Looking at the Buffalo Bills Salary Cap Tweet
Each week I am going to try to do a cap overview of the other teams in the division and so we will start with the Buffalo Bills.
Per my estimates the Bills currently have 54 players under contract in 2013, the top 51 of which should account for about $109.7 million towards the salary cap with another $1.9 million on the books for dead money on the year. This includes a not likely to be earned incentive for George Wilson that I believe will count towards the salary cap in 2013 since his playing time is so high. That would place the Bills with about $9.3 million in cap space once the new league year begins. The Bills should be able to carry over around $9.8 million from 2012 to come into the league year with $19.1 million in cap room. John Clayton reported $20.6 million which probably does not include the Wilson incentive, but Id say its safe to estimate that $19-21 million is the correct range as of today.
A number of Bills have escalators in their contracts that may have been earned in 2012. These players include Alex Carrington, CJ Spiller, Eric Wood, George Wilson, and Kyle Williams. I would just based on draft status alone that Spiller, Carrington, and Wood will earn their escalators which should eat into the cap room and increase the cash spending for the team by just over $3.5 million. Wilson plays enough to where should earn an additional $900,000 escalator as well to bring the total to $4.4 million. Williams is a higher talent player and likely needed a Pro Bowl to earn his escalator. The team will also need to account for draft picks which will eat up a few million in cap space. The first two picks should take up $2.4 million once you account for players they replace, so the real number for Buffalo is probably going to be closer to $14 million in spending room once all is said and done.
Now whenever you talk about the Bills you also need to talk about cash budgets and cash spending as most years that is their limiting factor. The Bills try to match their cap and cash spending and right now my estimates have them at around $90.6 million in cash spending. Their first two draft picks should cost the Bills $9,572,924 in bonus money, plus those additional escalators and we are really closer to $104 million in real money even if it does not yet show on the books. The question is will that be enough for Buffalo to work with? The League now mandates that a team spend 89% of the cap over a 4 year period, which for this season will be around $107.6 million. Will that be the Bills target or will they aim for 89% of their adjusted cap which will bump the figure to $116.6 million? Will they simply aim for the adjusted cap figure? That answer is really important when you try to forecast the Bills plans. The Bills have a number of free agents that they will likely want to re-sign which will potentially make the team need to trim those cap figures. Right at the top of the list is S Jairus Byrd. Byrd is arguable the best safety in the NFL which means he is in line to match the 5 year $40 million dollar contract received by Eric Weddle of the Chargers. Weddle received $14 million in compensation in the first year of the contract. Both of those numbers are likely going to be too high for Buffalo this season so I would expect them to use the franchise tag for $6.478 million on him. That will save Buffalo on their cash budget which may be more important to them. Andy LeVitre is one of the better Guards in the NFL which should mean a deal worth between $6 and $7 million a year. Leodis McKelvin may have a future in Buffalo as well as some other secondary tier free agents the team has. I think the point here is that the team needs to do some work in order to make sure they have the ability to keep their free agents they need to keep as well as improve a bit in free agency. So here are some of the options:
I would think the first move would be the release of DE Chris Kelsay. The Bills have far too much money invested in their defensive front and Kelsay is the least important of all of them. Last year Kelsay produced all of 14 tackles and 2 sacks and is set to count for $4.975 million against the salary cap, of which $4.575 million is due in cash. His dead money is minimal and will save the team $4.175 million in cap room. He has a bonus due on the 7th day of the league year so expect him to be released quickly.
WR Brad Smith should either be released or have his contract renegotiated. His cap charge of $3.75 million ranks 11th on the club but he only plays about 30% of the teams offensive snaps and has less than 300 offensive yards for the team. He did have one kick return for a score, but I would think the money would be better allocated to keeping McKelvin, who is the better return guy and has more upside, than keeping Smith. Releasing Smith would free up $2.75 million in cap room and $3.25 million in cash. At the least I would think they should bring his base salary down from $2.75 million to around $1 million, which is more in line with what he would earn if he was released. His $500,000 roster bonus is due the third day of the league year.
