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Contract projection for Buffalo Bills free-agent CB Levi Wallace

Wallace is going to GET PAID this offseason

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

Levi Wallace has beaten every newcomer at the second cornerback spot during his career with the Buffalo Bills. The undrafted free agent just keeps getting into the lineup. He started seven games in his rookie season and at least 12 in every season since.

He played last year on a one-year contract; the Bills weren’t willing to pay him more than $2 million as a Restricted Free Agent. This year, after another successful year, it’s going to cost more to keep him.

Wallace played 1000 snaps, equal to 92% of Buffalo’s defensive snaps in 2021. He started 17 games with two picks, ten passes defended, and 58 tackles. In coverage, he had a 58% completion percentage allowed, 5.8 yards per target, and a 72.6 rating against. He had a 10.8% missed-tackle percentage and 5.8 yards per target.

To make it even more impressive, Wallace was asked to hold down the fort after Tre’Davious White’s injury on Thanksgiving. He put up a good chunk of those numbers with Dane Jackson as his running mate. Conversely, he was the one often targeted with White on the other side and still held his own.

Last year, I projected a one-year, $2.1 million contract for Wallace, who signed for one year and $1.75 million. Pretty close, right? This year, it’s a lot more. I think Wallace is going to be too rich for general manager Brandon Beane’s blood.

Comparable contracts

Ronald Darby
Denver Broncos, 2021
Three years, $30 million ($19.5 million guaranteed)

Darby started 16 games in 2020 with 16 passes defended and 55 tackles for Washington in 2020. He played 1000 snaps, equal to 96% of the Washington defense—while allowing a 54.% completion percentage against and a 81.0 rating against. Only a 9.8% missed-tackle percentage and 7.3 yards per target. All of his numbers are slightly better or comparable to Wallace, but Darby is a former second-round pick and has the physical gifts Wallace doesn’t. So let’s say this is the ceiling.

Kyle Fuller
Denver Broncos, 2021
One year, $9.5 million ($9 million guaranteed)

Fuller has two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro nod on his resume. In his final season with the Chicago Bears, he notched 16 starts, one interception, eight passes defended, and 65 tackles playing 1060 snaps (99%). He allowed a 55.4% completion percentage, 6.3 yards per target, with an eye-popping 19.8% missed-tackle percentage and 89.8 rating against. He’s a former first-round pick plus he had those previous accolades, so maybe he gets a pay bump, but Wallace’s numbers are better in virtually every area.

Michael Davis
Los Angeles Chargers, 2021
Three years, $25.2 million ($10 million guaranteed)

The guy I think who most closely aligns with Wallace on this list is Davis, who was 26 when he signed this deal and coming off his UDFA contract. This is the deal Wallace wishes the Bills would have given him a year ago. He started 14 games for LA in 2020, playing 958 snaps (92%), tallying one interception, and 52 tackles with 12 passes defended. He allowed a 60.6% completion percentage and seven yards per target with a 79.2 rating allowed. He missed 12.3% of the tackles.

Mike Hilton
Cincinnati Bengals, 2021
Four years, $24 million ($6 million guaranteed)

I think this is the absolute floor for Wallace. A 2016 UDFA, Hilton finally played his way onto the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster in 2017 and was a fill-in starter for them for four seasons. He signed a one-year deal for $3 million in 2020, following a similar trajectory to Wallace. He played 62% of Pittsburgh’s snaps in 2020, allowing a 64.% completion percentage, 60.2 rating against, and 6.0 yards per target—with a whopping 17.7% missed tackle percentage. He also had three interceptions and seven defended passes with 51 tackles. Other than interceptions, Wallace blew him out of the water in every other metric. Only the first year is guaranteed, so it’s not a strong contract.

Contract Projection

Wallace might compare numerically to the first two guys listed, but his body type and playing style aren’t as sexy and he certainly doesn’t have their pedigree. He’s a solid contributor, makes good decisions, is a good tackler, and he’s not afraid to do the little things. He’s a guy you want on your team, but he probably fits better on a team with more cap space trying to establish a culture.

Three years, $25.5 million contract
$10 million guaranteed

An $8.5 million per-year average puts him a notch below Darby and Fuller and slots him as the 22nd average annual salary in 2021. It’s a smidge better than Davis and, like Davis, only the first year has guaranteed money in it. This is a similar path to the one the Bills took with other starters they like but don’t love like Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams.

A $6 million signing bonus spread out a lot of the Year 1 money into the future and gives him a big chunk of money right now. In fact, the signing bonus alone more than doubles his career earnings to this point. That plus a $4 million guaranteed roster bonus and salary are the only thing fully committed.

Here’s a potential full breakdown:

Pro-rated signing bonus: $2 million
Roster bonus $500,000 (guaranteed)
Workout bonus: $100,000
Salary: $3.5 million (guaranteed)
Per-game active bonus: Up to $500,000

Cap hit: $6.6 million

Pro-rated signing bonus: $2 million
Roster bonus $500,000
Workout bonus: $100,000
Salary: $5.4 million
Per-game active bonus: Up to $500,000

Cap hit: $8.5 million
Dead cap if cut: $4 million
Savings if cut: $4.5 million

Pro-rated signing bonus: $2 million
Roster bonus $1 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Salary: $6.8 million
Per-game active bonus: Up to $500,000

Cap hit: $10.4 million
Dead cap if cut: $2 million
Cap savings if cut: $8.4 million

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