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Buffalo Bills salary cap, 2016: updating the big storylines

Bringing you up to date on all the Bills salary cap questions.

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills and the rest of the NFL are in the depths of the offseason, so it’s a good time to review the major storylines surrounding the team. One of the biggest discussions around the Bills this offseason and looking into the future centers around the salary cap. Here are the major things you need to know and remember that these numbers are approximate.

Bills have $11.8 million in cap space

At this point, only the top 51 contracts count against the cap. Even though Buffalo has $152 million in salaries, only $131 million counts. It’s the same around the league. In terms of dead cap space, that biggest ones areMario Williams ($7 million), Percy Harvin ($2 million), Chris Williams ($1.75 million), and Leodis McKelvin ($1 million). They count against the cap but the numbers will be gone a year from now.

Stephon Gilmore extension could create space

Gilmore’s current cap hit is more than $11 million on a one-year contract with all of that counting against the cap in 2016. If the Bills were able to negotiate a long-term contract, that number would likely go down as they turned base salary into signing bonus. That would allow them to make a couple more moves. They could also choose to simply keep the $11 million in 2016 and sign an extension for 2017 and beyond, tacking years onto the existing contract.

Tyrod Taylor extension could happen in-season

If Gilmore signs an extension that lowers his cap number, the Bills could realistically make a push to sign Taylor mid-season as his play dictates. Taylor’s current cap number is $3 million, but if he signs an $18 million-a-year contract, that would certainly go up considerably. Some creative cap manipulation could keep that contract doable in the short-term with a signing bonus and later roster bonuses.

Veteran cuts that could happen

Releasing Manny Lawson would net $2.4 million, but with Shaq Lawson sidelined, it might be beneficial to keep the veteran around even if he’s not a great pass rushing threat. Corbin Bryant and Jordan Mills are both back on $1.67 million deals that could be terminated. Releasing Corey Graham would save $1.5 million, but the secondary would be scary without him in it. Dan Carpenter’s release would save $1.5 million but his competition is very unproven. Marquise Goodwin ($700,000 savings) and Duke Williams ($675,000) are bandied about as possible cuts and are among a large group of back-end players that would save less money. Kyle Williams’ release would get back $2.75 million, but that seems unlikely.

Untouchable contracts

Charles Clay, LeSean McCoy, Eric Wood, and Aaron Williams won’t be released because it would add considerably to the cap number. It should be needless to say that Marcell Dareus, Richie Incognito, Jerry Hughes, and Cordy Glenn aren’t going anywhere, either.

EJ Manuel

You’ll notice the Bills’ backup quarterback isn’t listed anywhere yet. We’ve already addressed Manuel’s contract and why he’s incredibly likely to be on the roster. Essentially, he’ll cost the Bills the same if he is on the roster or off so there’s not reason to get rid of him. They won’t be able to afford a quality backup and those guys aren’t even out there really unless you want to revisit Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Fitzpatrick has apparently turned down a $12 million contract so that’s probably a moot point.) Did we mention that The Sporting News put Manuel as the 18th-best backup quarterback?

2017 and beyond

Buffalo has over $21 million in cap space for 2017 without doing anything fancy, and it will be more when they roll over their remaining money from 2016. Notable players with expiring contracts include Taylor and Gilmore but also Manny Lawson, EJ Manuel, Corbin Bryant, Jordan Mills, Robert Woods, Colton Schmidt (RFA), IK Enemkpali (RFA), and more potential role players. They only have $96 million committed in 2018, but have just 31 players signed through that season. Eric Wood, Kyle Williams, Sammy Watkins, Corey Graham, Dan Carpenter, Nickell Robey, Garrison Sanborn, Preston Brown, and Seantrel Henderson will all have expiring contracts and need to be re-sign or replaced.

Future cap casualties

Please note, we’re not advocating these players be released, but we are noting when it will be financially viable for it to happen. This is a salary cap analysis, not a performance critique. Buffalo can save $1 million on their 2017 cap by releasing McCoy next offseason and $2 million releasing Aaron Williams. Releasing Hughes next offseason would also save $2 million and cutting Richie Incognito would save $2.6 million. Dareus is a lock to remain on the team until 2019 when his cap hit balloons to $18 million. Cordy Glenn is also a lock until 2019 with his new contract. The biggest surprise for most Bills fans will probably the commitment to Charles Clay, who is on the roster through the 2018 season like Glenn and Dareus.

If you have cap questions feel free to ask them in the comments section.