The Cleveland Browns are in yet another offseason in which they've made a significant organizational change. Mike Pettine is the new head coach, Ray Farmer is the new general manager, there's no more CEO in Joe Banner and Alec Scheiner is the team president.
Farmer is the newest one to step into his role, though he was the assistant general manager a season ago. Still, he's got decisions to make and as Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal notes, one of his first is significant: What to do with inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.
Jackson is due a sizable $4 million roster bonus at the beginning of March, and the team will have to decide if they're going to keep him around. Jackson has been excellent for the Browns since being made a second-round pick in 2006, but the team doesn't have unlimited cap space and Jackson comes with some caveats.
The primary one being the fact that he's 31 years old. Sure, Jackson has been solid, and he's been a team player since coming to Cleveland, playing for multiple coaches in multiple defensive schemes, including 4-3 and 3-4 sets in which he was almost always a team captain.
As far as his actual production goes, he's been consistent throughout his career. Since putting up 101 tackles in 2007, he finished four of the next five seasons with more than 100, the only outlier being 2009, when he played in just six games due to injury. He had one of his better seasons in 2013, putting up 141 total tackles with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 1.5 sacks, seven passes defensed and an interception.
Jackson's total cap hit for 2014 would be $9.43 million, and while the Browns figure to have plenty of room to sign free agents and draft picks, they also don't want to have bad contracts on the books. Whether or not they think Jackson's contract is bad is anybody's guess, but it's an awful lot of money to be devoted to an aging inside linebacker.
Cleveland has about $24 million in salary cap space dedicated to linebackers in 2014, which isn't an unreasonable number. Jackson may have higher cap hits than some at the linebacker position (his cap hit ranks seventh in the AFC, as pointed out by ESPN), so this can rightly be considered one of the first big decisions Farmer will have to make. On one hand, the team has the space but on the other, there's precedent to be set and teams don't want to throw away $4 million.