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Can (and should) the Bills keep Mario Williams around after all?

In a new interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson, Mario Williams suggested he might be willing to consider taking a pay cut to stay with the Bills. Should the team go along with it? Can they?

It's no secret that the Buffalo Bills are up against the salary cap, and it's a common talking point that the first move they can use to free up much-needed space is to cut their star defensive end, Mario Williams. Williams is coming off of a down year, has a massive cap hit, and could save the team $12.9 million if he is let go. Given the disagreements Williams has had with Buffalo's current coaching staff, this was seen as a foregone conclusion. But an interview on Wednesday with ESPN reporter Josina Anderson may suggest that Williams is willing to reconsider his salary (or at least, is aware that he needs to put out some good PR to get other teams to call his agent).

On if there was a way to make it work for him to stay with the Buffalo Bills & at least
consider a pitch or scenario to make that happen:

"Yes, most definitely. I love my team. I love my teammates. Everything has been fine. It’s just a matter of if there can be a better understanding of being able to do what we least meet half way. That’s all, meet half way."

So would that involve taking a pay cut?

"Yea, I mean, it all depends on what it is happening." "My thing is this...obviously I've had big contracts, but once you get on a team and you get around the guys, it becomes family. The guys on defense, we laugh and talk about anything. We do a bunch of stuff together on and off the field, obviously. It’s bigger than just numbers. But at the same time, as far what you said about it being feasible, a (cap) crunch is a crunch. Obviously there’s two great players on the other side of the ball that need to be back (impending UFA’s LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito). Like you said, I’m not an accountant either. I don’t even know how you can go about making it where it makes at least some type of sense. That’s not what I do, so that’s why I don’t even worry about it."

It sounds like Williams might consider such a deal after all. So what can the Bills do with his contract to suit their needs? If Williams is willing to negotiate, can they create a deal that earns them as much space as a release would?

First, let's take a look at his current cost to the team. At $19.9 million dollars, it's a massive cap hit that slightly decreases next season.

Current cost
Year 2016 2017
Age 31 32
Signing Bonus $3,800,000 $-
Salary $11,500,000 $11,400,000
Roster Bonus $2,500,000 $3,500,000
Workout Bonus $500,000 $-
Option Bonus $1,600,000 $1,600,000
Cap hit $19,900,000 $16,500,000
Cash payout $19,900,000 $16,500,000
Dead money $7,000,000 $1,600,000

If the Bills cut Williams, they're only on the hook for two things: His signing bonus, and his option bonus. That totals $7 million. The option bonus could be paid out in two parts, with $1.6 million being paid after June 1st, but the Bills can't do that because they'd be on the hook for other parts of Williams' salary if they made him a post-June 1st cut; that move isn't feasible.

Costs if cut
Year 2016 2017
Age 31 32
Signing Bonus $3,800,000 (ends after 2016)
Salary (gone) (gone)
Roster Bonus (gone) (gone)
Workout Bonus (gone) (ends after 2016)
Option Bonus $3,200,000 ($1.6 million accelerated to 2016 payment)
Cap hit $7,000,000 $-
Cash payout $7,000,000 $-
Dead money $7,000,000 $0 (paid in 2016)

What, then, if Williams is willing to take a pay cut? Say he's willing to meet the Bills "halfway" and cuts his salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus in half. That would reduce his cap hit by $7.25 million, which makes his cost much more reasonable in comparison to his quality of play in 2015. That being said, For a team that is right up against the cap, $7.25 million doesn't help Buffalo all that much. With Cordy Glenn expected to take an annual cap hit of between $11 and $13 million, and Richie Incognito chipping in $4 to $6 million, the team would still be in cap hell.

Cost with pay cut
Year 2016 2017
Age 31 32
Signing Bonus $3,800,000 $-
Salary $5,750,000 $5,700,000
Roster Bonus $1,250,000 $1,750,000
Workout Bonus $250,000 $-
Option Bonus $1,600,000 $1,600,000
Cap hit $12,650,000 $9,050,000
Cash payout $12,650,000 $9,050,000
Dead money $7,000,000 $1,600,000

What if the Bills offered to extend Williams in combination with a pay cut? By using this move, they could further reduce his 2016 cap hit by converting parts of his salary and bonuses into a signing bonus. They can prorate the signing bonus up to five years, Williams gets paid even more money than the other scenarios, and the cap hit drops even more. In this example, Williams only costs a cap hit of $8.6 million, thanks to a pay cut and the conversion of money into a $10 million signing bonus. The bonus is paid to Williams on the first day but prorated over the course of the contract. Of course, to maximize the chance that Williams would sign an extension, the Bills would probably need to include a large signing bonus, and that would likely necessitate a long enough extension to accommodate the proration.

Let's look at a hypothetical five year extension, beginning in 2016 and ending in 2020. With this approach and hypothetical contract, the Bills save $11.3 million on the cap in 2016, almost as much as the $12.2 million they save with a release. The downside: Williams carries a significant cap hit for all of the years of his contract, meaning the team is probably cutting him before the 2018 season when his salary and roster bonus escalate. Not to mention, they need Williams and his agent to cooperate, and this isn't an easy negotiation when the player already talked about how uncomfortable this defensive scheme made him. Plus, it means the Bills are committing hefty money to a declining defensive end who would be 35 by the end of the deal.

Cost with pay cut and extension
Year 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Age 31 32 33 34 35
Signing Bonus $2,000,000 $2,000,000 $2,000,000 $2,000,000 $2,000,000
Salary $3,750,000 $4,500,000 $5,500,000 $5,500,000 $5,500,000
Roster Bonus $1,000,000 $1,750,000 $4,000,000 $2,000,000 $-
Workout Bonus $250,000 $- $- $- $-
Option Bonus $1,600,000 $1,600,000 $- $- $-
Cap hit $8,600,000 $9,850,000 $11,500,000 $9,500,000 $7,500,000
Cash payout $16,600,000 $7,850,000 $9,500,000 $7,500,000 $5,500,000
Dead money $13,200,000 $9,600,000 $6,000,000 $4,000,000 $2,000,000

Whether it results in a pay cut, an extension, or a release, the Bills and Mario Williams have a difficult decision to make this offseason. In the grand scheme of things, it seems like any move allowing the Bills to keep Williams, Glenn, and Incognito is just setting the team up for a worse cap situation down the road. But is that worth it, to keep a potentially game-changing defensive lineman with a team he enjoys and in a scheme where he hit some bumps?