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Buffalo Bills no longer among NFL's leaders in dead money

For the past two seasons, the Buffalo Bills have been weighed down financially by enormous amounts of dead money on their books. That is no longer the case.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

As the Buffalo Bills officially move into their first offseason under new owners Kim and Terry Pegula, one thing has become clear: the Bills will not shy away from making a splash, and spending the money to do so. Case in point: the combined money the Bills are paying to Rex Ryan and Jaguars assistant coach Doug Marrone totals about $9.5 million.

In analyzing the Bills' cap management going forward in this new era, it's fair to assume that they'll be unafraid to spend money on extensions and free agents. But the difference between spending and spending wisely is enormous; the Bills themselves have often spent poorly in recent years, suffering the consequences when those contracts were unsuccessful.

According to Spotrac.com, the Bills had about $27 million in dead money included in their 2014 salary cap figure. Adding the $17.8 million the Bills rolled over from 2013 to the 2014 NFL salary cap of $133 million, approximately 18 percent of the Bills' 2014 cap spending was attributed to dead money.

League-wide, the Bills had the second-most dead money in 2014, the eighth-most in 2013, and the fourth-most during the two previous years combined. The only franchises that had more dead money during this period were Oakland, Jacksonville, and Carolina (who have been able to cover up numerous cap errors by having Cam Newton and stud linebacker Luke Kuechly playing on rookie contracts). Buffalo's total dead money over those two years was $45.3 million, while the league average was $29.3 million.

The effects of having this much wasted money are obvious. Taking the 2013 and 2014 seasons together, 11 different teams won a combined 20 games. Of these 11, only three had a total dead money number higher than the league average of $29.3 million: Dallas at $44.8 million, New England at $35.4 million, and Arizona at $34.1 million. The top five teams in total dead money averaged just under six wins per season.

Despite this poor history for the Bills, 2015 is a fresh start. They are finally out from under the contracts which were two of the main drivers of the 2013-14 dead money: Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson.

The Fitzpatrick contract created $10 million in dead money for the Bills (with $7 million of that falling in 2014), while Johnson’s created $10.225 million, all of which was accounted for in the 2014 salary cap. Although the Bills' 2014 salary cap was forced to account for dead money from long-gone players such as Mark Anderson ($3 million) and Rian Lindell ($1.375 million), these mistakes are finally all cleared.

Presently, the Bills have about $5.47 million in 2015 dead money, with over $2.1 million coming from C.J. Spiller and about $1.5 million from both Kyle Orton and Alan Branch. The Bills do not have a contract like Fitzpatrick's or Johnson’s presently on the books; the maximum dead money the Bills could realistically receive from cutting a single player in 2015 would be $2.625 million (Chris Williams) or $2 million (Leodis McKelvin). Even if some additional dead money is undertaken through the cutting of Williams, Manny Lawson ($1.5 million), Kraig Urbik ($1.4 million), or Scott Chandler ($600,000), the days of the Bills losing such an enormous percentage of their salary cap to dead money appear, for the time being, to be gone.

As history has shown, having money to spend does not always equate with success. In spite of this, it is definitely better to have the money to spend than to not have it. For 2015, the Bills will have money to spend and cap flexibility, both luxuries which have been relatively limited by dead money in the past.