This week at Buffalo Rumblings, we will be taking a five-part look at the Buffalo Bills’ salary cap situation heading into the 2023 offseason. Some notes and disclaimers about this work:
- The NFL has not yet announced what the 2023 salary cap will be at the time of publishing
- All player contract and cap hit information referenced comes courtesy of Spotrac
- This information is often subject to change, particularly once the new league year begins in March
We’ll begin the series with a look at Buffalo’s current Mount Rushmore of players — three untouchables that presently account for roughly one-third of the Bills’ cap space heading into next season.
That figure — $78,658,392 — represents the combined 2023 cap hits of quarterback Josh Allen, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and pass rusher Von Miller.
Allen accounts for (more than) half of that total on his own, with a 2023 cap hit of $39,772,281. The 2023 season will be a massive step forward in Allen’s deal, after the three-time MVP candidate carried cap hits of $10.2 million and $16.3 million in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Buffalo back-loaded Allen’s massive 2021 contract extension, to a certain extent, and the time to start paying up has arrived.
Diggs and Miller, meanwhile, signed their massive contracts last spring — Miller in March as an unrestricted free agent, and Diggs in April to reset his deal to better match market value. Diggs has a 2023 cap hit of $20,271,111, with Miller not too far behind at $18,615,000.
Without knowing what the 2023 salary cap will officially be — Spotrac is currently using a roughly $226.8 million estimate on its site — we can pencil Allen, Diggs, and Miller in to eat up roughly one-third of that total, as things stand now.
Can things change?
Always. But with a combined dead cap of $162,930,235 on these three deals, it won’t be particularly easy, and is quite possibly something that general manager Brandon Beane would strive to avoid.
Miller’s contract is not likely to be altered, at least insofar as base salary reconstruction goes. His 2023 base salary is a mere $1.3 million, with the bulk of his cap hit coming in the form of a $13.51 million roster bonus. That bonus could be modified to prorate into future years, if needed.
Diggs will make $7.91 million in base salary next season. He also has over $4.3 million on the cap in “restructure bonus,” the term Spotrac uses to describe previous base salary that has been converted to bonus money to prorate over the life of the deal, thereby lowering the cap hit for a previous season. With that in mind, it’s also unlikely that Diggs’ deal is one that Beane would look to modify.
Allen’s contract is a different story. Big-money quarterbacks on contending teams seem to change their deals on an annual basis, in an effort to help their teams stockpile as much talent as possible. Allen is signed through the 2028 season, leaving six years left on his contract. He is scheduled to make $27.5 million in base salary alone next season. The Bills could free up cap space in 2023 by converting some of that salary to a bonus, and prorating it over the life of the deal, as they’ve done with other players in recent years.
However, with six years left on the ledger, the team would need to tread lightly. Allen already has future cap hits of $41 million (2024), $51 million (2025), $46 million (2026), $40 million (2027), and $41 million (2028) over the final five years of the deal. There is plenty of room to convert some of Allen’s salary into a bonus to lower his 2023 cap hit, but the team won’t necessarily love the idea of further inflating those already-gargantuan numbers.
Beane refers to this practice as “kicking the can down the road” — the money will need to be accounted for at some point, and slinging cash up front to then account for the money in future seasons can severely hamper you down the line if it’s not done carefully. The Bills have already done this with a half-dozen or so players still under contract, and it’s more likely that Beane would target different deals to re-structure if the need arises.
Long story short: yes, the Bills could do some accounting work to lower the collective cap hits of their three biggest stars. But it may not be a likely scenario, unless the team becomes desperate in its 2023 cap situation — or decides to aggressively pursue a big-name free agent, as they did with Miller last offseason.
Coming up next
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the next (roughly) 38% of Buffalo’s current 2023 cap situation. That percentage of the cap is currently occupied by seven players, meaning that as things stand now, Buffalo’s ten highest-paid players account for $7 out of every $10 the team is on the hook for next season.