The offseason is upon us. Mock drafts are being assembled, broken down, reassembled and then the combine happens next weekend. The whole process gets re-evaluated and more mock drafts come spewing forth with even more data to analyze. Before the draft even hits us, there are other important dates to consider. Many are looking towards free agency but we still don't know who will be available when that feeding frenzy begins. And no, Jimmy Graham will not be among the players that are available, unless you are giving up two first round draft picks for him, as he will surely be franchised if he and the Saints don't come to an agreement beforehand.
So, before we even get to free agency and the draft, I would like to take a stab at what I think the Bills should do to set them up for a successful offseason. The official salary cap number has yet to be released but it is estimated that it will hover around $126.3 million. With an estimated cap carryover amount of roughly $17.8 million, the Bills are estimated to currently have around $19 million in cap space. Let's see what moves we can make and how they will affect that number.
The Franchise Tag
Last year, the Bills slapped Byrd with a franchise tag worth $6.9 million. This year, if tagged, he will see a 120% increase in that number or $8.299 million. The window for applying the franchise tag this year is from February 17th to March 3rd. Last year, we saw a situation with Brees unfold that revealed that a player's franchise tag can carry over from one team to another. Due to this, I think it is highly unlikely that Byrd and the Bills will reach a deal without a franchise tag being used first, so I would use the tag on Byrd. If Byrd were to be tagged a 3rd time next offseason, his franchise tag would be equal to a QB's franchise tag (projected to be $16 million this year). Byrd and his agent will try and use this as leverage to squeeze out as many Benjamins as possible. Another option for the Bills however is to suggest that they will use the transition tag next year, allowing them to match any offer made to Byrd. Negotiations are likely to be ugly and will probably cover the front pages of Buffalo Rumblings many a time this offseason. Let's hope they can get a long term deal done. I am hoping for a 5 year / $40-45 million deal with it being more backloaded and "cut friendly" down the line. For now, I use the Franchise tag.
Salary Cap Room : $19 million - $8.299 = $10.7 million remaining.
The Super Contract
There has been a lot of debate here about Mario's contract and his upcoming $10.6 million dollar roster bonus that is due in March. The Bills have 3 options here. (1) Pay him the roster bonus and his cap number remains at $18.8 million this season. (2) Convert the roster bonus to a signing bonus. (3) Release Mario and refuse to pay the roster bonus, creating $17.8 million in dead money but giving the Bills $1 million in cap savings. I'm looking up at that $10.7 million number above and I would like to have more. I know a lot of people disagreeing with this strategy are saying "don't kick the can down the road" or "look at the Cowboys, Steelers! They are a mess!" I understand those sentiments but I think this is a different situation. Mario just turned 29 and had a 13 sack performance. Remember when we were clamoring for a DE with talent remotely close to that? Well, we have it now and he makes a difference. When the 2017 season begins, he will be 32 years old. Robert Mathis just had a career year with 19.5 sacks at age 32 and I believe Mario will still be playing at a high level at that age too.
What this move means in regards to the salary cap:
The Bills convert the roster bonus to a signing bonus. That $10.6 million is now counted over 4 years instead of 1, meaning his cap number will decrease by $7.95 million this year and increase $2.6 million in 2015, 2016, 2017. This also means his dead money increases by $10.6 million and decreases $2.6 million after each completed season. For an exact breakdown, I've listed this contract in the comments here.
I don't see him being cut, so I'm not too worried about this. Do we have a player that can take over for him next year? The year after that? Rookies tend to take 2-3 years to develop and I don't see us shelling out big bucks to a different player in free agency. Mario is our premier pass rusher for the foreseeable future.
Another argument for doing this, flexibility. This creates more room for the Bills this season. They can use it or they can choose not to. The Bills could ultimately convert the bonus, create the $7.95 million in cap space and not spend a dime of it. They could then carry that money over to next season and it effectively was the same thing as paying him the roster bonus.
One last argument, the salary cap rises roughly $2.6 million each season. Also, the NFL just signed a new deal with CBS that will increase the cap an estimated $4 million beginning next season. With a ton of dead money being erased next season, the Bills can afford a $2.6 million bump in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Salary Cap room: $10.7million + $7.95 million = $18.65 million.
One of the hardest decisions a franchise has to make is deciding when it is time to release a player. There are a few reasons a team might want to do this but ultimately it comes down to money. If the player is not living up to his contract, it's often in the team's best interest to move on from said player. Last year, Rumblers seemed to be somewhat split on a Brad Smith's value to the team. I would have liked for the Bills to move on but many thought he added value to the team. Unfortunately, he was injured and provided little to no value but had the Bills released him, they would have an additional $2.75 million in cap space this year. There are 3 players that fit the criteria for a possible departure, in my opinion, otherwise the Bills have done a pretty good job of late with their contracts.
Kevin Kolb ( $3.1 million in savings)
I said a pretty good job. Kolb, was an injury waiting to happen from the get go and unfortunately the Bills saw little to no return from this player. With a $1 million roster bonus due on March 13th, I would expect the Bills to move on here. Lewis showed he could step in and play and Kolb has not.
Erik Pears ( $2.9 million in cap savings)
His position has come up frequently as one to upgrade. He is due a $100k roster bonus and a $50k workout bonus. I don't disgaree that we should be looking to upgrade here but I think the Bills keep him through training camp. There is no one else on the roster- besides Hairston who is even more questionable due to injury- who can start at RT. Unless the Bills need this money ASAP and are planning on signing a FA here ( which there is no guarantee that they land him), I am keeping him. For now. He is a serviceable veteran and can help a rookie out in training camp. At the very least he is a $150,000 insurance investment in the case that there is an injury to a new guy. If a new guy is brought in, shows starter like qualities and is healthy, then release Pears during training camp cuts.
Doug Legursky ( $1 million in cap savings)
Much like Pears, many fans want to see this position upgraded. So do I. However, like Pears he is due the same bonuses and provides some veteran experience here should we bring in someone new. For $150,000, I keep him until he is no longer necessary.
Summary: Cut Kolb, Keep Pears & Legursky for now.
Salary Cap Room: $18.65 million + $3.1 million - $495,000 ( someone moves into the top 51) = $21.255 million.
When we factor in that the rookie draft class will account for a roughly $2.5 million deduction in cap space, the Bills are left roughly $18.7 million under the cap this offseason after these moves. If they can sign Byrd to a long term deal and keep his number low this season, we could have some more. If they don't sign Byrd, we could have a lot more. If they don't restructure Mario, we could have a lot less. I think the moves I outlined above give the Bills the most talent and the most cap space necessary to improve for the 2014 season.
What do you think Rumblers? Do you agree with some of these moves? Disagree? What would be your plans in regard to the roster before Free Agency and the Draft?
As always thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments!
Oh, yes, a poll ...