According to ESPN, the 2015 Buffalo Bills currently lead the NFL in projected 2015 cash spending at $148 million. Without an accompanying list of how contracts are valued, it is difficult to evaluate the veracity of this number, but the point it makes is clear: Kim and Terry Pegula have allowed Doug Whaley and his staff to spend freely this offseason. Spotrac.com actually has the Bills' cash spending total even higher, at $153.519 million.
To put that in some perspective: according to Spotrac, the Bills' 2014 total cash spending was $130.499 million, although the Bills' ability to spend cash in 2014 was significantly hampered by cap hits (totaling $27 million in dead money) for players that had already been paid cash in previous years. Additionally, if the Bills are able to sign Marcell Dareus to a large contract extension, significant 2015 cash spending will most likely be required.
As you'll recognize, a number around $153.5 million is well above the 2015 NFL salary cap of $143.28 million. This discrepancy is mostly explained by how the NFL accounts for guaranteed bonuses (typically signing bonuses, but also option or guaranteed roster bonuses) in the salary cap. For cap accounting purposes, bonuses are prorated either for a maximum of five years or over the life of the player's contract (if shorter than five years). For example, in the 2015 Bills' cash calculation, the $10 million signing bonus that Charles Clay received counts for $10 million. For cap purposes, Clay's $10 million signing bonus is prorated over the five years of his contract, counting for $2 million per season for the next five years.
At this point in the offseason, cash calculations are speculative, and will definitely change somewhat. Numerous players at the bottom of the roster (the Bills currently have 71 players under contract for 2015) will be cut or replaced before the beginning of the season, and new players will be added both before and during the season. The only assured addition to that total will be the cash required to pay signing bonuses and contracts for the Bills' six upcoming 2015 NFL Draft picks (with even that total somewhat speculative, as late-round selections, although receiving signing bonuses, may very well be cut before the season and not receive a 2015 salary). If the Bills keep all six of their 2015 draft picks and sign each player, the amount needed to pay signing bonuses and salaries will equal just over $5 million. If one late-round pick is cut, that total would drop to around $4.6 million, with each additional cut saving the Bills $435,000 in rookie minimum salary.
Regardless of that rookie and street free agent signing, however, it is unlikely that the Bills' 2015 total cash spending will drop below $150 million (especially if Dareus is extended), in light of a projected total of around $159 million right now. If the bottom 18 salaries currently listed are removed (getting the Bills to the current 53-man roster size), the Bills' cash spending will still total around $150 million. Inevitably, players will be injured in training camp and the preseason, and they will still be paid salaries, while also having to be replaced - meaning that 2015 cash spending over $150 million is almost a certainty.
Looking at last year, ESPN reports that the NFL leader in cash spending was the Baltimore Ravens, with just under $160 million, while Spotrac had the Ravens at $150.5 million. Any way you slice it, even without a Dareus extension in 2015, the Bills will remain among the NFL leaders in cash spending for 2015.
The Bills' 2015 spending is easily demonstrated by looking at the top ten cash earners for the 2015 Bills (new additions in bold, Bills under new contracts in italics):
- LeSean McCoy ($16 million)
- Mario Williams ($14 million)
- Charles Clay ($13 million)
- Jerry Hughes ($11.78 million)
- Kyle Williams ($9 million)
- Marcell Dareus ($8.06 million)
- Percy Harvin ($6 million)
- Aaron Williams ($5.975 million)
- Eric Wood ($4.85 million)
- Matt Cassel ($4.75 million)
Technically, Dareus and Aaron Williams could also be considered playing under new deals, as well. Dareus is playing out an option year (that easily could change to a new contract), and although he signed the contract last year (and received a cash signing bonus of $6.5 million at that time), Williams is entering the first full year under his new contract.