The 2017 Buffalo Bills had their fair share of interesting decisions as they pertained to the salary cap. Having jettisoned players like wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the team relied on players who counted for far less money against the cap than those that they replaced.
While the team had some players who represented negative value, they also had plenty of solid investments. These returns came not only from players on rookie contract, but also from shrewdly distributed free agent contracts, as well.
In order to be considered a “positive” salary cap value, the player must have made a greater impact than would be expected by someone of his salary number. Take wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, for example. He was a player considered for the top-ten list of positive cap values, but he ultimately missed the cut. According to Spotrac, Benjamin only counted for $529,411 on the Bills’ salary cap. This is because the majority of his cap number was absorbed by the Carolina Panthers after trading him.
The reason Benjamin was not ultimately placed in the top-ten was his overall lack of production as a member of the Bills (16 catches, 217 yards, 1 TD in 6 regular-season games). This may not have been entirely his fault, as a knee injury suffered on the first play of his second game with the Bills certainly limited his participation and success. However, he ultimately did not do enough to represent a positive value, even given his low cap hit for the team.
Another player considered who ultimately fell short may surprise many folks. Starting right guard Vlad Ducasse has been a popular symbol of the team’s struggles along the offensive line, and most fans feel that the team should look to replace him in 2018. However, if Pro Football Focus is your thing, maybe Bills fans should pump the brakes on relieving Ducasse of his duties.
The analytics site graded Ducasse at a 75.5 for 2017, which is an “average” overall grade. According to PFF, this places Ducasse 25th among guards. At a cap hit of only $933,333, he ranked 65th among all NFL guards in 2017, which is a steal when considering his 25th-place ranking.
Some players were harder to gauge than others. PFF ranked Zay Jones 108th out of all wide receivers last season, and he was Buffalo’s second-highest paid player at the position, counting $1.2 million against the salary cap. His “slash line” (24/316/2) was quite underwhelming, and his 36.5% catch rate was 210th out of 212 qualifying wide receivers. As a rookie, however, we were inclined to give him a pass.
Jerry Hughes was another interesting candidate, one who theoretically could have appeared on either the positive or negative value list. If you prefer that your top-paid puss rusher has a bunch of sacks, then Hughes definitely falls on your negative list. At $10.45 million, Hughes was Buffalo’s highest-paid player in 2017, and he only amassed 44 tackles and 4 sacks while playing in all 16 games.
However, Hughes did an excellent job setting the edge against the run in most cases. For the first time in his Bills’ career, he was not the team’s most penalized player—that distinction went to Adolphus Washington this year—and he also cut his total penalties down from 8 in 2016 to 6 in 2017. Hughes was credited with 10.5 run stuffs on the season, as well as 19 quarterback hurries. PFF graded Hughes at an 85, or “high-quality,” and he ranked as their 20th-best edge defender in 2017. Ultimately, he was left off of both lists, sitting in a sort of limbo between analytics and counting statistics.
Therein lies the problem with a list like this one. No matter how objective we’ve tried to be in compiling it, there is always going to be a bit of subjectivity in it. However, we essentially tried to examine a player’s salary relative to others at his position around the league, and then look at his production relative to his position. Those who outperformed their salary are positive values; those who performed worse than their salary would suggest are negative cap values. We used analytics sites, official statistics, and the player’s overall contributions to the Bills to determine who ultimately fit best on each list.
We’re looking forward to rolling out the lists, but we’re most looking forward to the discussion that comes along with it. We’ll begin with the positive cap values before discussing the poor investments on the 2017 roster.