The Buffalo Bills are right at or over the NFL’s projected 2021 salary cap. They’re going to need to clear cap space in order to sign free agents at multiple positions and NFL Draft picks. We’ve been running articles on who they could cut to clear cap space, but they could also clear cap space and keep players on the roster.
If they convert base salary to a new signing bonus, they can pro-rate that cap hit over the remaining years of the deal. The player gets the money for the season up front and of course it’s guaranteed, so it’s usually a win for the player and helps out the team.
The downside is it pushes that cap hit into later year(s) and all the money will eventually need to be accounted. With a likely bump in 2022 due to a new TV deal and fans returning to the stands after the wave of COVID-19-related closures, that should be a huge issue for most of these delayed cap hits.
This hasn’t really been general manager Brandon Beane’s M.O. as he’s remade the roster, but Beane is going to have to change and evolve now that Buffalo is in a new phase of their team-building process. Add on the pandemic spending restrictions, and the reigning Executive of the Year may have to do things he hasn’t done before.
Here’s our list of possibilities:
CB Tre’Davious White
Tre White’s got some cash coming his way in 2021 and beyond. He already has a ton of dead-cap money ($33 million), so perhaps they don’t want to add even more dead money to the length of his deal. He also has a $7.5 million option bonus that’s already going to pro-rate over the remaining length of his deal, so it feels unlikely that this deal will be one they tinker with. This was a deal signed after the pandemic when they knew the 2021 salary cap was going to be lowered, so if they were going to build in a low number in 2021, they should have done it then.
His $10.45 million salary is already fully guaranteed, so it would be just a straight cap reduction strategy.
Old 2021 cap hit: $14.05 million
New 2021 cap hit: $5.49 million
Savings: $8.56 million
WR Stefon Diggs
Diggs has three years left on his deal and is pretty underpaid after his season leading the league in receptions and receiving yards. So it’s actually pretty darn likely the Bills either give him a new contract with a pay bump, or accelerate some of his later money into the current year. Either way, it’s pretty likely Diggs’s contract will be altered this season.
His base salary is $11.658,333 in 2021 and he has a $500,000 roster bonus coming. He’s going to be on the roster. If they drop him to a $1 million base salary and instead give him an $11,158,333 signing bonus, the cap hit for 2021 drops to $4,819,444 from $12,258,333. That’s a pretty significant chunk of savings for a cap-strapped Bills team. I still think it’s more likely they give him more years and more money, but this is the basic, classic restructure.
Old 2021 cap hit: $12,258,333
New 2021 cap hit: $4,819,444
C Mitch Morse
I don’t think Mitch Morse is a restructure candidate despite his contract being in-line with what you’d expect. The team’s concern about his injury history is warranted and they kept him on the bench after he was cleared in 2020. They may also decide to cut him outright and move Jon Feliciano to center. Only $1.325 million of his salary in 2021 is guaranteed against injury and none is fully guaranteed, so releasing him would save $5.5 million.
A contract restructure where Buffalo moves $6 million of his salary into a signing bonus to pro-rate over the last two years of his deal would open up $3 million in cap space but raise his dead-cap hit in 2022 to nearly $6 million. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Old 2021 cap hit: $10,343,750
New 2021 cap hit: $7,343,750
Savings: $3 million
S Jordan Poyer
The Bills gave Poyer this extension last year in the beginning of the pandemic without knowing what the 2021 salary cap was going to look like. He has $4.775 million in base salary fully guaranteeing at the start of the league year and simply converting that to a signing bonus would clear a couple million in cap space in 2021. Easy peasy.
Old 2021 cap hit: $7,875,000
New 2021 cap hit: $5,487,500
LB A.J. Klein
Here’s another one that makes way too much sense. Klein has $3.2 million in salary guaranteed in 2021 and a $1.6 million roster bonus incoming. Even if they just pro-rate the roster bonus, that saves $800,000 in 2021. If they want to guarantee he’s going to be on the roster in 2021 (and they probably will if they do indeed move on from Matt Milano), they could just convert a bunch of his money to a signing bonus and give it to him up front.
Add together the $1.6 million roster bonus and $4.2 million in base salary and you get $5.8 million in money to work with. Drop it down to $1.2 million in base salary and pro-rate the $4.6 million over two years and save yourself the $2.3 million in 2021 cap space.
Another thing working in the favor of this restructure is Klein’s very small signing bonus from his original deal. He only has $800,000 in pro-rated money left right now, so pushing $2.3 million into 2022 isn’t a big deal. His dead-cap hit would only be $2.7 million a year from now.
Old 2021 cap hit: $6.4 million
New 2021 cap hit: $2.3 million
Savings: $2.3 million
WR Cole Beasley
If you’re pretty confident Cole Beasley is going to be on the team in 2021 and 2022, this move would make good sense. He’s got roughly $12 million remaining in those two years, so how it’s structured doesn’t matter if he’s going to be here for both years.
Disregarding his per-game bonus, his $4.7 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus, and $200,000 workout bonus could all be in play for the restructure. Add those three up and it’s $5.4 million in 2021 cash is available for a restructure. Take $4 million into a new “signing bonus,” and you can push $2 million of cap guarantees to 2022.
Old 2021 cap hit: $7,368,750
New 2021 cap hit: $5,368,750
Savings: $2 million
OT Dion Dawkins
Dawkins already has a $7.5 million option bonus built into his deal that will be enacted in a couple weeks. That’s going to spread out over the last four years of the deal at $1.875 million per year. Like White, his deal was signed after the full financial ramifications of the pandemic were known to GMs.
He also has a $7.3 million base salary, which could be negotiated to be added to the option bonus. Because he already has the option bonus and a ton of dead-cap money, I wouldn’t expect them to drop to $1 million and pro-rate the other $6 million. Converting $4 million won’t be that big of a deal and would create just $ 1 million in cap space and they can do that at any point in the offseason. They could go up to $6 million to clear another $500,000, but it’s not really worth it in the long run. This one seems pretty unlikely.
Old 2021 cap hit: $11.395 million
New 2021 cap hit: $10.395 million
Savings: $1 million
While the total 2021 cap savings that these moves create is $26,686,389, I think when you look at likelihoods of these deals, it’s closer to the $6 to $10 million range for just two to four of these moves. Poyer, Klein, and Beasley make the most sense.