2024 NFL Offseason: Buffalo Bills Salary Cap Update

02/18/2024
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It’s no secret that the Buffalo Bills enter the 2024 NFL League year in a challenging financial situation, but just how dire is it? Although many around the league expected the new media rights deals totaling $110 billion over 11 years to begin the first of many substantial yearly cap increases, the current projection of a $242.5M Salary cap for the 2024 season was only an $18M increase from 2023. As it currently stands, the Bills would be at $293.1M, or $50.6M over the salary cap if the season were to start today. This is the second largest amount over the projected 2024 cap figure in the NFL behind only the famously fiscally reckless New Orleans Saints. Some experts like Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com had initially projected a $30M+ increase nearing $255M. Although this number is relatively immaterial to most teams with plenty of cap space to maneuver, some—like the previously mentioned Saints, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, and our own Bills—are more impacted by 2024 coming in below the projected total.

Reading just that portion many prompt concern amongst the Buffalo faithful. Fortunately, Brandon Beane and his front office have a series of transactions available to them to bring that salary cap number back into an acceptable range by the required date of March 11th, 2024.

These transactions range from automatic must-dos to some much more painful and debatable moves. The first of the easier choices comes in the form of restructuring the existing contracts of players we fully expect to be on the roster in the next few seasons. A base salary restructure is a maneuver where a player’s salary is reduced down to the minimum with the remaining amount converted into an option bonus. These bonuses act like a signing bonus, which can be spread out over the remaining seasons of a contract, up to a maximum of five years. The biggest example is that of franchise quarterback Josh Allen, who can create $23.1M of cap space by restructuring his 2024 salary. Others like DT Ed Oliver can create $3.9M and G Connor McGovern can create $3.1M. Each of these three are very easy decisions, as they are young, healthy players who certainly will remain on the team moving forward. One of the more challenging decisions is that of WR Stefon Diggs. The extension that Diggs signed in 2022 actually just starts now; on one hand, this creates an opportunity to restructure that salary to create an additional $13.1M in cap space that would be very helpful to Beane’s offseason budget. On the other, Diggs’ deal is already tied to the Bills for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Restructuring it would virtually guarantee he remains on the Bills, for better or worse, for the next three seasons. This will be very interesting to monitor.

Contract extensions are another means through which Buffalo can create cap space while solidifying its future. Contracts often have large dwindling year salaries that can be restructured while adding on future years for additional security for both the player and the team. Some of the primary candidates for this kind of move would be LT Dion Dawkins, who would create up to $7.1M in cap space through an extension, and All-Pro Nickel CB Taron Johnson, up to $4.7M in cap space. Maybe the most interesting is trade deadline acquisition CB Rasul Douglas whose play was a revelation over the second half of the season. Douglas came in with a 2024 contract of $9M in bonuses and salary. An extension would not only lock him up as a Bill moving forward but also create up to $6.7M in cap space in doing so.

Bills’ 2023 Season Positional Group Reviews: Offensive Line

The most challenging group of players are those that either need to be released or approached for a pay cut. These are always sensitive matters in the highly competitive world of professional football, but franchises will approach players for a pay cut when they believe the amount of money they could save by releasing them is greater than the amount of money the player would receive on the open market. This creates a window where they will offer a number in the middle where the player receives security, often in the form of a guarantee of the reduced salary, while the team reduces its cap hit on the player for the season. Players who haven’t been on the team as long and don’t anticipate strong free agent markets will likely be cut, such as P Sam Martin ($1.35M cap space), CB Siran Neal ($2.88M), RB Nyheim Hines ($4.66M) and WR Deonte Harty ($4.06M) although I won’t be shocked if any of those four remain with the team on a lesser deal as the team holds a great deal of leverage. By far the most challenging discussions are those with established veterans such as C Mitch Morse ($8.5M), S Jordan Poyer ($5.72M), and CB Tre’Davious White ($6.07M). I fully expect all three of these players to be on the Buffalo roster in 2024, but each has a potential salary cap savings number tied to their release that at least makes the discussion worthwhile. Would the team go back to Morse, who had already agreed to a previous pay cut? Will they approach Poyer after he returned last year on a deal far below his market expectations? Will they broach the subject with a still rehabbing White, working back from his second season-ending leg injury in three years? These are the kinds of harsh realities that a competitive franchise has to face when building toward championship aspirations.

Although a few other transactions may come up, the team will have to weigh the potential benefits of restructuring them versus the lost flexibility in the future if they choose to move on. Two prime examples are the contracts of TE Dawson Knox ($6.02M) and IOL Ryan Bates ($2.15M). Both are in positions where they are financially locked to the roster in 2024, but restructuring them will remove the option to move on from them in future years. Will the draw of much-needed cap savings be too much? The same goes for a veteran returning from injury like LB Matt Milano ($2.37M) heading into his age 30 season. Maybe none are a more treacherous combination of tantalizing cap savings ($12.03M) and a crippling loss of flexibility than that of DE Von Miller. The veteran edge rusher’s deal is financially locked to the Bills for 2024, but as it currently stands, he could at least be moved on from in 2025, albeit painfully. If they were to be tempted by the $12.03M in cap savings in restructuring his deal, he would be locked into the Bills through at least 2025, with the earliest palatable out (2026) still being painful.

These are the types of challenging decisions that face Beane to keep the Buffalo Bills franchise competitive in 2024 while not sacrificing their options in 2025 and beyond. Although this offseason will likely be another filled with many bargain free agent additions and a few small ($5M-9M range) starting caliber additions, I expect fiscal responsibility to reign for the Bills throughout March’s league-wide spending spree.

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