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Buffalo Bills salary cap: Contract extensions that could save 2024 space

It might seem counterintuitive, but the Bills can save cap space with some extensions.

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images
Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

Earlier this offseason, we talked about how the Buffalo Bills are considerably over the NFL’s 2024 salary cap so they will need to create some space. While the Bills can use some simple accounting to restructure contracts to create cap space, it’s probably not going to be enough to get the job done.

Let’s discuss how the Bills can create cap space by giving some contract extensions. It might seem counterintuitive to pay people more money to create cap space, but let’s explain.

Most of the time, a player entering the final year or two of their contract has a large base salary. Taking players with those base salaries and converting them to a signing bonus that can be pro-rated over five years allows an NFL team to still give a player a bunch of cash in a calendar year, but spread out that cap hit over multiple years. If they’re in the final year of their deal, the classic restructure won’t work as they don’t have extra years to utilize. Adding those years with an extension is the best way to do that if the player is still young enough and playing at a high level.

If they are at an age where their play is going to drop off, you might not want to commit more money to them. If they aren’t in a team’s long-term plans, it shouldn’t make the extension, either. So this list isn’t going to be particularly long.

Here’s the list of candidates and their current cap hits. They have one year left on their deal (with one exception) and cap hits that could be lowered with an extension:

  • OT Dion Dawkins ($16.6 million)
  • CB Tre’Davious White ($16.4 million)
  • CB Taron Johnson ($12.4 million)
  • C Mitch Morse ($11.5 million)
  • CB Rasul Douglas ($9 million)
  • S Jordan Poyer ($7.5 million)
  • WR Deonte Harty ($5.57 million)
  • RB Nyheim Hines ($5.5 million)
  • S Siran Neal ($3.4 million)

White is the only person on this list with two years left on his deal. Coming off two leg injuries and about to hit 30 is probably not the time to do it. They can wait until after 2024 because he still has a year on his deal after that.

I think we can take out Poyer, too. He turns 33 before the season starts, so I’m not interested in an extension until after the 2024 season. He could be a candidate for adding a void year or two to lower his cap hit this season as they did with Micah Hyde in the past.

I’m also going to cross off Hines and Harty based on performance. I’m not really interested in paying more money to either of them. I think both of them are candidates for pay cuts instead.

A Neal extension won’t really save any cap space. His base salary is $2 million, so bringing it down to the league minimum would only move $800k. Even a three-year extension would clear just $600k for Neal’s 2024 number.

Here’s our updated list of possibilities:

  • OT Dion Dawkins ($16.6 million)
  • CB Taron Johnson ($12.4 million)
  • C Mitch Morse ($11.5 million)
  • CB Rasul Douglas ($9 million)

Here’s the priority order I would like to see these done.

Taron Johnson
28 when season starts
$12.4 million current cap hit

This one feels like a no-brainer to complete in the next couple months. He’s played his tail off and he’s proven to be healthy, which was the biggest concern when he was on his rookie contract. He’s only going to be 28 when his contract expires, so he’s in the prime of his career, and they lean heavily on him.

Johnson signed a three-year, $24 million deal in 2021, and he’s due a pay bump. I’m really not sure how high this contract could go because there just aren’t comps — not many slot cornerbacks are playing 90-plus-percent of their team’s snaps. As an illustration, even doubling his cash in 2024 to $15 million, spread out over five years it would lower his 2024 cap hit by $3 million or more. The hardest part is just coming up with the value, which I think will end up between $12 million and $14 million per season.

Dion Dawkins
30 when season starts
$16.6 million current cap hit

Dawkins has a $9.3 million base salary in 2024. If they drop that to the vet minimum of $1.2 million, they can bump out the rest of the salary over five years, clearing $6.4 million. Guaranteeing a new 2025 salary with an option bonus could give them significant relief. They could also choose to structure it in a way that would still save them cap space in 2024, but pay him more in the calendar year. It really is about how long they want to commit to the 30-year-old left-side anchor.

Rasul Douglas
30 when season starts
$9 million current cap hit

It’s unclear if the Bills want to see Douglas get through an entire offseason before giving him an extension, but they could do a nice two-year extension to clear cap space if they want, taking Douglas through his 32-year-old season. Dropping his base salary to the veteran minimum would give them $5 million to add to his $2 million roster bonus. Pro-rating that $7 million would clear $5.6 million if they don’t give him any additional money. I’d suggest tapping a couple years on to the deal, which could shrink that cap savings number, because they’ll have to bump that signing bonus. They’d still save significant space in the $3 to $5 million range.

Mitch Morse
32 when season starts
$11.47 million current cap hit

This one is tricky, but they could give him a one-year extension and add on a couple void years to really cut that 2024 number if they want. He’s due a $1 million roster bonus and $6.89 million in base salary, so that’s $6.6-ish million to work with after his 2024 minimum base is applied. At the very least, they could clear a couple million dollars in cap space, up to $5 million or so with a nice guaranteed option bonus in 2025 if the veteran wants to keep playing beyond this season.