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2019 Worst Bang for the Dollar Bills: Dead-cap list

Here’s the list of guys who counted against the cap even though they weren’t on the team.

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

Every team overpays for free agents. It’s the nature of the business that you can’t always predict future results, and even if you do, you sometimes end up overpaying for them. The Buffalo Bills are no exception and during the 2019 season they had a group of underwhelming players.

We kick off our look at the worst salary-cap values on the Bills in 2019 by looking at the players who contributed in dead-cap space. When a player signs a deal with a pro-rated signing bonus, and is then traded or released before the end of that contract, the money left on the pro-ration goes onto the cap immediately. For some veterans, this could include a workout bonus if they practiced during the offseason but were released at the end of the summer.

Here is a list of the largest dead-cap hits for the Bills in 2019. I only included the ones over $500,000. The full list is available over at Spotrac.

TE Charles Clay
$4.5 million

Clay had $2 million in signing bonus pro-ration from his original transition tag contract tender plus $2.5 million from the roster-bonus-turned-signing bonus a year later when they restructured his deal to make it more cap friendly. He played 15 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2019 catching 18 passes for 237 yards and one TD.

RB LeSean McCoy
$2.875 million

Shady won a Super Bowl ring with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 after being released by the Bills at the end of the preseason. The majority was pro-rated signing bonus money, but part of the figure is his $250,000 workout bonus from last offseason. He played in 13 games, rushing 101 times for 465 yards and four TDs while adding 28 receptions for 181 yards and one TD through the air for KC.

QB A.J. McCarron
$2 million

Supposed to be the safety net for Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman in 2018, McCarron was instead traded on September 1st of that year. Though he never played a regular-season game for the Bills, his $4 million signing bonus was spread out over two seasons spanning 2018 and 2019. He only completed one pass for the Oakland Raiders before being released. He spent 2019 with the Houston Texans where he started one game.

WR Zay Jones
$1.121 million

A former second-round pick, Jones had salary ($303,337), a signing bonus ($767,698), and a workout bonus ($50,000) in his dead-cap number because he was traded in October. It’s a bit misleading since that salary was paid to him while he was actually on the team (so not dead, but alive). His dead-cap hit to Buffalo in 2020 is going to be that signing-bonus figure again without the salary and workout bonus.

RB Chris Ivory

Ivory was released early last offseason when the Bills added Frank Gore. As a result, he didn’t earn his workout bonus and he had no guaranteed money on his salary, so the only money here is the pro-rated portion of his signing bonus. Ivory didn’t play for an NFL team in 2019. He wasn’t even brought in to a training camp.

OL Russell Bodine

Another traded player on the list, as Bodine was shipped to the New England Patriots for a sixth-round pick. He signed a two-year contract in 2018 as part of the group trying to replace the suddenly retired Eric Wood. In 2019, he was released a week after he was traded. In December, he signed a futures deal with the Detroit Lions to be part of their offseason roster.

WR Andre Holmes

Holmes is the third straight player on the list who was out of football in 2019. Holmes was released in December of 2018 but had $550,000 of his signing bonus from his March 2017 contract remaining.

In all, the Bills spent more than $16.9 million on dead-cap charges in 2019, equal to 8.45% of their salary-cap total. They also had more than $5 million tied up on injured reserve.