteed money. However, Browner's role on the defense and the lack of a viable replacement make such a move unrealistic, no matter the cap savings.
A more realistic scenario is that the Patriots opt to restructure or even extend Brandon Browner in order to save some money in 2015. One possibility to do so, is converting Browner's roster bonuses (he also is due to receive $2.0 million on the first day of the 2016 league year) into a signing bonus, which can be spread out over the remaining years of the contract. Since the current deal is heavily incentive-laden, adding some guarantees – like a signing bonus – might work as a sweetener to get Browner to agree to a restructure. In turn, the team could then also lower his $1.9 million 2015 salary. Depending on a possible restructure or extension, the Patriots might save more than $1.5 million in 2015 cap space (according to patscap.com's Miguel Benzan).
On the list of the Patriots' offseason priorities, Brandon Browner's contract is not near the top. However, with a $2.0 million roster bonus due next month, the team might opt to re-do the deal in a way that creates immediate cap space and thus more flexibility for the franchise.
What would you do with Brandon Browner's contract? Restructure or extend, or even release him? Or would you just leave it the way it is?