The Buffalo Bills head into the 2021 offseason with big expectations and small salary cap possibilities. With COVID-19 robbing the Bills of their flexibility, they need to be judicious. Here is my overall plan for the offseason I covered in my latest podcast (link to episode at bottom of this post).
Step 1: Clear cap space
Depending on your projections for the 2021 salary cap, the Bills are within a million or so of the NFL’s salary limit in 2021. Unless it is much higher than estimates, I assumed it was a zero-sum game and the Bills were at the salary cap entering the offseason.
Here are the cuts I would make to save cap space:
- WR John Brown ($8 million)
- DL Quinton Jefferson ($6.5 million)
- DL Vernon Butler ($6.8 million)
- TE Lee Smith ($2.25 million)
Here are the contract restructures I’d make to clear cap space:
- SS Jordan Poyer ($2.4 million)
- LB A.J. Klein ($2.3 million)
- WR Cole Beasley ($2 million)
- WR Stefon Diggs ($7 million)
Step 2: Tags and options
If it’s up to me, I’m probably picking up the fifth-year option on Tremaine Edmunds. I want to see what he’s like without Matt Milano before committing long-term to him. It’s a punt, but I’m not ready to get rid of him just yet.
It’s an easy decision to give Josh Allen the fifth-year option. It won’t alter the 2021 cap, but like Edmunds, it’s procedural.
I am handing an RFA tag to CB Levi Wallace at $2.133 million. He’s my baseline at CB2.
Step 3: Contract extensions
Jerry Hughes gets a one-year extension with $10 million in new cash. Converting $5 million of his current base salary and $1 million roster bonus into a “signing bonus” allows me to spread $3 million into 2022 salary cap and I’m guaranteeing a good chunk of the 2022 salary. It’s a $1 million roster bonus a year from now (guaranteed) and $9 million in base salary.
Extending Reid Ferguson won’t give me any cap flexibility, but I’ll make him the league’s highest-paid long snapper at $1,225,000 over two seasons, giving me three more years of the big fella. Because I don’t need it for cap space, this can happen over the summer.
Step 4: Identify problems areas
On offense, my largest holes are on the offensive line. Figure out when Cody Ford is going to play (guard) and fill the guard and tackle spots that exist. I need a backup QB with Matt Barkley a free agent and a veteran tight end now that Tyler Kroft and Lee Smith are gone.
On defense, I once again want to revamp the defensive line and pass rush. I have a huge hole at linebacker and need more options at CB2 than Levi Wallace.
Step 5: Free agency priorities
I just created $40.25 million in cap space for 2021 but also spent $2.133 on Levi Wallace, giving me roughly $38 million to attack the free-agent market. (2020 cap hit in parenthesis.) I’m looking to fill every hole on the roster with a player before heading into the Draft. That’s what the Buffalo Bills’ general manager likes to do.
- Sign a pass rusher ($12 million)
My number-one priority isn’t a particular player (that gets too specific), but it’s a dollar figure and a type of player. I want a defensive end to come in and generate a pass rush and I’m willing to pay for it. Carl Lawson is a name frequently mentioned, and he’s very reasonable and would be cheaper than $12 million. That figure comes from the money they were apparently willing to spend on J.J. Watt.
- Sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick ($5 million)
I want a backup QB who can actually win me games if necessary. Sorry, Matt Barkley.
- Sign a veteran guard ($3 million)
I won’t get into specific players here, but I’m comfortable with the dollar figure. It’s a Quinton Spain, Jordan Mills, or Brian Winters level of player who hopefully outperforms the contract unlike those guys mentioned. It’s not enough for a Jon Feliciano, but it’s enough for a stabilizer. If they stretch up to Feliciano range, they could get by.
- Sign a veteran tight end ($5 million)
Again, I’m not getting into specifics on players, but I want a running mate for Dawson Knox to replace Tyler Kroft and Lee Smith. At $5 million, it’s still significantly cheaper than that veteran pair made last year.
- Sign P Corey Bojorquez to a three-year deal ($1.62 million)
Bojorquez is going to make a least a million in 2021 as the veteran minimum. They could get him on a RFA deal for $2.133 million but I’d rather ink him to the mid-tier deal that falls in between.
- Re-sign Ty Nsekhe ($900,000)
- Re-sign Andre Roberts ($1.5 million)
- Re-sign Dean Marlowe ($1.55 million)
- Re-sign Isaiah McKenzie ($900,000)
- Re-sign Ike Boettger ($900,000)
Five solid veteran options on cheap contracts who I know trust the process. Nsekhe is my floor at RT and Boettger is the same at RG, and both are on a vet minimum deal like McKenzie. Dean Marlowe is my safety net (literally) and Roberts adds value as my returner.
Step 6: NFL Draft
Here are my priorities for the 2021 NFL Draft where we need a starter-level player:
Here are the mid-round priorities where we need a contributor:
Later round depth priorities:
At the end of the day your offense is set. Dion Dawkins, Cody Ford, Mitch Morse, Ike Boettger, and Ty Nsekhe are your base offensive line with an added OG in free agency and the draft and an OT drafted in the first three rounds who could compete to unseat those guys. (It’s my offseason, so that’s my target at 30.) You’re bringing back all the key pieces of your 2020 offense, swapping Isaiah Hodgins for John Brown’s spot on the roster (with Gabriel Davis taking his role) and a veteran TE for Kroft and Smith. You upgraded at backup QB.
On defense, you improved your pass rush with a big free-agent signing to pair with Jerry Hughes and hopefully get back Star Lotulelei with a step forward from Ed Oliver. A.J. Epenesa and Mario Addison are not bad as your second wave of pass rushers with Daryl Johnson behind them. Harrison Phillips and Justin Zimmer are okay at DT. At cornerback, you’ve got the same starters, plus Dane Jackson and Cam Lewis have another year in the system and I’m adding a CB in the first few rounds. The biggest downgrade is at linebacker, where a combination of A.J. Klein and a rookie are replacing Matt Milano. The safeties stay the same.
Your special teams are set at returner, punter, kicker, and long snapper plus you get to keep your backup returner and core special teams players.
There is still some money to upgrade at other positions, too, so if a player you like becomes available you can upgrade with a veteran at some of those positions like defensive line, linebacker, offensive tackle, or cornerback. I end this look at the offseason with around $3-4 million in salary cap space after signing the draft class.
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