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Buffalo Bills salary-cap implications of releasing tight end Lee Smith

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What do the numbers say?

In an effort to provide Buffalo Bills fans with information, we are tackling the potential release of tight end Lee Smith. He has the 16th-highest cap hit on the team in 2020 and the penalties he committed in 2019 put him front and center in the minds of a lot of fans.

While we tackle the validity of releasing him in other articles, this is just about contract numbers. What would it cost for the Bills to move on from Lee Smith in 2020?

Smith has two years remaining on his deal but his cap hit and yearly cash actually go down in every offseason. It was $3.5 million in 2019, $3.25 million in 2020, and just $2.25 million in 2021.

Get this: Smith didn’t get a signing bonus but $1 million of his 2020 salary is already guaranteed. With that guarantee, Buffalo can pay him $1 million to go away now or an additional $2.25 million or so to stick around. Smith does have a roster bonus coming up on the fifth day of the league year, so the Bills will have a $500,000 decision to make before that.

The Bills phased Smith out over the last half of the season. While he finished the year playing 30% of the team’s offensive snaps, he only had one game in the second half of the season over 30% (Pittsburgh Steelers). Once offensive coordinator Brian Daboll moved upstairs, they used fewer two-TE sets. If that’s where the offense is heading on a permanent basis, it’s best to release Smith now before paying him another $500k in March. If they’d like to return to a run-heavy, two-tight-end offense, they should keep him and let him maul opponents. We might get some insight into their offensive plans based on this move.

Since none of his future contract is guaranteed beyond 2020 and he has no signing bonus cap hit to account for, it would be easy to release him a year from now with zero in cap liabilities.

2020 cap hit: $3.25 million
Salary due: $2.65 million
Roster bonus: $500,000
Workout bonus: $100,000

Dead money if cut: $1 million
Cap savings if cut: $2.25 million