The Buffalo Bills were more than $17 million under the NFL salary cap in 2013, and the 2014 team isn't likely to be close to that maximum salary amount, either. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was released in the 2013 offseason, will count $7 million against next year's cap. He counted just $3 million against the cap in 2013, a rise of $4 million in the coming season before he's off the books for good.
As GM Doug Whaley enters his first full offseason at the helm of Buffalo's roster, here are a few players with big salary numbers to keep an eye on:
Mario Williams ($18.8 million cap hit)
The Bills made Williams the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history not too long ago. His base salary is only $1.9 million in 2014, but he has a roster bonus of over $10 million due at the start of the league year - in addition to the prorated portion of his signing bonus and other bonuses built into his astronomical cap number. As Brian wrote in March of 2012, this wrinkle was designed as a "bailout" in case the team didn't think things were working out. After 12.5 sacks, a Pro Bowl nod, and a spot on the All-Pro second team, it's not likely that Williams will be moving on this offseason.
Stevie Johnson ($8.5 million cap hit)
After finishing his worst season as a starter in Buffalo, Johnson was brought up at the team's end-of-year press conference by media members wondering aloud if it was time for the enigmatic wide receiver to move on. Whaley quickly squelched those rumors, exhibiting "shock" at the mere mention of moving on from their highest-paid offensive player. Johnson is due a hefty $3 million roster bonus at the start of the new league year, which could continue to fuel speculation about his future if for nothing more than financial reasons.
Kevin Kolb ($3.6 million cap hit)
Whether you want to call it injury or cap-conscious spending, the Bills proved they can get by without Kolb in 2013. He's due a $1 million roster bonus this offseason, and would only cost the team $500,000 in dead money if released. With a very slim veteran quarterback market in free agency, it's not a foregone conclusion that Kolb is gone. That's assuming he's healthy enough to continue his playing career, of course.
Erik Pears ($3.45 million cap hit)
Only by the grace of Colin Brown and Doug Legursky was Pears not Buffalo's worst offensive lineman in 2013. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Pears is around for almost $3.5 million in 2014. If it were left to most Bills fans, he wouldn't even be around to collect his $100,000 roster bonus at the start of the new league year. His dead cap hit of just over $500,000 won't dissuade anyone from making the move.