With free agency spending slowing down, fans are slowly starting to put together the long-term picture and strategy for their team. In Buffalo, an aggressive rebuild that once saw as high as $50,000,000+ in dead cap is starting to come to fruition. The Bills have made the playoffs in two of the three years since Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott took over. Brandon Beane has saved the Bills from a scary place often referred to as “Cap Hell,” and I’m sure he doesn’t have plans of bringing them back there. If you need proof, you can cite things like letting Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson walk to other teams on three-year, $30 million contracts.
It should be no secret at this point that Beane is a well-calculated general manager with a developed plan. After spending fruitfully the past two off-seasons, the future doesn’t present the same opportunities for the Buffalo Bills front office. In the immediate and not-so-immediate futures, they’ll be tasked with important re-signings such as Tre’Davious White, Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, and more. This article takes an educated look into what these contracts and the future cap space of the Bills may look like.
For the rest of this offseason, the Bills’ 2020 cap space sits around $19 million. As the roster sits, without rollover cap accounted for, the Bills are projected to have cap space of: 2020 – $14,000,000, 2021 – $45,587,953, 2022 – $129,331,328, 2023 – $210,500,000.
This article is assuming that the Bills continue their upward trajectory and young players that show promising potential reach that potential. With that assumption, I categorized players into three tiers.
The first tier consisted of Josh Allen, Tre’Davious White, and Tremaine Edmunds. While these players are not next on the docket for the Bills to re-sign, it is imperative to plan for the future. By examining the books in a short-sighted way, the Bills would find themselves right back where they were when Beane took over. With sustained success, these players’ development and retention are crucial. White is already an elite player at his position, and if the Bills are to continue their success, it should be expected that Josh Allen develops into a top-12 quarterback and Tremaine Edmunds is among the best at his position.
At this step in the process, I skipped fifth-year options and franchise tags and went straight to re-signing. At this point, it’s expected from Bills fans that Tre’Davious White will reset the market at corner. He’s coming off of a first-team All-Pro season and has performed incredibly throughout his entire career. I projected White to re-sign at five years, $85 million. This is a few million higher than what Byron Jones just signed with the Dolphins for at 5 years, $82.5 million. Next, I used Spotrac to find a market value of $29.1 million for Josh Allen. With the expectation that the Bills continue to develop on their route, this number seemed low for Josh Allen. Compared to Carson Wentz’s four-year, $128 million contract, I projected Josh Allen at four years, $130 million. At this moment, the jury is out on whether Allen would be worth that. He still has two years on his rookie deal, but remember, it’s crucial to plan for the future so that this team doesn’t end up in cap hell once again. Finally, you have Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds does not yet have a market value projection on Spotrac, so I took an average of the top five inside linebackers and projected Edmunds to re-sign for four years, $60 million. Like Allen, this contract is based on expected development for Edmunds. It’s important to note that Allen’s and Edmunds’ contracts would not count on the books until 2022. This tier would leave the Bills with cap space of: 2021 – $38,857,953, 2022 – $72,331,328, 2023 – $151,000,000 and 2024 – $170,500,000.
For all of the tiers, the cap space is subject to a $7,500,000 deduction for draft picks and a rollover of $10,000,000 in 2021, $7,500,000 in 2022, $5,000,000 in 2023 and $2,500,000 in 2024. For the contracts, the cap hits are calculated based on an average salary with no front or back-loading.
Tier two consists of two players that fans would have liked to have seen extended this offseason, and both are expiring next year. Matt Milano and Dion Dawkins have been two great draft steals by Brandon Beane and will be expecting a premium, whether it comes from Brandon Beane or another team on the open market. Per Spotrac, Dion Dawkins has a market value of four years, $57,389,764, and Matt Milano has a market value of four years, $52,017,404. With this in mind, I projected Dion Dawkins to a four-year, $58 million contract and Matt Milano to four years, $44 million. With the way the market played out in free agency this period, I would not be shocked if Dawkins were to raise and ask for over $60 million. As for Milano, I’m not quite sure he’ll demand the number that Spotrac projected, and therefore I docked it a little bit. These numbers leave the Bills with projected cap space in 2021 – $13,087,953, 2022 – $39,331,328, 2023 – $120,500,000 and 2024 – $142,500,000. After seeing the cap space that this leaves the Bills with, it has become my feeling that the team is likely to move on from either Milano or Dawkins at the end of the year. With few holes on the team, it should be a goal of the front office to target a player to develop and replace one or the other to preserve cap space.
