Playing with potential 2009 salary cap figures

Disclaimer: The following numbers that are presented here are, in essence, worst-case-scenario estimates when it comes to projecting cap space and, more importantly, the potential new contracts of key Buffalo Bills free agents.  Please do not make the mistake of saving these figures as concrete; they are not.  These are ballpark figures used to illustrate how difficult it's going to be for the Bills to retain key free agents, and the numbers, as is everything else we post here, are open to debate.

Now that we've begun our Potential Bills series, it's time to look at how much money we have to actually sign our new players.  For 2009, the cap is projected to be approximately $123 million.  As of the end of January the Bills have a projected $27 million under that cap, according to AsktheCommish.com. The official cap numbers won't be released until later in the off-season, but we'll use that number for now. 

First, a little primer on the Buffalo Bills' philosophy for signing the guys in their mid to late twenties.  Buffalo generally likes to pay these players earlier in their deals rather than later.  This makes sense since a player's production usually tails off on the other side of 30, so the money should, too.  Lee Evans, for instance, was given a contract extension last year totaling $37M.  The first year salary (2008) was $11M and the second year (2009) will be $9M before becoming dropping to $5.4M and two years at $3.2M.

Jason Peters
If Jason Peters does indeed negotiate a new contract, it's not unreasonable to expect it to be larger than last year's number one pick, Jake Long.  I am also expecting that Peters and his agent, Eugene Parker, will wait until after some of the top draft picks are signed (gulp - around the start of training camp) before negotiating with the Bills.  This way they can use the new contracts of the drafted tackles as their starting point.  Last year, Long signed a five year, $57.75 million deal with $30M guaranteed.  Peters will be looking for a big increase over that, likely five years for the neighborhood of $65-70M with at least $20M of that being guaranteed money.  For a franchise left tackle, that's not mind-blowing.

In the Bills' pay up front philosophy, most of that guaranteed money would likely be given up front.  The amount of this lump sum could severely limit the Bills' ability to sign free agents next month.  My best guess is that Buffalo gives him a front-loaded deal but without as much up front as Evans' deal; linemen tend to not tail off so quickly.  Here's how it could look at the high end: five years, $70M with $36M guaranteed...

2009, $12M (first year guaranteed plus $8M signing bonus); 2010, $10M ($8M guaranteed signing bonus money); 2011, $10M ($2M roster bonus); 2012, $8M ($4M roster bonus); 2013, $8M.

When you subtract Peters' current cap hit for 2009 ($3M) you end up eating away $17M of the Bills projected $27M 2009 cap space in my fictitious scenario.

Jabari Greer
For fans of Jabari Greer, here's what it might take to re-sign him.  Over the course of his career he has put up similar stats and traveled a similar road to Corey Webster of the NY Giants.  In December, Webster signed a five-year, $43M contract extension with $20M guaranteed.  The Giants also use front-loaded contracts, so I'll just copy and paste how Webster's contract breaks down and use that to guesstimate Greer's potential deal...

2009: $1 million (+ guaranteed $8 million roster bonus), 2010: $2.75 million (+ guaranteed $4 million roster bonus), 2011: $7.25 million, 2012: $7 million, 2013: $7.5 million.

Since Greer will be a free agent, his full cap hit is the first year number ($9M), though I would suspect less money in the first year and more in the second for Greer because if they are re-signing him, it's to eventually replace Terrence McGee.  McGee will be a UFA after the 2009 season.

Angelo Crowell
Many Rumblers are of the opinion that Crowell could return this year and at a neat little "hometown discount".  Don't count on it.  To give you a feel for what Crowell might cost, even with the I-had-knee-surgery-and-can't-get-a-better-deal discount, I'll show you Cato June's contract from a few years ago.  June signed a three year, $12M contract with a $2M signing bonus.  In the year preceding that deal, he had 96 solo tackles, a sack, 2 FF, 1 FR, and 3 INT.  Crowell, in his last healthy year, had 86 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT and a safety; I'd call those stat lines pretty similar.  Assume that any raise he would have received is gone because of the knee.  I can see Crowell going for $4-5M a year, inflated slightly over June's contract from two years ago.  If the Bills' coaches and front office executives are over the surgery thing, they might have to bring him back for a four year, $15M deal with heavy incentives for performance that could boost it to $20M.

Cutting from our cap
In order to save some money on the cap, there have been suggestions on who to get rid of.  Kurupt helpfully offered this list last week: Chris Kelsay ($3M), Roscoe Parrish ($3M), Robert Royal ($1.5M), and John McCargo ($800k).  I'll add Ko "Millions" Simpson ($500k) to the list, too, for a savings of about $9M on the 2009 salary cap.

Draft Picks
We also need to remember to set aside an arbitrary amount for the rookie salaries.  Last year the Bills had a little over $5 million on their "rookie draft cap" so we'll call it $5.5M this year.  Again, that's just an estimation.

Results
With the cuts mentioned above, the Bills would have $36M to spend on free agents and re-signings.  The three re-signings would fill some holes, but at what cost?  The total salaries for these three guys could be $133M!  The cap hit for 2009 alone would be over the $27M initial cap mark at $30M.  Plus, that's before bringing in any free agents.  If you cut the above-mentioned players from our cap, it saves us $9M, bringing the difference to $6M of available cap space.  Subtract the rookie pool and you have about enough money to keep Ko Simpson under the cap (not that I'm advocating it).  Signing these three guys would be your entire off-season. 

I'm trying to say that for all the guys who want Greer and Crowell back while signing Peters to his extension and bringing in new talent (not to mention extending important guys like Fred Jackson, Keith Ellison, Kirk Chambers, John DiGiorgio, George Wilson, and Gibran Hamdan), it's not going to happen with the cap.  Now the numbers I am using are my best guess to all of this so there are obviously ways to make it happen that involve fine-tuning Peters or the other two contracts.

My expectation is they re-sign Peters to a monster deal.  It's better than drafting an unknown OT who could turn into a bust (Mike Williams comes to mind), but it's a little more expensive.  They let Crowell walk unless he gives them a mega-discount to about $3-3.5M a year.  They choose between McGee and Greer and McGee wins.  Greer just hasn't done enough to unseat him.

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