The Buffalo Bills restructured the contract of left tackle Dion Dawkins on Tuesday and while armchair general managers around the Bills Mafia have said this is definitely 100% so they can make a trade, that’s not the case.
Sure, the $4 million in cap space they created is enough to trade for a defensive tackle replacement or add a pass-catcher/tight end or even an upgrade at linebacker or cornerback to help with those injuries. But $5 million is not enough to add one of those guys and sign injury replacements as the season continues. They’re going to need cap space available in December and January and February as other players are injured and need to be replaced.
As John Wawrow of the Associated Press tweeted on Tuesday, the Bills were operating with just under $1 million in available cap space prior to the Dawkins restructure. With tight end Dawson Knox likely headed to Injured Reserve (IR) and defensive tackle Eli Ankou on his way back to the practice squad, the Bills are in need of reinforcements and already signing them, which is why they made the move when they did. Last year, they waited until after the trade deadline and restructured cornerback Tre’Davious White’s contract in December for that space. After several major injuries in 2023, they needed the space sooner.
With that in mind, the Bills will need to make some contract moves if they want to make a trade for someone who isn’t a street free agent. Here are a few options in order of my preference.
C Mitch Morse contract restructure
Morse’s medical history and the fact that it’s the middle of the season would tend to take me away from an extension here, so I’d convert his remaining 2023 salary to a signing bonus, tack on a void year in 2025, and you can add a few million for Buffalo to work with. They can still get out of the deal after 2024 and Morse gets his money up front. It’s a win-win and it’s not going to impact their 2025 cap very much.
DT DaQuan Jones contract extension
DaQuan Jones played really well for the Bills until his pectoral injury. If they think he’s going to return to form in 2024, they could give him a one-year extension as he’s currently in the final year of his deal. Adding the year and $7 million to the contract, while bumping out one void year could add a few million dollars to Buffalo’s 2023 cap. Jones is about to turn 32, so I wouldn’t want to do more than one year. Unlike Morse, he’s not prepping for a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he’s set to be a free agent at the end of the year, so it’s an extension or nothing.
CB Tre’Davious White contract restructure
Normally this one would be at the top of my list as it’s a really easy agreement, would add significant cap space, and I think White is a tremendous player. Heck, the Bills made this exact move last December. Unfortunately for White, he has two major leg injuries over the last three seasons, which makes me hesitant to commit more cap handcuffs to him long-term. A contract restructure works best because it kicks cap hits to later years but because you know that player is going to keep playing at a high level, it’s a risk worth taking. Fortunately for Buffalo, general manager Brandon Beane has structured the contract well and the team isn’t overly leveraged with White, so it’s still possible. In 2022 when they restructured White, they didn’t add a void year. With his injury history, that’s the approach I would take again. Convert his remaining 2023 salary to pro-rated bonus to spread it out over the 2023, 2024, and 2025 seasons. Not adding a void year helps Buffalo keep the roster flexibility of moving on from White at any point in the future. The move also gives them more than a million dollars to work with this year. Sure, they could get more relief by adding void years, but then they would be overly reliant on him in 2024 and 2025 when he’s over 30.
S Micah Hyde contract extension
As I previously said, I don’t think this is a likely option because he’s prepping for an opponent, but Hyde is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. So is Jordan Poyer. Losing both of your experienced safeties in one offseason is less than ideal, which is why the Bills had staggered the pair’s deals until Poyer’s recent one-year agreement. From what I’ve seen, I don’t expect Poyer to be back next year, but Hyde still has something left in the tank. A one-year extension could bridge the gap to the safety overhaul and give them some relief in 2023. I don’t think this is likely, but they don’t have many cap options right now.
Some moves I didn’t make
It’s easy to look at Kaiir Elam’s cap hit and think maybe the Bills could nab some relief by trading him. Buffalo would gain the remainder of Elam’s base salary onto their 2023 cap, or roughly $750k. They’d incur a $3.56 million dead-cap hit in 2024 for the move, too, so if they do trade him, it will be more about trade value and moving on from a draft bust than 2023 cap space or money they’ve already paid him.
The Bills have already shot their shot on most of the contract restructures. They have a few options left there to create a few hundred thousand here and there, but nothing that would add more than a million dollars in cap relief in one move. These lower-level ones could be “break glass in case of emergency” in December if they need to sign an injury replacement for a couple hundred grand to finish the year.
That’s the other reason to do one of these moves now or at least by the start of December; the longer you wait, the less relief you get from contract restructures. Every week you pay out salary that can no longer be converted into pro-rated signing bonus. It’s just one more reason why the timing of the Dawkins restructure and any of these other potential moves legitimately could have nothing to do with the upcoming trade deadline.