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Contract projection for Buffalo Bills free-agent cornerback Levi Wallace

This is going to get interesting.

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

The Buffalo Bills had two players start the majority of games at the second cornerback spot and both Levi Wallace and Josh Norman are not under contract for the 2021 season. Norman is an Unrestricted Free Agent and likely to command more money than Wallace, who is a Restricted Free Agent.

With Wallace, he’s been on minimum deals for his entire career as a former undrafted free agent. He was released in his rookie year, too, so that’s why he’s been signed to one-year deals in the interim. Buffalo was able to control Wallace as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent until this point. So now is potentially his time to cash in.

Comparable contracts

I looked far and wide for guys making less than the RFA tender who were the primary starter on their teams and not on their rookie deal. Ryan Sims of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 year, $1.75 million) had 16 combined starts in four NFL seasons and all of his starts are worse than Wallace. LeShaun Sims of the Cincinnati Bengals (1 year, $1.7 million) had 11 career starts and eight passes defended in his first four years; numbers eclipsed by Wallace in 2020 alone. Troy Hill had 14 career starts and 11 career passes defended before he signed his two-year, $3.2 million contract. P.J. Williams might be the closest, but even his numbers are all worse than Wallace. Heck, Kevin Johnson, who played for the Bills last year and couldn’t beat out Wallace, signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with bonuses and incentives to get up to potentially $5 million.

One year, $2.133 million
Restricted Free Agent tender

The Restricted Free Agent tender, Buffalo can offer Wallace this contract and at least have the right of first refusal if he signs a contract somewhere else. Because he’s a former UDFA, Buffalo won’t receive any draft pick compensation if he leaves. The figure would have been 61st among cornerbacks in terms of annual average compensation in 2020.

Quinton Dunbar
Washington Football Team, 2018
Three years, $10.5 million ($3.75 million guaranteed)

Dunbar started eight games in his first three seasons in the NFL after being an undrafted free agent before signing this extension and becoming the full-fledged starter for Washington. He’s only started 23 games, but he’s played in 24 of 48 games. So he’s obviously considered the starter after signing the deal. Like Wallace, he’s going to be 25 when he signs his next contract. This contract looks really wonky on Spotrac because he was traded in the middle of it. It was a $3 million signing bonus, the RFA tender guaranteed as his first-year salary, and then about $3 million in salary in each of the next two seasons plus per-game roster bonuses. Over the Cap has a better look at it with the historical data available.

Contract projection

With the NFL in the midst of a COVID-19 economic downturn, I could see the Bills going one of a few ways; tender Wallace so they at least know what they have as a baseline or sign him to the Dunbar deal to lower his cap hit in 2021. They’ve gone out of their way to try and replace him in every year — E.J. Gaines, Kevin Johnson, Josh Norman, etc — but haven’t been able to do so. So do they want to upgrade or do they want to get by with a cheap option? It’s a fascinating dance.

One year, $2.133 million

That’s last year’s RFA tender amount and it won’t be the same this year with the cap lowering, we just don’t know what it’s going to be. I think the Bills like Wallace but know he’s limited, which is why they keep trying to replace him. They can’t sign him for less than the tag because why would Wallace do that, so they tender him as an RFA and if he signs elsewhere, he signs elsewhere. I don’t want to guarantee him $3 or $4 million and I don’t think the Bills will want to either.