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Stephon Gilmore contract extension projection: aiding the 2016 salary cap

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The Buffalo Bills are close to the 2016 salary cap. Some might say they have the "worst" cap situation in the league. Let's take a look at how a monster contract extension for cornerback Stephon Gilmore can cut his 2016 salary cap figure in half.

While considerable focus has been spent on the Buffalo Bills' upcoming free agents and their contract negotiations, little discussion has occurred regarding a new contract for starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The 2012 first-round pick enters the final year of his rookie contract under the option-year salary of $11.082 million, a salary cap number which the Bills will hopefully attempt to lower through the negotiation of a long-term contract with their best defensive back.

Although entering his fifth year in the league, Gilmore is still very young, turning 26 in September. While he has battled nagging injuries that have cost him a number of games early in his career, when healthy, he has grown into a consistent performer at a position that is so highly valued in today's NFL. Gilmore has not been perfect, and the games missed because of injury are annoying for such an important part of a defense, but he has earned himself a very handsome pay day.

While we wrote earlier this week regarding Nigel Bradham that outside linebackers who aren't passing rushers are not paid a premium, the opposite is true for top cornerbacks. Upper-echelon players at the position earn over $10 million per season on their contracts, with large guarantees and significant up-front money. Gilmore certainly fits into this category due to his age and on-field performance.

Last offseason, two (in my opinion) lesser cornerbacks received contracts in the above category: Byron Maxwell from the Philadelphia Eagles, and Jimmy Smith from the Baltimore Ravens. Although the best corner to be paid last season was arguably Chris Harris (at the bargain rate of $8.5 million average per year with sizable guarantees), Maxwell and Smith's contracts should set the baseline for a Gilmore extension.

Maxwell received a six-year, $63 million contract via free agency last year, and proceeded to play average cornerback without his former Legion of Boom members. Smith, who like Gilmore was entering the fifth option-year of his rookie contract, received a four-year extension equaling out to a five-year contract worth $48 million from the Ravens.

Gilmore and his agent should successfully argue that he deserves to be paid better than both Maxwell and Smith. The next question, then, is how much more? Maxwell is currently the fifth-highest paid cornerback in the league; the four players above him, Joe Haden, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, and Darrelle Revis, all make more than $13.5 million per year on their contracts. It is a tough sell to place Gilmore in this category. This gap in comparable contracts leaves significant room for negotiation between the Bills and Gilmore, as it seems reasonable boundaries are in place, but with a large gap in between ($3 million per year over the course of a four- or five-year contract).

In terms of leverage, both sides have some, but Gilmore's negotiating stance should be stronger. Although he will earn a hefty $11.082 million if he gambles on himself this season, he has suffered injuries in each of the past three seasons that cost him games, and an injury-plagued 2016 could bring an injury-prone label and force to take a short-term "prove-it" deal to rebuild his value.

Other than injury-risk, Gilmore has considerable leverage working in his favor. After this season, the Bills could decide to franchise tag Gilmore to keep him under team control for another season, but that number would have to be 120 percent of $11.082 million, or the almost untenable number of $13.298 million. Additionally, the Bills have repeatedly said they want to re-sign Gilmore as a cornerstone of their defense (as they should).

Where does this bring us on a Gilmore contract extension projection? As I said above, there is considerable wiggle room on this deal where both sides can come out looking good, so projecting an exact number may be relatively difficult. It appears to me that for the Bills to retain Gilmore, an extension should be in the range of five years, $62.418 million in new money. Adding back in Gilmore's current option year salary and contract year, the new deal will total six years, $73.5 million. The new money under this projection would average out to $12.484 million per year, which is still over a million lower than Haden, but demonstrative of the premium placed on cornerbacks and the rising cap. In total, the contract would average out to about $12.25 million per year.

As did Smith and Maxwell, with $23 and $25 million, respectively, Gilmore will garner significant guaranteed as well as up-front money. To reach around 40-45 percent of guaranteed money, the Bills should guarantee about $33 million in total, with around $24 guaranteed at signing and another $9 million tied to rolling guarantees that are for injury only at signing, and that subsequently become fully guaranteed.

The structure of such a contract is difficult to view in a vacuum. The Bills are also (hopefully) negotiating extensions with Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito, and pay cuts with numerous other players. The conversion of Charles Clay's roster bonus freed money on the 2016 cap, while also showing the flexibility that the NFL salary cap offers. For example, the Bills could spread Gilmore and Glenn's "signing bonus" over two payments, a signing bonus in 2016 and a fully guaranteed roster bonus in 2017 that could then be converted as Clay's was.

Either way, Gilmore will need to receive considerable compensation in the first few years of the contract and cash pay in 2016 that will outsize the $11.082 million he is scheduled to receive. Additionally, no matter how the Bills structure the contract, any extension will undoubtedly drop Gilmore's 2016 cap number from $11.082 million. To demonstrate, here is a proposed structure for the above projected contract:

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Age

26

27

28

29

30

31

Signing Bonus

$20 million

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Annual Salary

$1.418 million (fully gteed)

$7.382 million (half fully, half rolling gtee)

$8 million ($4 mil rolling gtee)

$8 million

$10 million

$10 million

Roster Bonus

N/A

$500k (gteed)

$750k

$1.5 million

$2 million

$2 million

Workout Bonus

$100k

$100k

$250k

$500k

$500k

$500k

Total Cash Pay

$21.518 million

$29.5 million

$38.5 million

$48.5 million

$61 million

$73.5 million

Now in terms of cap hits:

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Age

26

27

28

29

30

31

Prorated SB

$4 million

$4 million

$4 million

$4 million

$4 million

N/A

Annual Salary

$1.418 million (fully gteed)

$7.382 million (half fully, half rolling gtee)

$8 million ($4 mil rolling gtee)

$8 million

$10 million

$10 million

Roster Bonus

N/A

$500k (gteed)

$750k

$1.5 million

$2 million

$2 million

Workout Bonus

$100k

$100k

$250k

$500k

$500k

$500k

Total Cap Hit

$5.518 million

$11.982 million

$13 million

$14 million

$16.5 million

$12.5 million

If the Bills feel comfortable under the 2016 salary cap, they could move some of the signing bonus into fully guaranteed salary for 2016, dropping the future salary cap hits in each year by one-fifth of whatever amount they move into salary.