It has been reported ad nauseam that the Buffalo Bills have a large amount of money committed to their 2016 salary cap. While the exact reported numbers vary, the general theme is that the Bills are - well, if not in cap jail, then certainly on cap probation.
Where most reporters have acknowledged that the Bills can clear $12.9 million in cap space by releasing Mario Williams, few, if any, have also mentioned that the Bills can clear another $7.5 million by a simple conversion of Charles Clay's 2016 roster bonus into a signing bonus. It's just one of several options the Bills have to lower their cap figure.
Clay is set to earn a $10 million roster bonus on March 11, two days after the start of the 2016 league year on March 9. In reports detailing the amounts of 2016 cap space that the Bills have committed, this $10 million amount is included, causing Clay's cap hit to be an enormous $13.5 million.
At the time of signing and through today, it has appeared obvious to me that the Bills lumped so much money into this roster bonus for a reason: the flexibility that comes with having a large, lump-sum payment (whether salary or bonus) in a single contract year. It is generally included in all NFL contracts that annual salary or a roster bonus can be converted to a signing bonus automatically, if the team so chooses. The player and his agent would never have an issue with this automatic conversion, as they receive their cash on conversion, mitigating the risk of injury or release.
Although he has been in the league since 2011, Clay just turned 27 years old; while his injury history adds risk to the conversion, he will still only be 30 years old during the last season of his contract. Clay is only eight months older than Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who just inked an extension which includes a $10 million signing bonus and rolling guarantees equaling over $20 million - both figures eclipsing Clay's deal.
In Clay's case, converting the $10 million roster bonus into a signing bonus to be prorated over the remaining four years would save the Bills $7.5 million on the 2016 salary cap. This simple maneuver, solely requiring the contract to be refiled to the league office, would drop Clay's 2016 salary cap hit from $13.5 million to $6 million. While this action would save a bundle in 2016, this money saved would add $2.5 million to Clay's salary cap number from 2017-19. But with the NFL salary cap jumping ever higher each year, the buying power of $2.5 million will have further diminished by 2019.