Brandon Beane, general manager of the Buffalo Bills, has focused on the long-term spending health of the club since taking over the reins of Buffalo’s front office in May 2017. While he has purged talent in the process (pun intended) by trading the likes of Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus, and Ronald Darby,
and by allowing players to sign elsewhere who could have helped Buffalo ( Robert Woods ), (Woods left in March 2017 while Doug Whaley was still employed as general manager), his management of the salary cap has put Buffalo in a strong position moving forward.
In the 2019 offseason, Beane rebuilt the team’s offensive line, securing solid players at guard, center, and tackle. He brought in two veterans each at wide receiver, tight end, and running back. He added depth in the defensive secondary. Perhaps most impressively, he did all of this while still keeping an estimated $22 million in salary cap space, good for the twelfth-highest total in the league.
Looking at the team’s roster, the Bills are obviously far from a finished product. They still have work to do at multiple positions, and Beane has positioned the team to do much of that work next season. Currently, the team has 57 players under contract for the 2020 season. This includes players who are unlikely to make even the 2019 roster (Keith Towbridge, Kyle Peko) and some young players whose fate will be determined between now and then (Wyatt Teller, Ray-Ray McCloud III).
It also includes some of the veterans who have signed in Buffalo over the past two seasons. Buffalo has done a fantastic job of structuring contracts since Beane and head coach Sean McDermott began overseeing operations. While the “sticker shock” on some of the contracts has been intense at times, Beans has repeatedly shown that we shouldn’t judge the contracts until the whole picture is released.
Defensive end Trent Murphy is one such example. While the total worth of his three-year contract is $22.5 million, the Bills structured his contract so that they can move on with a minimal penalty prior to 2020. Murphy would count $8.95 million against the 2020 salary cap, but if the team releases him, he will only count as a dead-cap charge of $1.75 million. Other veterans whose contracts are structured similarly include:
- G Spencer Long ($4.25 million hit in 2020 if the team exercises its option to retain him)
- TE Tyler Kroft ($6.6 million hit; $1.6 million dead cap charge if released)
- WR John Brown ($9.75 million hit; $3.2 million dead cap charge if released)
- OL Ty Nsekhe ($5.2 million hit; $1.2 million dead cap charge if released)
- OL Jon Feliciano ($3.75 million hit; $750,000 dead cap charge if released)
- TE Lee Smith ($3.25 million hit; $1 million dead cap charge if released)
- FB Patrick DiMarco ($2.35 million cap hit; $500,000 dead cap charge if released)
Buffalo also has minimal commitments to players like running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver/kick returner Andre Roberts beyond the 2019 season. So, while Spotrac lists Buffalo’s current 2020 salary cap space at nearly $45 million, this is a low-end estimate. The cap is likely to be higher than it is this season, as it has increased by at least $10 million in each of the past two seasons. The Bills can also part ways with some players signed in the past few years at minimal cost if those players do not perform well.
If one thing has been clear regarding salary-cap management, it’s that teams with quarterbacks playing well on their rookie contract can build dominant rosters while that quarterback remains (relatively) underpaid for his services. The Seattle Seahawks with Russell Wilson are a great example of a recent team building around a young stud quarterback on his rookie contract, and the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams appear to be heading in the same direction thanks to Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff.
If Josh Allen can pay off for the Bills like the aforementioned trio has for their squads (not to mention other superstar quarterbacks before them like Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Ben Roethlisberger), then Buffalo is entering a prime window for contention beginning as early as this year. Beane and McDermott have structured the roster in such a way that the 2020 season will allow them to reinforce what they hope will already be a strong club.