Salary cap consequences if Bills cut McCoy

Posted at 2:52 PM, Feb 09, 2016

On the first official day of the offseason, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy found himself in hot water. After a reported incident allegedly involving McCoy at a Philadelphia nightclub that resulted in the hospitalization of two off-duty police officers, the situation is still quite new and there are plenty of information that needs to be unveiled.

The best course is to let the situation play out and not jump to conclusions, or to assume guilt. That cannot be stressed enough.

However, if McCoy had a prominent role in the alleged incident, it is fair to wonder what it would mean for the Bills on the field. And, if his term with the Bills were to be cut short, what that would mean to the franchise from a financial perspective?

As it stands today, McCoy is signed for the next four seasons with the Bills with cap hits of $7.675 million in 2016, $8.875 million in 2017, $8.95 million in 2018, and $9.05 million in 2019. His base salary for the upcoming season is $4.8 million, and $2.5 million of that is already guaranteed to him.

When the new league year starts at 4 pm on March 9, the remainder of the 2016 base salary will become fully guaranteed.

So, now that you have the basics of his contract, what are the Bills’ options if the worst possible outcome happened with McCoy, and they elected to cut ties with the running back?

Basically, they have two options:

Option A: Cutting McCoy before March 9, 4:00 pm
- This option would get McCoy off the books for every season after 2016, so for the long-term, it would be beneficial. Due to remainder of his prorated signing bonus, and the already guaranteed portion of his salary, that would drive his cap hit — if released before the date and time listed — above what his cap hit would have been if he were just on the roster this season. The nuts and bolts:

New 2016 Salary Cap Hit: $13 million

The Bills would lose: $5.325 million in additional cap space in 2016

The benefit: The Bills wouldn’t be on the hook for the additional $2.3 million in base salary, and they would have his contract totally off the books after the 2016 season.

The damages: In a year that the Bills are really tight to the salary cap, adding an additional $5.325 million just to get McCoy off the books, and to save $2.3 million in cash, would harm them from a perspective of not having a lot of flexibility in the offseason to re-sign their own free agents.

Option B: Cutting McCoy after March 9, 4:00 pm
- Doing this has an initial drawback, because the remainder of McCoy’s 2016 base salary ($4.8 million) becomes fully guaranteed. However, waiting until after the start of the new league year has its benefits, because then they could potentially use the post-June 1 designation on McCoy. That designation would allow the Bills to push the remaining prorated amounts from 2017 through 2019 on to the 2017 salary cap, allowing short-term relief. The details:

New 2016 Salary Cap Hit: $7.425 million

The Bills would save: $250,000 on the 2016 salary cap

The benefit: This would uphold what little flexibility the Bills currently have for the 2016 salary cap by not adding the additional $5 million-plus on the cap that they would have by releasing him immediately.

The damages: Using the post-June 1 designation on McCoy would give short-term relief, but would pack an additional cap hit for McCoy in the 2017 season. That cap hit for 2017 would be a total of $7.875 million.

If it comes to that, what's the optimal course of action for the Bills?

- Given the lack of cap space that the Bills have for 2016 as it is, if the worst possible scenario happened with McCoy, it would likely make the most sense to wait for the start of the new league year in the NFL, and use the post-June 1 designation detailed in Option B.

However, there is a long way to go before this conversation should become a real one. The situation must be allowed to play itself out.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia