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NFL salary cap: Jerry Hughes only costs $7.35 million in new money in 2021

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

A segment of the Buffalo Bills’ fan base thinks the team should move on from the aging veteran defensive end for various reasons. Jerry Hughes had another solid season for the Bills in 2020 and he’s relatively cheap for his level of production. This article is to provide context. One perspective: the Bills can save more than $7 million in cash and cap space by releasing Hughes in the next few weeks. Another perspective: Hughes only costs $7 million in 2021.

Hughes is entering the final year of his deal and set to count $9.45 million against the salary cap this year, but $2.1 million of that has already been earned as part of his signing bonus. In terms of new cash, they’ll pay $7.35 million in 2021. That’s the same amount they would save if they release him. Without future years of signing bonus money that need accounting, it’s an easy calculation.

Firstly, Hughes is due a $1 million roster bonus on March 21. Then, he is due a $250,000 workout bonus this offseason (but obviously that’s contingent). Finally, he has $6.1 million in salary. There are no per-game active bonus or performance incentives, making this very straightforward.

At that price point, he’d be 32nd in the league in terms of average annual salary at $7.35 million. He currently ranks 21st with an AAV of $10.75 million when adding in all three years of his current contract.

Buffalo could also theoretically extend Hughes, giving him a signing bonus to spread out his cap hit. If they wanted to add one year, they could convert $5 million of his 2021 salary and his $1 million roster bonus into a signing bonus, so instead of counting $6 million in 2021, it could only count $3 million with $3 million pushed into 2022. It’s not exactly a deal Bills general manager Brandon Beane has done before, but these are desperate times and Hughes is solid. Plus, Beane doesn’t really have anyone waiting in the wings just yet.

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