Heading into the 2016 NFL Offseason, the Buffalo Bills will need to be creative with how they navigate through their salary cap situation. Last year, the Bills handed out over $130 million in total contracts to Jerry Hughes, Charles Clay, LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and Jerome Felton, in addition to a $95.1 million deal for Marcell Dareus. Now, Jim Overdorf will have his hands full as he looks to retain key free agents, as well as bringing in talent to improve the team.
According to the NFLPA Salary Cap Report, the Bills currently have 72 players under contract with $4.467 million in remaining salary cap space. Now, the salary cap is projected to rise again—projections have been anywhere from $150 million to $153.4 million—but the team is currently projected to be over the salary cap when the new league year begins on March 9.
The team can roll-over the unused $4.467 million in remaining cap space from 2015, which would bring their adjusted salary cap number to roughly $157.467 million. However, Buffalo’s top 51 contracts amount to $157.954 million, according to OverTheCap.com.
With important free agents of their own to re-sign such as Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito and Nigel Bradham, in addition to a handful of restricted free agents, let’s take a look at how the team can create enough room to make sure they can keep their own.
Savings: $12.9 million
Mario Williams was arguably the biggest free agent signing in Buffalo Bills’ history, agreeing to a six-year, $96 million contract in the 2012 offseason. After three incredibly productive seasons, his play took a step back under Rex Ryan last year and the team can’t justify eating his $19.9 million cap hit. Releasing Williams brings the Bills back roughly $13.3 million under the cap.
Savings: $3.9 million
Leodis McKelvin told the media he was willing to take a pay cut to stay with the Bills, but his play has been inconsistent at best. At this point, he’s the No. 4 cornerback on the depth chart behind Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey so it’s hard to justify paying anything over the league minimum for a bottom-of-the-roster player. McKelvin’s release gives the Bills about $17.3 million.
Savings: $1.775 million
Kraig Urbik took a pay cut last year and filled in when rookie John Miller went down with injuries, but the team can save $1.775 million with his release. They’d be wise to do so and find less expensive depth in the draft or on the street. Urbik’s release brings the total to $19 million.
Savings: $1 million
Jarius Wynn is a rotational base end at best, and isn’t an ideal fit for a 3-4 defense. He’s coming off of an injury that ended his 2015 season, so it’s best to move on and save $1 million, giving the Bills $20 million in cap room.
Duke Williams, Boobie Dixon, Chris Gragg
Savings: $675k, $1.15 million, $675k
These are minor moves, but none of these players were contributors in 2015 and would collectively save $2.5 million, giving Buffalo about $24 million in cap space.
Restructure Charles Clay’s Contract
The Bills were able to acquire Charles Clay last season by structuring his contract in a way that the Miami Dolphins couldn’t match.
Clay is due a $10 million roster bonus this year, so he’s set to count $13.5 million against the 2016 salary cap. The Bills could convert that roster bonus into a signing bonus that would be prorated over the remainder of the contract—essentially dividing the $10 million into four years and increasing the subsequent year’s cap hits by $2.5 million.
Converting Clay’s roster bonus to a signing bonus would save $7.5 million in 2016 cap space, giving the team about $31.5 million to spend.
Post June 1 Cuts
Depending on how free agency and the draft shakes out, the Bills may look to move on from Kyle Williams and the $16.3 million over two years remaining on his contract. If the Bills release Williams after June 1, they would save $6.5 million. Additionally, veteran safety Corey Graham has two years remaining on his deal for $9.45 million. If the Bills look to acquire a safety in the draft, releasing Graham after June 1st would save $3.675 million. This extra $10 million or so could be used for an extension for Stephon Gilmore in training camp.
How Much Salary Cap Space Will the Bills Need to Use?
Retaining left tackle Cordy Glenn should be the Bills’ No. 1 priority this offseason. Quality tackles are few and far between in the NFL and Glenn has proven himself worthy of a big contract. Looking at the top deals for left tackles, I’d place Glenn in the second-tier of linemen—below All-Pro talents like Tyron Smith, Trent Williams and Joe Thomas—but above the Jermon Bushrod’s, Eugene Monroe’s, and Will Beatty’s.
This means that he’ll command a contract that pays an average of about $10.2 million per year. Now, it’s important to remember that contracts can be structured in different ways so the team can account for different years. Based on the contracts given in recent years, I’ll project Glenn to receive a 5-year, $52.5 million contract with an $18 million signing bonus and $26.75 million in fully guaranteed money. Below is an example of how the deal can be structured to ease the hit on the 2016 cap—as the signing bonus is paid in cash upon signing, so both parties are happy.
Re-Sign Richie Incognito
Richie Incognito’s contract status will be interesting to see. He took a one-year, $1.3 million that could grow to $2.2 million had he met specific play-time incentives. Incognito returned and played better than ever, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 2 overall guard for the 2015 season. More importantly, Incognito seems to have changed from the “goof ball, prankster” label that got him blackballed by the league after the Miami Dolphins Incident.
As CBSSports.com’s Joel Corry noted, Incognito’s highest pay was $4.3 million per year in 2011, but should be able to command a deal just below the near $8 million per year of Baltimore Ravens guard Marshall Yanda.
Incognito’s play and personal change speak for themselves, but it will be interesting to see if he looks to take a competitive offer to stay with the only team that would give him a chance to play, or simply go to the highest bidder.
Restricted Free Agents
Tender: DT Stefan Charles, S Baccari Rambo, LB Ty Powell, OT Jordan Mills, TE MarQuies Gray
Let Go: WR Chris Hogan, DT Corbin Bryant