After seeing how the 2015 season played out, there is little doubt that everyone involved with the Buffalo Bills came away disappointed. The team avoided a losing record for the second straight season, but, missed out on the playoffs despite having an immensely talented roster.
With the 2015 season being just a memory, it’s time for the Bills to get their ducks in a row for a playoff push in 2016 — and to do so, they need to execute the offseason in an optimal way. They’ve got plenty of difficult decisions to make and unlike most years in recent memory, the Bills are not in an ideal position as far as the salary cap is concerned.
Fans that want the Bills to spend frivolously in free agency will be left disappointed if the Bills get their way. General manager Doug Whaley wasn’t kidding around when he implied that their offseason would be all about retaining their own, because, well, that’s all they have the room for with some key free agents on the horizon.
So, how do they attack the offseason? With the help of Spotrac.com, yours truly takes a look at a pragmatic approach to the offseason for the Bills. First, a look at where their current cap standing is at the moment:
2016 Projected NFL Salary Cap: $154,000,000
Bills Top 51 contracts (as of 1/15/16) for 2016 + dead money: $156,903,117
Bills Salary Cap room (as of 1/15/16) for 2016: -$2,903,117
So, where do they go from here? Here’s the blueprint, with a running cap number as we go:
***All the figures are approximations, not official
1) Clear cap room, and a lot of it, by releasing players
- The Bills will have to eliminate some players from their roster rather than just Mario Williams. However, Williams is clearly the biggest fish, and by releasing him the Bills would save $12.9 million on the 2016 cap. His days are numbered with the Bills. From there, the Bills have some options, but the main players to keep an eye on are three others: cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Corey Graham, and running back Boobie Dixon. McKelvin has one year left on his contract, and if they released him, they would save $3.9 million. Graham was a below average starter for the Bills in 2015, and there wasn’t a huge difference between him and the much cheaper Bacarri Rambo. If Aaron Williams can return, using Rambo or a draft pick as a starter makes much more sense, and they would save $2.675 million by releasing him. Dixon’s release seems like an obvious choice, as the special teams only player would save the team $1.15 million if they release him. It also should go without mentioning, but, the Bills should void Percy Harvin’s contract and collect the $2 million cap hit back into their kitty. So, if the Bills release Williams, McKelvin, Graham, Dixon, and void Harvin’s final two seasons, where would they be with at the cap?
2016 Running Cap Room Total: $19,721,883
2) Restructure Kyle Williams
- Some will campaign for Williams to be released outright, but, I’m skeptical for a few reasons. First, when healthy, he was one of the best players on the team over the last three seasons, regardless of position. Second, after his injury, the Bills have always sounded like a team that would bring him back in 2016. And third, he is quite highly regarded in the organization, and at the very least, will get the summer to prove that he can bounce back from his injury. So, with the premise that he’ll be with the Bills in 2016, they can save a little bit by restructuring his contract. If they were to reduce part of his $6 million base salary and bring it down to, say, $2 million, that would convert the other $4 million into a signing bonus that they could stagger over the final two years of his contract. That, would save the Bills $2 million on this year’s cap, and in turn, heighten his cap number in 2017 to $10.3 million. Even still, they could get out from under it and save $7.8 million on the 2017 cap by releasing him — but they would cross that bridge when they get there. So, with the Williams’ restructure, the Bills would sit at:
2016 Running Cap Room Total: $21,721,883
3) Allot money for 2016 NFL Draft
- This is a given, but, it needs to be factored in for how flexible the Bills could be with the salary cap this offseason. In 2014, the full Bills draft class was just a shade under $7 million, and with inflation over the last two years, setting out $8 million would make the most sense for cap purposes. It’s better than it used to be, but it’s still a big chunk of what the Bills are looking at this offseason.
2016 Running Cap Room Total: $13,721,883
4) Sign key RFAs to their tenders
- The Bills have a few restricted free agents that contributed quite a bit to their cause in 2015, so it would be in their best interest to get all of them under contract for one final year before they hit unrestricted free agency in 2017. That list includes: Corbin Bryant, Bacarri Rambo, Ty Powell, Chris Hogan, and Jordan Mills. Stefan Charles would also be a consideration here. For the cap, that would cost the Bills approximately $3.5 million, taking additional money off the cap from them.