Tier three are re-signings that are hard to project with a bit of fog due to age and talent level. First up comes a player that I personally think glues the offensive line and is a mauler in the run game. Jon Feliciano expires after the upcoming season, and it would be my hope to re-sign him. At the end of this year Feliciano will be 29 years old, and thus I projected him to a short-term, two-year, $13 million contract. After seeing the bargain that Beane was able to retain Quinton Spain for, this may be a bit inflated, but it’s better to be conservative than aggressive. If Feliciano is not re-signed, then a strong contingency plan both financially and strategically would be to either draft an offensive tackle in the second round and allow Cody Ford to develop at guard for a year behind Feliciano, or to draft an offensive guard early to develop behind Feliciano. Brandon Beane has put the Bills in a position where they have the depth to begin to look forward in the draft and think about developing players with picks as early as the second round.
The other player in tier three is Micah Hyde. Hyde has two more years left on his contract and is already 29 years old. Because of this, it is difficult to project where exactly his game will be when his contract expires. As of right now, Hyde is one of the best safeties in the game and would deserve to be paid as such. However, with two more seasons in front of him, Hyde may take a step back in his game by the time he is 31. I projected Hyde at two years, $22 million. This would make Hyde the sixth-highest paid safety, which may be about accurate by the time his deal expires. These two moves would leave the Bills with cap space of 2021 – $6,587,953, 2022 – $21,831,328, 2023 – $109,500,000, 2024 – $142,500,000.
With that cap space, the Bills would have a free agent class in 2021 led by Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, Ty Nsehke, Trent Murphy, and Levi Wallace. The 2022 class would consist of players such as Jerry Hughes, Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson, Taron Johnson, and Siran Neal.
With the cap space disintegrating so quickly after just a few signings, I took a look at how much cap space would be saved by exercising Allen, Edmunds, and White’s fifth-year options rather than immediately re-signing them to long-term deals. For Josh Allen, being a top-10 pick, his fifth-year option is the same value as the transition tag at his position. For this offseason, that would’ve been a one-year, $22,783,000 deal. With Tremaine Edmunds and Tre’Davious White being selected after the 10th pick, their fifth-year options would be the average of the third to 25th highest-paid players at their positions. For White and Edmunds this would be roughly $11.5 million and $14.5 million, respectively. After changing these players’ contracts to take advantage of the fifth year option, the cap space increases to 2021 – $12,087,953, 2022 – $39,548,328, 2023 – $114,500,000 and 2024 – $145,000,000.
While it wouldn’t make sense to cut most, or any, of these players right now, I’ve listed some potential cuts in the future that may come in handy if the Bills find themselves strapped for cap. In 2021, the Bills could cut John Brown and face just $1.6 million of dead cap while saving $8.15 million. Cutting Cole Beasley in 2021 would create $1.5 million in dead cap in both 2021 and 2022 while saving $5.9 million in 2021 and $6.1 million in 2022. The Bills could opt out of Spencer Long’s 2021 contract and save the entirety of the $4.35 million due to him. Star Lotulelei could be cut in 2022 with just $2.6 million in dead cap and $6.35 million in savings. Mario Addison signed to a very team friendly contract this offseason and could be cut in 2021 after just one year on the team with $2 million in dead cap in both 2021 and 2022, but also $8.225 million in savings in both years.
After tearing the team down and essentially starting from scratch, Brandon Beane will now be facing a more daunting task moving forward when it comes to balancing the cap. It’ll be essential to move forward with a long-term plan and not focus on signing players on a season-by-season basis. It won’t be comforting for the fans, but this might result in the team moving on from either Matt Milano or Dion Dawkins and looking to the draft to replace them. At the end of the day, the Bills are still in a good position and have been given plenty of flexibility by the arrangement of the past contracts that Beane has offered.