In Part I of our look at the Buffalo Bills reaching the reported salary floor of the new CBA, we cut the money needed to reach the minimum payout from approximately $32.7M to under $11M by signing some key free agents and the rookies. These contracts simply added money to the books, but to get the rest of the way, the Bills are going to need to dole out some contract extensions to players they may want to lock up longer term.
Three key players at prime positions will be the first targets, but I think only one of them gets a new contract before the season starts, with the other two having only an outside chance.
Re-sign Stevie Johnson
In my opinion, the most likely of Buffalo's current players to receive an extension is the breakout wide receiver. Johnson emerged as the face of the Bills with his penchant for celebrations and touchdowns in 2010. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Johnson is in line for a big raise over his scheduled $550,000 salary.
The player and recent deal that most closely resembles Johnson's situation is Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin. After leaving April undrafted, Austin latched on with the Cowboys at the bottom of their depth chart until exploding in 2008. Austin caught 81 balls for 1,320 yards in 2009, with 11 touchdowns. Johnson had 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010.
Austin's seven-year deal was front-loaded, as Johnson's would also likely be. He received $17M in salary for the first season of the deal, where big-pocketed owner Jerry Jones did a great job of completely avoiding the salary cap. Austin's salary fluctuates from $8.5M in 2011 to $1.15M in 2012 before jumping back up in 2013 and averages $8.17M a season.
The Bills, banking that Johnson's year was not a fluke, could offer Stevie an incredibly similar contract and front-load whatever part of the salary they needed to get themselves over the minimum salary floor if they so choose. Whatever his new salary is would replace his current salary, but the Bills could easily make his 2011 salary large enough to reach the floor. It's why they don't need to extend the next two contracts if they don't think the time is right.
Of course, if the Bills would like, they could extend the contract of their starting quarterback before the season, as well. This could also be a front-loaded contract with Fitzpatrick being the unquestioned starter for the 2011 season. If Buddy Nix believes Fitzpatrick is the long-term answer, you could see a long-term contract. If, however, Fitzpatrick is a "keep the seat warm" starting quarterback while they groom his replacement, a contract with a large first year and much smaller subsequent cap figures would be ideal, as they would potentially be paying their new quarterback to start. Fitzpatrick's salary would then match his role - large when he's starting and small when he's mentoring from the bench. His current figure is just over $3M for 2011.
Bell is the least likely of the three to get a contract extension. He hasn't yet proven he can be a long-term answer at left tackle because of his recovery from injury even deep into last regular season. Unless the Bills are trying to lock him up cheaply for his second contract and attempt to get in ahead of the curve, Bell's new contract will likely wait until mid-season at the earliest. Any Bell contract would up Buffalo's salary total considerably, as he's scheduled to make just $555,000 in 2011.
Re-sign Roscoe Parrish
Parrish's contract is up after the season. Despite rumors that he could be gone as recently as last off-season, he was having a career year before being sidelined due to injury. Perhaps Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix have a big future in mind for the diminutive receiver, even though he'll be 30 when the 2012 season begins.
Re-sign some other players
A few other Bills could be in line for early contract extensions. Fresh off his first Pro Bowl, the Bills could lock up Kyle Williams into his mid-30s if they feel he's a centerpiece of their new 3-4 defense. Brian also included Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre on his list of possible early extensions earlier this off-season. With only two years left on their rookie contracts, it may not be likely that Buffalo offers an extension before the season to reach the floor, but it's not inconceivable. Also with two years left on a contract that underpays him, Fred Jackson could also get a look at a new contract though his age (30) may hinder than negotiation.
These contract extensions would not only be enough to put Buffalo at the salary floor, but far exceed it if they so chose. In Part III, we will examine what players and their salaries could actually be removed from the 2011 roster should the Bills wish to make more than a few of these free agent signings and contract extensions into reality.