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Contract projection for Bills free-agent DT Harrison Phillips

What can we expect the Bills to pay Phillips if they keep him?

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 drafted Harrison Phillips four years ago. As a third-round pick, his entry-level contract is now up and he had his best season as a pro in 2021. The Stanford product is no doubt looking to cash in, so let’s take a look at some comparable contracts.

We start with his linemate, Star Lotulelei. Phillips passed him on the depth chart this season—per general manager Brandon Beane it was for COVID-related problems. Either way, if the Bills are going to keep Phillips, it’s likely going to be at the expense of Lotulelei.

Luckily for Phillips, two very similar defensive tackles on the market last year were 1-techs and signed nice deals that the new free agent can point to for comps. His linemate is going to give us another baseline. He’s going to get a nice deal somewhere.

Comparable contracts

Star Lotulelei
Buffalo Bills, 2020
3-year, $18.6 million contract ($7 million guaranteed)

This was actually the re-worked deal Lotulelei signed in 2020 that was later pushed to 2021. His original deal was for $10 million per season but he clearly never lived up to that. He helped head coach Sean McDermott change the culture in Buffalo, and that was part of the money. This contract makes a ton of sense for their starting 1-tech defensive tackle, not for their backup, though.

Sheldon Rankins
New York Jets, 2021
2-year, $11 million contract ($4.5 million guaranteed)

Rankins, like Phillips, has dealt with several injuries in his career, and he played in ten games in 2019 and 12 in 2020 before hitting free agency. He has better sack numbers than Phillips, but that’s just one metric. They have similar snap-count percentages in the final two years of their rookie deals. As a former first-round pick, Rankins had much higher expectations and did not live up to his fifth-year option, entering free agency following that season.

Malcolm Brown
Jacksonville Jaguars, 2021
2-year, $11 million contract ($7.6 million guaranteed)

Very similar overall contract to Rankins but the devil is in the details. A big chunk of year-two money was guaranteed for Brown, making it more likely he would see both years whereas Rankins had all his guaranteed money in the first season. Brown has more playing time and starts than Phillips, more sacks, and more experience.

Contract projection

A contract where Phillips averages about $5.5 to $6 million per season makes a ton of sense. His injury history and short track record of playing healthy would lead me to the smaller side of the range, at least in terms of guaranteed money and money in the first year or two.

Last year, we had to do some salary-cap backflips because of the COVID-depressed cap. So, between that still lingering and the rest of the cap hits on the team, we might be in for some more future money guarantees in 2022 contracts, as well.

When the Bills wanted a building-block player in 2021, they signed four-year deals. Matt Milano and Dion Dawkins fit this description, even with Milano’s injury history. For players they merely liked, it was a three-year deal with all the guaranteed money in the first season, like Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams. I’m guessing the Bills want to do a three-year deal with Phillips, but if I’m Harrison, I might prefer to stick to two years and hope I can stay healthy and become the no-doubt starter. Buffalo doesn’t really do two-year contracts, though, unless you’re on the wrong side of 30 like Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.

Three years, $18 million contract
$6.6 million guaranteed

Kind of in the middle of all these deals, he doesn’t have the first-round pedigree of all the players and his injury history works against him. If it was two years, the $5.5 million average value makes sense, but bumping it up in the third year of the contract needed a bit more cash.

I kept the guaranteed money in the first season, which is what the Bills have done with mid-to-low-end starters. He gets $3 million in signing-bonus money plus a 2022 roster bonus and his salary is guaranteed but nothing beyond 2022. There is a $7.2 million payout in the first season if he plays all 17 regular-season games. If it’s two years, it’s a $12.2 million deal. It’s very comparable to the Jon Feliciano contract in terms of structure and numbers. Buffalo wins if he plays all three years or they can get rid of him with low overhead in the future.

Here’s the breakdown:

Pro-rated signing bonus: $1 million
Roster bonus: $500,000 (guaranteed)
Workout bonus: $200,000
Salary: $3 million (guaranteed)
Per-game active bonus: Up to $500,000 ($411,765 LTBE)
Cap hit: $5.112 million

Pro-rated signing bonus: $1 million
Roster bonus: $800,000
Workout bonus: $200,000
Salary: $3.5 million
Per-game active bonus: Up to $500,000

Cap hit: $6 million
Dead cap: $2 million
Savings if cut: $4 million

Pro-rated signing bonus: $1 million
Roster bonus: $800,000
Workout bonus: $200,000
Salary: $4.3 million
Per-game active bonus: Up to $500,000

Cap hit: $6.8 million
Dead cap: $1 million
Saving if cut: $5.8 million

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