With the retirement of veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay on Wednesday, the Buffalo Bills are near the end of their pre-free agency roster purge before it begins on March 12. In all, they have cut three players, told two restricted free agents they won't be tendered and re-signed a pair of soon-to-be free agents in addition to saying goodbye to Kelsay.
Buffalo entered the off-season with about $9.3 million in free cap space before rolling over $9.8 million from their 2012 cap. The combined $19.1 million might have been enough for the Bills to re-sign key free agents Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre, but would have hindered their ability to add other free agents to the squad.
On February 11, the team parted ways with 10-year vet Nick Barnett in a move that nabbed them $3 million in salary cap space. That number includes a $500,000 cap hit the Bills will incur in 2013. That same day, George Wilson announced the team had released him and his $2.9 million salary, as well. That will save the Bills $2.2 million after his dead weight hit is factored in. A few days later, Terrence McGee was released, resulting in a savings of $2.1 million.
The retirement of Kelsay saves the Bills somewhere between $4.1 million and $5.1 million against the salary cap in 2013. He was due a cap hit just under the $5 million figure, but when you factor in the dead weight the Bills will carry into the 2013 season, it ends up being a net savings of $4.175 million.
Adding the $19.1 million the team started with to the $7.3 million savings from releasing the veterans and another $4.175 from Kelsay's retirement, Buffalo had over $30 million in cap space to sign free agents and their draft class.
The Bills started that process by re-signing quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on February 15, followed by guard Colin Brown later that same day. Brown's cap hit is $672,500 in 2013, while Jackson's incentive-laden deal will carry a hit of $2.25 million at its base level and up to almost $5 million if he plays 65 percent of the team's offensive snaps. When all is said and done, the Bills have only added a shade under $3 million to their salary cap.
Most prognosticators thought the Bills would tender at least one of their restricted free agent wide receivers, but Buffalo has announced that neither David Nelson nor Donald Jones will be tendered. The chances that either gets a contract extension are small. Had they been tendered it would have cost the Bills $2 million apiece to receive any type of compensation.
Buffalo now stands at $27.7 million in available cap space. You might see some slightly different numbers at other outlets. At this time of year, the dead weight is difficult to ascertain. Regardless of the inconsistencies, is will still be within a stone's throw of $28 million when free agency starts. Factor in the draft class' $5.2 million cap hit and Buffalo has roughly $23 million to spend on free agents.
The franchise tag number for Byrd continues to be $6.8 million, and Levitre will also cost significant money. The top ten guards in the NFL all make $5.8 million per season. Factoring those two contracts in, Kelsay's retirement allows the Bills to still be players in free agency. They can now sign any free agent they can convince to come to Buffalo, as well as role players to help the team transition under Doug Marrone, Nathaniel Hackett and Mike Pettine.