We’ve already walked through the fantastical world of a hyped up offseason in What would a dream offseason look like for the Buffalo Bills?. Now, we want to step through what we predict Bills General Manager Brandon Beane actually will do.
You’ll still see a few familiar names from our Dream Offseason piece that I think very much make sense, but you’ll also see a more forward-looking view financially and a greater respect for the locker room leaders currently under contract.
First, let’s lay out some ground rules:
- This assumes the new CBA is agreed to and there is no “Final League Year” nonsense like the 30% rule. Based on new NFLPA President JC Tretter being elected after supporting the proposed CBA, that seems reasonable to assume.
- We’re going assume Brandon Beane plans long-term with money set aside for upcoming extensions, as well as the “just-in-case” fund he likes to have available each season for in-season injury replacements.
- We will be using Spotrac.com’s Free Agent Market Values as a contract baseline.
- We will be using The Draft Network Mock Draft Machine as a baseline for realistic options available at each Bills draft slot.
With that being said, let’s get on with the predictions.
As we did previously, we need a starting point of the existing Buffalo Bills roster. This shows the Bills’ 56 players currently under contract, including recent transactions of Exclusive Rights Free Agents Levi Wallace and Robert Foster. The Bills exercised the team option for Spencer Long, as well.
I am also projecting that we have retained Restricted Free Agent Isaiah McKenzie at the original round tender, which for him is the 5th round, which costs $2.144M. I also predict the Bills exercising the ERFA rights on Jason Croom as a camp-invite tight end.
This puts our starting point for salary cap space at $81.446M.
So many Bills fans’ offseasons have been spent perusing the roster for “which player is least painful to release to gain cap space”. Because of the record-setting dead cap hit Brandon Beane ate in 2018 to purge the roster of so many previous poor contracts, the Bills are in foreign territory. Beane’s savvy contract structuring and understanding of the cap have finally put Buffalo in a position to make football decisions and not financial ones. Unless there is a material signing at a position of importance, I do not anticipate any proactive releases from the roster at this time. There are certainly players who need to perform well in order to retain their spot, but no one Beane NEEDS to release just to create cap space.
As a reminder, the NFL uses a rule called the “Top 51” to track cap space. Since Buffalo already has 56 players under contract, and only the top 51 count, anyone added will have their contract added while removing the cheapest player off the bottom. As an example, signing a player to a one-year $2M contract removes the bottom player from Buffalo’s list, currently $514K, meaning it is a net impact of $1.486M instead of the full $2M. I will go through this exercise on each addition to keep an accurate running total.
Buffalo Bills Free Agents:
The next phase of this exercise takes us to the 19 players from the Buffalo Bills 2019 roster whose contracts have expired. I already spoke to the ERFAs and RFAs who were retained (Levi Wallace, Robert Foster, Jason Croom, Isaiah McKenzie). I also wrote in a previous piece about Free Agents who should be Re-Signed. Here, we value continuity that Head Coach Sean McDermott spoke to when mentioning it was important to bring back all the pieces we can and are re-signing five of the current free agents:
Re-Sign Shaq Lawson – 4 years – $30.75M
Shaq Lawson has been a valuable contributor along the defensive line. He has developed from a possible bust into one of the Bills’ best run defenders over his four years in the NFL. He even flashed a bit of pass rush ability this year with 6.5 sacks. I don’t know that there’s a ton of additional upside left, but at the projected numbers of $7.68M per season, that is a fair reward for his efforts without breaking the bank for Buffalo.
I project a $6M signing bonus with a first year salary of $3.75M guaranteed ($9.75M total cash guarantee in first year) – $5.25M cap hit in 2020 with three remaining years of $7M cash and $8.5M cap hit each year.
Shaq’s $5.25M cap hit replaces the $514K from Nate Becker for a net change of $4.736M
Updated Cap Space – $76.71M
Re-sign OT LaAdrian Waddle – 2 years $4M – $2M only guaranteed at final roster
Waddle’s $2M replaces Christian Wade’s $515K for a net $1.485M – Updated Cap Space $75.225M
He represents an experienced security blanket at swing tackle and championship pedigree. He was retained in Injured Reserve all season for a reason, despite being on a one-year deal where most would receive an injury settlement.
Re-sign S Dean Marlowe – one-year Veteran Minimum – Updated Cap Space $75.225M (bumps existing min. contract)
Marlowe is the ultimate football cockroach that no roster addition, draft pick, or transaction can seem to kill. He has familiarity with the defense and knows where McDermott wants him to be. I’ll have predicted he gets cut three years running once this camp opens, and he keeps hanging on.
Re-sign LB Julian Stanford – one-year $1.525M – no guarantee until 53-man roster
Stanford’s $1.525M replaces Cam Lewis’s $515K for a net $1.01M – Updated Cap Space $74.215M
Stanford has been a valuable, dependable backup middle linebacker and special teams player in Buffalo the past two years. At 29 years old, he also is the most veteran player in the current linebacker position room, a trait Beane and McDermott value. He may receive a push from a draft pick, as well as undrafted free agent Tyrel Dodson, but he will be brought back to camp to compete.
Re-sign DT Corey Liuget to 1 yr $1M deal – No guarantee until 53-man roster
Liuget’s $1M replaces Kaare Vevik’s $516K for a net $484K – Updated Cap Space $73.731M
As a mid-season addition, Corey Liuget did a solid job as a rotational fourth defensive tackle. He has some capacity to play both 1-tech and 3-tech, but he’s certainly more effective as a penetrating 3-tech at this point in his career. Heading into his age-30 season, he certainly could be threatened by an additional free agent signing or a draft choice at defensive tackle.
With these five potential free agents retained, it still means several notable 2019 Buffalo Bills will be looking elsewhere. Most notable are defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, guard Quinton Spain, and cornerback Kevin Johnson. All three could certainly be retained at the right number, but I only anticipate that happening if they find a much softer market than anticipated. I really struggled with Quinton Spain, due to how much Dion Dawkins benefited from his presence, but I went another route via Free Agency to bolster the offensive line. I also think several others, like Frank Gore, Maurice Alexander, Kurt Coleman, and Senorise Perry can be upgraded through Free Agency or the NFL Draft.