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Bills GM Brandon Beane vs. 2023 NFL salary cap

Perhaps no bigger foe awaits in 2023 — but has Beane already revealed his hand?

Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

During last week’s end-of-season press conference from Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane, the bulk of headlines following the event centered around Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. But a deeper dive by reporters led Beane to a candid bit of conversation about the team’s financial situation and the NFL salary cap, both current and beyond.

Do the Bills have a money problem, especially after signing key players to lucrative multi-year deals? What about the players who make up the bulk of Buffalo’s roster, and those who have contracts expiring?

During an exchange with reporters, Beane said teams didn’t yet know what the incoming salary cap would be for 2023. We now know the NFL salary cap for next season is set at $224.8 million. The Bills are well north of that figure, even when considering the $16.6 million they will gain compared against the 2022 cap.

The 10 highest-paid players on the Bills’ roster make up 73% of the team’s salary cap, a sum total of $164,794,291 — that’s already spent for 2023. For 10 players — very important and talented players, mind you.

It’s quite possible that One Bills Drive is less active during the upcoming free-agency period. That said, Beane hasn’t let a free-agency period pass the team by without some move in the name of improvement, and there are a number of veteran players the Bills could approach about restructuring deals. With so much as stake for 2023 and beyond, let’s hear from Beane directly, via comments he made during last week’s press conference.

Reporter 1: “It leads to another question actually. Can you project how tight you are to the cap and how much flexibility you’re gonna be able to have into the offseason?”

Beane: “Good question. I wish I had some answers, and I don’t. Normally in December we go to the labor meetings, and we get kind of a floor and a ceiling of the cap like, ‘it’s gonna be 218 to 225 million’ something like that. We don’t have that at this point. They were basically waiting on that Sunday Ticket deal with YouTube TV and maybe something else. So, it’s 208 (million) this year but I couldn’t tell you if it’s gonna be 220 (million) or 230 (million) or — I’m hoping for a lot of dollars, because we need it. But you know, right now we’re probably in the 240s (million) of what’s on the book — it ain’t gonna be 240-somthing (million). So, the short answer is: We’re gonna have to get under the cap by moves, could be roster cuts, and that’s all the free agents that you guys are aware of not on the books. All those are count(ed) (as) zero dollars. So we’re gonna have to — without telling you, you already know the answer — there’s not gonna be a Von Miller (type of) signing or somebody of that — we’re gonna have to work to get under the cap so that we can operate next year.”

Reporter 2: “Given that situation, how much do you have to, in reality, hit the pause button so (as) not to further mortgage the future going into this and is that essentially is the reality that you face going into March?”

Beane: “We’re gonna be creative. We’re gonna try and win, and we’re gonna do everything that’s — I started out by thanking Terry and Kim (Pegula) and you know they’ll give us every resource and it’s up to me to figure it out and we’re gonna put as strong a team as we can out there, and hopefully we’re hosting (playoff) games next year. That’s the goal. We’re not going into this year (2023 season) saying ‘hey, I don’t think we’re gonna be as talented as we were last season or in 2020 when we went to the AFC Championship.’ We just gotta hit on draft picks, we gotta find low-cost free agents that can find roles whether it’s key backup, a solid starter — whatever it is. So it’ll be on me and our scouting staff to make the right moves.”

Reporter 2 follow-up: “Just as a follow-up — But you can’t mortgage the future any further in some ways when it comes to the salary cap given the situ — the potential fix that you’re in. Is that (inaudible)?”

Beane: “Yeah, I mean, I think I’ve said it multiple times — we’re not trying to go all-in in one or two seasons. But we’ll be creative, we’ll do things. You know, we may have to rework a few contracts. It’s not that we’re not gonna do that but I also don’t wanna in two years be $100 million over the cap like we’ve seen teams have to do. I’m not looking to do that either.”

Did Beane reveal his hand to reporters last week? There’s little reason to believe Beane was anything other than honest in saying there wouldn’t be a signing the likes of Von Miller. However, I suspect he’s still playing a fair bit of quality poker, and we’ve yet to see the hand he really holds. Plus, signing marquee veterans doesn’t guarantee wins or production. Every season, there are players who overperform or underperform with new teams, and much of that lies in the perceived value to a team.

Certainly, One Bills Drive will need to use all its creative power to get their roster in line with the new league-year cap ceiling. True, there may be some hard decisions made — ones that affect the talent on the team and the outlook of prognosticators. But if nothing else, Beane has shown a healthy desire and adaptability to the changing nature of the league.

If the Bills seek to remain competitive in a league that rewards those who struggle, it must make profound moves at nearly every position group. That includes finding a way to retain dynamic defenders in linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer, who both play pivotal roles on a Super Bowl-focused team. They must also find a way to instill greater fear on offense outside of quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs. It remains to be seen if that’s to come via personnel changes, or schematic shifting by offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.

It’s possible we haven’t seen the best of these Bills yet, and that would benefit them in competing with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Bengals. As such, this year’s draft is vitally important to the future of the franchise, as Beane alluded to last week.

Beane gets a lot of credit for his tenure as GM with Buffalo, and much of that legacy rides on the career of Allen. But he’s also seen his star fade a bit in recent weeks, with so much attention paid to the team’s misses under his draft guidance.

All told, the one thing Bills Mafia should prepare for heading into the new league year is to hold on tight. It might get interesting.