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Richie Incognito contract projection for 2016 NFL free agency

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The Buffalo Bills want to re-sign left guard Richie Incognito this offseason. What will it take to make that happen? Here's our best guess.

Way back during the optimistic days of December 9, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley stated that the team would prioritize re-signing the left-side of its offensive line - Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito - this coming offseason. What will it take to do so? Let's start that conversation by talking about Incognito, who will turn 33 next season.

Incognito has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015 season, solidifying the left guard position and helping guide what is currently the NFL's most productive rushing attack. Incognito does, however, play one of the least-valued positions in the NFL.

Comparable contracts for Incognito are relatively scarce, because teams do not typically pay premium dollar for guards. When cut by Philadelphia last offseason, perennial Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis was greeted by a cold market. Mathis was 33 (turning 34 in November), but was forced to take a one-year deal for $3.25 million (with possible incentives of another $1.5 million). While Incognito should strive for a longer and more lucrative contract than Mathis, his contractual ceiling seems relatively limited by the 2015 contracts signed by former other Pro Bowl players like Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans.

Grubbs made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2013 before being traded from New Orleans to Kansas City this past March. The 31-year-old Grubbs was traded with two years remaining on a five-year, $36 million contract he had signed in 2012. That contract contained total cash compensation numbers of $6.6 million and $7.3 million in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Kansas City immediately ripped up Grubbs' old contract and re-signed him to a two-year extension, adding an additional $10.1 million to Grubbs' old contract.

Grubbs' new four-year contract is valued at $24 million, and contains $6.5 million guaranteed. Here is a full breakdown of that deal, accounting first for cash value...

2015 2016 2017 2018
Age 31 32 33 34
Yearly Cash $6.6M $4.9M $6M $6.5M
Total Cash $6.6M $11.5M $17.5M $24M

... and then for salary cap hits.

2015 2016 2017 2018
Age 31 32 33 34
Restructure Bonus $1.4M $1.4M $1.4M $1.4M
Salary $900k $4.8M $5.65M $6.15M
Roster Bonus N/A N/A $250k $250k
Workout Bonus $100k $100k $100k $100k
Annual Cap Hit $2.4M $6.3M $7.4M $7.9M
Total Cap Hit $2.4M $8.7M $16.1M $24M
Dead Money $6.5M $4.2M $2.8M $1.4M

Evans made the Pro Bowl each year from 2009 to 2014, and was playing under a massive seven-year, $56.7 million contract. Entering his age-32 season in 2015, Evans had two years ($7.5 million and $8.7 million in 2015 and 2016, respectively) remaining on his deal, but was forced to take a significant pay cut during the 2015 offseason. The reduced contract Evans signed this past March became a three-year deal for $18 million, hitting the same $6 million per year figure as Grubbs.

While it seems likely that Incognito and his agent will argue that his 2015 play deserves a contract in the range of $6 million per year (or more), like Grubbs and Evans, Incognito is two years older than Grubbs and a year older than Evans at the time they signed. While Kansas City was able to give Grubbs a solid $6.5 million guaranteed, as well as a high yearly average, they did so with a large prorated bonus payment and higher cash and cap hits in the latter years of the deal.

The Bills may very well be forced to replicate this model, and plan on absorbing dead money hits down the road. Depending on the numerous other expected offseason moves, another option for the Bills could be a shorter contract with higher cap hits, but less long-term risk.

With the two different structures in mind, here are projected yearly breakdowns (cash first, then cap) of a possible contract for Incognito.

Four years, $20M, $5M signing bonus, $6M guaranteed:
2016 2017 2018 2019
Age 33 34 35 36
Yearly Cash $6M $4M $5M $5M
Total Cash $6M $10M $15M $20M
2016 2017 2018 2019
Age 33 34 35 36
Signing Bonus $1.25M $1.25M $1.25M $1.25M
Salary $1M $3.5M $4M $4M
Roster Bonus N/A $250k $750k $750k
Workout Bonus N/A $250k $250k $250k
Yearly Cap Hit $2.25M $5.25M $6.25M $6.25M
Total Cap Hit $2.25M $7.5M $13.75M $20M
Dead Money $6M $3.75M $2.5M $1.25M

In the above projection, the difference between Grubbs, Evans, and Incognito's age is reflected in the slightly lower guarantee and $1 million lower per-year average. While Incognito has the leverage of entering the market coming off a great season, Grubbs also had the leverage of being obtained for a fifth-round pick with $13.9 million existing on his two remaining years. A shorter contract with the same compensation could also be done as follows:

Two years, $10M, $6M signing bonus, $6M guaranteed
2016 2017
Age 33 34
Yearly Cash $7M $3M
Total Cash $7M $10M
2016 2017
Age 33 34
Signing Bonus $3M $3M
Salary $1M $2M
Roster Bonus N/A $750k
Workout Bonus N/A $250k
Yearly Cap Hit $4M $6M
Total Cap Hit $4M $10M
Dead Money $6M $3M

The two-year structure would provide Incognito with an extra $1 million in the first year, as well as the slightly increased security that comes with a higher initial signing bonus and lower 2017 cap hit.

While the league-wide market for guards has been relatively cold, the Bills under Whaley (and the Pegulas) have established their own trend of bucking league-wide norms. A display of loyalty and thanks for the leap of faith the Bills took with Incognito may allow the Bills to receive a discount, but it would not be surprising if the Bills paid slightly above market to retain Incognito's services, considering their lack of talent at the guard position.