2016 Running Cap Room Total: $10,221,883
5) Re-sign Richie Incognito
- This will be the first priority, because it should be the easiest contract to get done. The Bills value Incognito quite highly, and due to his age, that really limits just how big the contract can get. If you look at a guard contract from last offseason, take Mike Iupati for example, his base salary averaged $8 million over his four years. So, considering Incognito’s age and playing ability, a two-year, $14 million contract with a higher cap hit in 2017 makes sense for both sides. For the sake of this article, let’s put his cap numbers at $5 million in 2016, and $9 million in 2017. That brings us to:
2016 Running Cap Room Total: $5,221,883
6) Re-sign Cordy Glenn OR re-sign Nigel Bradham, not both
- Unless the Bills shed some additional cap room in the form of other players being released, getting both Glenn and Bradham under contract, with the types of contracts they’ll command on the open market, doesn’t appear to be a logical option. Glenn is the priority here, because of the position he plays, how well he’s played, his potential at the position, and the style of the offense. Two contracts were signed by left tackles in the 2015 offseason that could give a range to keep an eye on. Washington re-signed Trent Williams to a five-year, $68 million deal ($13.6M per year average), while Indianapolis signed Anthony Castonzo to a four-year, $43.8 million contract ($10.953 per year average). Glenn doesn’t have quite the accolades as Williams, but is a better player than Castonzo, so with inflation to 2016, he’ll likely be closer to Williams’ contract, with a 5-year, $64 million deal ($12.8 million per year average) being well within reason. For Bradham, he could make more than many would expect. Bradham, considering his age and playing ability, could be in line for a contract along the lines of a five-year, $30 million deal. To help the Bills, both contracts would likely give them a break on the 2016 cap number, and for the sake of the article let’s put Glenn at $9 million, and Bradham at $4 million. However, with how little cap room they have to work with as it is, re-signing both would be a luxury that they may not have.
2016 Running Cap Room Total with a Glenn re-signing: $-3,778,117
2016 Running Cap Room Total with a Bradham re-signing: $1,221,883
7) If they re-sign either Glenn or Bradham, restructure Charles Clay
- The Bills could choose to do this even if they don’t sign one of those two players just to have some money to play with in free agency. However, it would be imperative if they could get one of those two under contract… with the priority being with Glenn before Bradham. Clay signed a contract that is not at all team friendly, and has a $13.5 million cap hit in 2016. The majority of that — $10 million, in fact — is a roster bonus that will give them a great deal of temporary relief, but make life harder over the final three years of his contract. If they converted the $10 million roster bonus into a signing bonus, that would potentially reduce his 2016 cap number by $7.5 million. The drawback, though, is that under those same terms, Clay would carry a $9 million cap hit over the final three years of his contract (2017-2019). That isn’t an ideal scenario, but drastic times call for drastic measures. If they couldn’t re-sign Glenn and got Bradham instead, they would have some wiggle room to add a middle-tier free agent or two to help the depth of the roster.
2016 Running Cap Room Total with a Glenn re-signing: $3,721,883
2016 Running Cap Room Total with a Bradham re-signing: $8,721,883
8) The 2016 NFL Draft strategy
- Without the financial resources to get an impact defender in free agency, the team’s first-round draft pick will be their most valuable asset to add that player to the roster. At 19th overall, the Bills will still be able to find a starter at one of their positions of need, whether it be a pass rushing linebacker, a safety, an inside linebacker, or a five-technique defensive end. Then in the second and third rounds, the Bills should once again add to the defensive side of the ball, but also keep an eye on offense at three key positions: quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive tackle.
9) Keep an eye on some potential post-camp cuts
- The Bills could save some additional cap room in 2016 if a few players get outplayed through the summer. Since it would be after camp, they would be considered post-June 1 releases, which would push some dead money into 2017 while saving the Bills more in 2016. Three players that could save the Bills the most room would be safety Aaron Williams ($3.675 million), kicker Dan Carpenter ($2.5 million), and fullback Jerome Felton ($1.65 million). The Bills wouldn’t have to cut the players for financial reasons in 2016, but, if they don’t warrant the rather lofty contracts that they have in 2016, the Bills shouldn’t hesitate.
10) Make the playoffs
- No pressure or anything.
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