Lackluster on-field performances have left the Cleveland Browns’ front office on the hook for millions of dollars in salary to fired coaches over the last decade. The sum is expected to grow even larger following Freddie Kitchens’ dismissal on Monday.
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The Browns fired Kitchens after just one season as head coach following a disappointing campaign. Cleveland had high expectations after acquiring superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason, but second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield regressed under Kitchens’ tutelage and the team finished the season with a 6-10 record.
While the Browns never publicized the financial details of Kitchens’ contract, most coaches sign multi-year deals when accepting an NFL team’s top job. As a result, Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam will likely be paying both Kitchens and the coach hired as his successor during the 2020 season.
The Browns did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.
The dual financial commitment would be the continuation of a costly trend for Browns management. The team was still paying Kitchens’ predecessor, Hue Jackson, through the 2019 season, despite the fact that he was fired in the early stages of the 2018 season.
The Browns paid him his full $4.75 million base salary for the 2018 season, even as he worked on the Cincinnati Bengals’ coaching staff, ESPN reported at the time. Jackson’s contract with the team ran through 2019.
Jackson was hired in 2016 to replace Mike Pettine, who was fired after amassing a 10-22 record over two seasons. The Browns fired Pettine with two years left on a contract worth $3.5 million per year, according to Crain’s Cleveland Business analysis.
Pettine's predecessor, Rob Chudzinski, was fired with more than $10 million left on his contract, while Pat Shurmur had $5.6 million left on his deal.
Crain’s estimated that the Browns owed more than $55 million in dead salary to fired coaches from 1999 through 2012.
While the Browns have dealt with a particularly high level of coaching staff turnover in recent years, they are hardly the only NFL franchise dealing with poor investments in the critical leadership role. Since coaching salaries tend to include partial or full guarantees, the decision to fire a head coach is made with the knowledge that teams will owe the balance of the deal.
Standard offset language in coach contracts can lessen the financial impact. In most cases, if a fired coach lands another job in the NFL or college football, their previous employer is only required to cover any difference in salary, rather than the full amount dictated in their original contract.