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Projecting a new contract for Buffalo Bills linebacker Preston Brown

Is the NFL’s leading tackler worth a huge contract?

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

In 2017, Preston Brown led the NFL in tackles (144) and played 99.81% of the snaps on the defense, calling the plays and acting as the man to put people into the right spots. But Brown is a free agent and with about $21 million in available salary cap space to sign free agents, the Buffalo Bills will need to be prudent about who they sign long-term. Is Brown one of those guys?

Previous contract

Buffalo drafted Brown in the third round in 2014 and he just finished his rookie contract. It was a four-year, $3 million contract.

2014 cap: $582,000
2015 cap: $702,000
2016 cap: $793,750
2017 cap: $1.959 million


Brown is hitting the market at just the right time after leading the NFL is tackles in 2017. In 2016, Cleveland Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey came in third in tackles (148) and like Brown was picked just a few spots ahead of Brown in the 2014 NFL Draft with no Pro Bowls to his name. Kirksey (Pro Football Reference) and Brown (Pro Football Reference) are nearly identical in every statistical category, though Brown had more starts earlier in his career. Kirksey signed a four-year, $38 million deal to stay in Cleveland with a $6 million signing bonus. Like Brown, Kirksey played in 100% of his team’s snaps in 2017.

SB Nation’s Browns site Dawgs By Nature did this excellent breakdown of Kirksey’s contract. Cleveland signed him early so he wouldn’t become a free agent and so they could spread the cap hit into 2017, what would have been the final year of his rookie deal. (It should also be noted that Cleveland has more cap space than Jesus Buffalo but also that they need to pay players a premium contract to stay in a downtrodden franchise.)

Chris Kirskey contract

Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Workout Bonus Total Cap Hit
Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Workout Bonus Total Cap Hit
2017 $3,797,000 $1,365,625 $0 $0 $5,162,625
2018 $5,000,000 $1,200,000 $0 $0 $6,200,000
2019 $7,000,000 $1,200,000 $0 $0 $8,200,000
2020 $7,750,000 $1,200,000 $1,000,000 $0 $9,950,000
2021 $8,250,000 $1,200,000 $1,000,000 $0 $10,450,000
Total $31,797,000 $6,165,625 $2,000,000 $0 $39,962,625

Salary Cap Considerations

Buffalo has less than $21 million in available cap space for 2018 factoring in projected rookie contracts, squeezing their ability to devote big money to free agents. The Kirksey deal was able to spread the new money over five years but it was really a four-year extension. If Buffalo gives him a four-year extension, the cap hits are going to be greater than the one shown above in the first year of Kirksey’s contract.

Buffalo may need to guarantee more money down the road in order to give him less in salary in 2018 until they clear the dead cap money associated with traded lineman Marcell Dareus and retired players Aaron Williams and Eric Wood.

Contract Projection

Four years, $38 million including $6 million signing bonus and $14 million guaranteed

Salary: $5 million salary (guaranteed)
Pro-rated bonus money: $1.5 million
Cap hit: $6.5 million

Salary: $6.5 million
Roster bonus: $3 million (guaranteed)
Pro-rated bonus money: $1.5 million
Cap hit: $11 million

Salary: $8.5 million salary
Pro-rated bonus money: $1.5 million
Cap hit: $10 million

Salary: $9 million
Pro-rated bonus money: $1.5 million
Cap hit: $11 million

  • Pros for Brown: Nice guarantees in first two years, more money in signing bonus than he’s earned his whole career, a lot of freaking money
  • Pros for Bills: Low cap hit in first year, roster bonus could be converted to signing bonus in 2019 to spread out cap hit (as team did in Charles Clay deal), ability to get out after 2019 season as a two-year, $20.5 million deal.


Would you sign Preston Brown to a four-year, $38 million deal?

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