The Buffalo Bills are right up against the 2022 NFL salary cap and will need to shed some salary in order to sign free agents. In addition to just straight up cutting guys and signing players to contract extensions to spread out hits, the Bills are going to be able to approach some players to take a pay cut. They have done this in the past with great success and it’s become part of their standard operating procedure.
Let’s run down a list of prime candidates.
$7.6 million cap hit
Beasley has one year remaining on his deal signed in 2019 and he’s coming off one of the more disappointing seasons of his career. He’s still valuable to the team and with Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie set to be free agents, I’d prefer not to cut him. He’s set to make $4.9 million in base salary plus a $500,000 roster bonus and $500,000 cumulative in per-game bonuses. Nothing on that contract is guaranteed, so the Bills could cut him in camp and pay him less than $1 million. Instead, general manager Brandon Beane could offer to fully guarantee a lesser amount of money if Beasley agrees to a pay cut and offer the rest as incentives. His 2021 valuation at Over the Cap was at just $4.6 million, so offer him $3 million in guaranteed salary and take away the signing bonus in exchange for the guaranteed money. After all is said and done, the $3 million plus his old signing bonus hit ($1.5 million), workout bonus ($200k), and per-game bonus ($500k) and you’ve created $2.4 million in cap space to sign someone else. To offset the loss of income, you can add Not Likely To Be Earned incentives to the year that won’t count until later if he hits them; 700 yards receiving, five touchdowns, a Super Bowl incentive, and Pro Bowl nod could all earn him the rest of that money back. John Brown was only able to secure $3.2 million in guaranteed money when he hit the open market a year ago.
$9.9 million cap hit
Daryl Williams signed a contract to be the right tackle, but he’s not playing there anymore. Instead he’s inside at right guard with rookie Spencer Brown on the outside. A pay cut for Williams with an incentive for percentage of snaps taken at tackle could split the difference. Cut his base salary from $7.725 to $5.225 million to save $2.5 million with $500,000 back to him if he hits 20% of the RT snaps and another $500k for every 20% above that. If he plays all the snaps at right tackle, he makes the same thing he would have. With $4.35 million of his salary set to fully guarantee in March, you could go ahead and fully guarantee all $5.225 million to sweeten the deal.
$9.2 million cap hit
We just found out Lotulelei has $2.5 million of his salary guaranteed already. While he played okay early in the season, he fell off after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 midway through the year and lost his starting job to Harrison Phillips. Instead of cutting bait on Lotulelei, I would prefer to restructure his contract again in order to re-sign Phillips. Lower the base salary from $6.15 to a fully guaranteed $4.15 million salary for him, void the final year of the deal if he wants, and save $2 million in cash and cap. While Bills fans might think that’s still too high for him, I don’t think you can go below $4 when he’s already guaranteed $2.5 million. In fact, this might be a non-starter from the get-go because of that $2.5 million. Straight up releasing him only saves $1.5 million.
$5 million cap hit
Feliciano might actually want to be released if he thinks he has a better shot of playing with the New York Giants and his two-time former coach Bobby Johnson. None of his $3.1 million salary nor his $500,000 roster bonus are guaranteed. Buffalo only holds $1.5 million in dead cap on Feliciano, which makes his release tempting. Guaranteeing $2 million to him isn’t likely to be enough, because he could get that much guaranteed money on the open market. I actually don’t see a contract restructure in the future for Feliciano because I don’t see the incentive for him to stay. Line play is terrible around the league and he could make some money elsewhere. With a pay cut/restructure, they might be able to save a million bucks.
$3.25 million cap hit
Like Feliciano, I don’t see this as a real possibility. The only thing you could lower Matakevich’s cap hit with is $600,000 in base salary and $750,000 in his roster bonus. Maybe they skip the roster bonus of $750k and guarantee his $1.65 million salary to save $750k in cash and the cap, but Matakevich is probably worth $1.65 million on the open market, so what’s his incentive to agree to the deal? I just don’t see why he would agree so it’s all or nothing for him in 2021.
If they do these kind of restructures for Beasley, Williams, and Lotulelei, they could save $7 million on their salary cap in 2022. Even if those players earn those bonuses, they wouldn’t be applied until the 2023 cap year.
Last year, the Bills saved $3 million in a restructure for Vernon Butler, $3 million in a Mitch Morse restructure, and $2 million for another with Mario Addison. Reportedly Quinton Jefferson declined the pay cut and ended up on the Las Vegas Raiders for what was likely a similar amount of money to what the Bills offered.