CB Terrence McGee agreed to a paycut this past season and is basically finished. He has had a long career and it might be time to retire a Bill. Releasing McGee saves the Bills $2.1 million in both cash and cap charges.
DE Mark Anderson was a poor signing from the start, IMO, overpaying off one year and ignoring the general history of the player. Anderson was ineffective for a small part of the year and injured for most of it. While I do not have the specifics of Anderson’s contract in terms of due dates I believe the only part of his contract that was guaranteed was his signing bonus and his 2012 base salary. He has an option due in 2013 for $1.5 million and I cant see any reason to pick that number up. If they pick up the bonus Anderson will cost the Bills $4.5 million in cap and $4 million in cash. Releasing him before the option should save the team all of the cash charges. While it creates no cap room what it does is move Anderson off the books for 2014 when the Bills will need to be spending to extend players like Spiller. If you wait until 2014 you will carry $4 million in dead money for no good reason.
Like Anderson, releasing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick offers little in terms of cap relief (only $450,000) but the cash relief is significant. Fitzpatrick was a signing that never made any sense other than from the standpoint of trying to send a good message to the fans about the teams pocketbook. The problem is that he is a journeyman QB being paid average starter money. Cutting him frees the team of a $7.45 million burden on the books in 2013. More importantly it gets him off the cap sheets in 2014, where he would carry a $7 million dollar dead money charge.
Now all of that being said, cutting Fitzpatrick does leave the Bills with no QB on the roster so cutting him is contingent on them having another option in place for the team prior to the draft. Fitpatrick is due a $3 million dollar roster bonus on the 2nd day of the league year so the Bills cant wait to see what happens in the draft. Fitzpatrick, if he could count down on turnovers, is serviceable and might be able to also tutor a young player. Before releasing Fitzpatrick it is probably worth sitting down with him and coming to an agreement on a more realistic salary for him. If I am the Bills I am using that $7 million dead money charge in 2014 as my bargaining chip. I am telling his side that if we are going to possibly have that money hanging over our head we need significant cap relief in 2013 to balance it out. I would think bringing his cash number down to a fully guaranteed $3 million is more than what he would make in free agency and be a fair mark for both sides. On his original deal he made $3.22 million in 2011 so the figure should be fair. Such a move saves the Bills $4.45 million in both cash and cap.
All in all if the Bills were to release all of those players the cap savings would be $9.475 million and the Bills would free up $21.375 million in cash for spending to improve the team. If they go the restructure route they will save even more in cap, somewhere around $12.5 million, and around $17.4 million in cash. That is more than enough to keep the free agents they want and maybe grab one or two more in free agency. While I don’t know nearly as much about the Bills performance as I would the Jets I do think that this is a team that provides an excellent example of why high reported cap figures in January do not always mean that a team can take it easy and sail into free agency.
I believe the Bills are similar to the Jets in that they are a team held back by the QB position. I would actually expect them to target similar players that the Jets might such as Alex Smith and Matt Moore and likely gauge interest before making a final decision on Fitzpatrick. Where they will likely have an advantage is that they should be able to clear up more money to spend and can point to a few better skill position players to the make the transition easier than it would be in New York. That makes this an intriguing offseason because I can see them going head to head in free agency on a number of positions both on offense and defense, where the Jets Defensive Coordinator is taking over.
My own opinion is that the Bills went way too deep on their defensive line last year completely throwing any analytical analysis out the window, but they can fix that with the release of Anderson and Kelsay. Mario Williams is overpaid but it is not as if he is not talented. He is a very good player he just never has been nor never will be the best defensive player in the NFL, which is how they paid him. You throw a decent QB in the mix and get your finances in order to bring in a better LB, CB, WR2, etc…and you have a team that is going to contend for the playoffs. If they are content with the status quo and chase the sunk costs in some of these other players they will likely be not much better than they were this previous season.