BUFFALO, N.Y. [WKBW] — When Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane spoke after the 2020 season had ended he told reporters not to expect any big splashes this offseason. Maybe that sentiment has changed now that three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt has become a free agent.
The former Texan will spark the interest of plenty of teams and rightfully so. For the Bills, Watt would bring a much needed pass-rushing threat while fitting the culture the front office has built.
Houston, I wanted you to hear this directly from me... pic.twitter.com/YqT3P6Lb6l— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 12, 2021
According to Draft Kings, the Bills have the third-best odds at landing the superstar free agent. So the question becomes — can the Bills afford Watt?
The Steelers (+400) are the favorite to sign J.J. Watt— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) February 12, 2021
(Market: CO/IL Only) pic.twitter.com/wUkR6zUrMm
The simple answer is yes, the Bills could afford to sign Watt, but it would require plenty of roster maneuvering.
Let’s start with what Watt’s potential salary cap could look like. Before he was released by the Texans, Watt was scheduled to make $17.5 million this season. The Bills can’t afford to pay him that, but Watt’s market value should be closer to $12 million than $17.5 million.
From a statistical standpoint, Watt’s production slipped a bit in 2020 but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a very valuable player. It sounds like Watt’s looking to join a team that can contend for a Super Bowl, which puts the Bills right into the conversation.
As for the Bills side of things, the team can free up significant cap space by releasing or restricting players like Mario Addison, John Brown, Vernon Butler, and Quinton Jefferson.
I have no idea where JJ Watt will land. I know the connections to GB and PIT but (in my opinion) the best fit is the Buffalo Bills.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 12, 2021
Moving on from Addison would save the Bills more than $8 million. Butler and Jefferson would each save the team around $7 million. It’s unrealistic to think the Bills would move on from all three of the aforementioned players, but if they want to pursue Watt, they’ll need to get creative.
It all comes down to Watt’s willingness to join a contender. Draft Kings lists the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Green Bay Packers, and the Bills as the three top suitors. Of the three, the Bills have the most cap flexibility, but that’s not saying much.
At the end of the day, the Bills can manipulate the cap and make this work. Whether or not that’s the smart thing to do depends on what Watt’s asking for.