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What can Buffalo Bills do with $11.5 million in cap space after losing Jeremy Maclin sweepstakes?

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Ok, so what now?

The Baltimore Ravens beat out the Buffalo Bills in the Jeremy Maclin sweepstakes, which means Brandon Beane and Co. will take $11.5M in available cap space into mandatory minicamp.

Make no mistake about it — missing out Maclin is a big loss for the Bills in June. Sure, they likely didn’t envision the veteran wideout suddenly being on the market, but he met with them first, had many ties to the team, and Buffalo could’ve met his presumed contract demands.

Essentially, Maclin appeared to be falling into the Bills lap, and he would’ve been a welcome addition to Buffalo’s less-than-stellar receiver group that’s loaded with question marks.

What could the Bills, $11.5M in cap space and all, do now?

They gained $4.2 million in cap space on June 2, as Matt Warren wrote, thanks to the post-June 1 designation assigned to the release of safety Aaron Williams.

Front-load an extension or extension(s)

Kyle Williams, Eric Wood, and for the time being, Sammy Watkins, are set to hit free agency in 2018, and they’re the only “notable” Bills with that distinction.

Other impending 2018 UFAs include:

  • Preston Brown
  • Gerald Hodges
  • Nick O’Leary
  • Jerel Worthy
  • Philly Brown

Not a bad job by the previous Bills regime to lock up Buffalo’s core group of producers. Because the current front office members decided against picking up Watkins’ fifth-year option, they probably want to see Watkins stay healthy before committing beyond 2018 (Buffalo can sign him to a franchise or transition tag to keep him in Western New York for the 2018 campaign), therefore a before-the-season extension for the talented wideout is unlikely albeit not totally out of the question.

Williams is another unlikely candidate for an extension at 34 years old. Coming off a broken leg lessens the chances of Wood seeing an new deal, especially at 31 years old.

I actually could fathom a small extension for O’Leary that’d guarantee he’d be on the roster for at least for a few more seasons due to his blocking reliability and Dennison’s past use of smaller, versatile tight ends. O’Leary’s lack of receiving production probably stops that from happening at this point in time though.

Looking way ahead to the 2019 crop of Bills free agents — Ronald Darby and John Miller are the notable names on the list. Darby was superb in 2015, regressed slightly in 2016, and now is the most experienced member among Buffalo’s top three corners.

(Crazy fact that’d get an #AgeTweet intro on Twitter: Darby is actually one month younger than Kevon Seymour.)

Miller was severely ineffective as a rookie yet thrived in his sophomore season in the NFL.

An extension right now for either of those two wouldn’t be nutso but — like these other propositions — unlikely at this juncture.

Sign a safety

Possibilities: Jairus Byrd, Marcus Gilchrist, Rashad Johnson

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Bills safety spot is the weakest link on the roster right now. Because my advocacy for Buffalo to sign Byrd has reached ad nauseam levels, I’ll spare you another long justification for a reunion. As for Gilchrist, he’s 28 years old and is coming off an underrated season as a member of the Jets tarnished secondary in 2016. The former second-round pick had two picks and 53 tackles on 79% of the Jets snaps last year. The catch? He tore his patellar tendon on December 11. His Pro Football Focus overall grade 77.1 in 2016 ranked him as the No. 53 safety (out of 90 qualifying) in the NFL. If healthy — which is a big “if” — he’d be a fantastic addition to Buffalo’s safety group.

Johnson spent his first seven seasons with the Cardinals before shipping off to Nashville to play for the Titans in 2016. After a nine-interception streak from 2014 to 2015, Johnson failed to snag a pass last year on 50% of Tennessee’s defensive snaps.

The Bills tie-in is that Pro Football Focus gave Johnson a 70.4 overall grade for his 2016 efforts, the exact same grade as Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer. Johnson’s PFF grade was much more balanced — 68.9 in coverage and 69.6 vs. the run — than Poyer’s grade that was carried by his strong run-stopping performance.

Sign Gary Barnidge

No, not a receiver, but a receiving tight end. Barnidge visited the Bills — among other teams — yet remains unsigned. He has 134 receptions, 1,655 yards, and 11 TDs over the past two seasons.

For what it’s worth, he played his college ball with Eric Wood at Louisville. As our tight end evaluation suggests, Buffalo could certainly use more tight end depth. Barnidge would likely command upwards of $3M-4M per year.

Sign Eric Decker

I’ll default to Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 here, as I think he tweeted it best:

Decker has now, finally, been released by the Jets, and he’ll likely latch on with a team relatively quickly. Yes, it’s worth monitoring if the Bills show any interest. I doubt they will though.

Roll over the money to next season

The smart, prudent, shrewd, forward-thinking approach. Buffalo rolled over just a little more than $2 million from 2016 to 2017, and there’s no limit on how much can cap space a team can use from the previous season.

Right now, per OverTheCap.com, the Bills are currently set to have $33.8M in cap space in 2018, the 16th-most in football. That’s based on an estimated $178M cap next year, which would be a sizable yet realistic jump from $167M in 2017.

With an extra first-round pick in 2018, close to $34M in cap space with the possibility to get to nearly $50M in available cap room, the Bills will certainly be set up nicely for the first full offseason in the Beane-McDermott era.