The long-awaited details of the Ndamukong Suh mega-contract with the Miami Dolphins finally came out Wednesday evening, and they provide some clarity on the Buffalo Bills' pursuit of free agent Dolphins tight end Charles Clay.
According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, Suh will receive a $25.5 million signing bonus, as well as the league minimum salary of $985,000 in 2015. Prorating the $25.5 million over the maximum of five years creates a 2015 cap hit for Suh of only $6.085 million (one-fifth of the bonus, $5.1 million, plus base salary). Miami clearly structured the deal to maximize their 2015 cap space as much as possible, with Suh's 2016 salary jumping up to an enormous $23.485 million in 2016.
What this means for Bills fans awaiting the long-reported offer sheet for Clay is that Miami is going to have a much greater capacity to possibly match an offer for Clay than was most likely being anticipated at One Bills Drive. According to Spotrac.com, Miami has $13.42 million left for the 2015 salary cap before Suh and other free agent signees Brice McCain and Jason Fox are added. (Spotrac also curiously lists released linebacker Philip Wheeler's third-year salary as being guaranteed, thus adding to their 2015 dead money, but I have been unable to find any reporting that Wheeler had any third-year money guaranteed, and it is rare for a player to have guaranteed salary in the third year of a contract.)
If we assume that Wheeler's $2.9 million has been erroneously counted as dead money by Spotrac, this leaves Miami with $15.32 million in cap space, pre-Suh. Not having detailed figures for McCain and Fox (except that the deals were worth $5.5 million over two years and $2.5 million over two years, respectively), it seems likely Miami would have also done everything they could to keep those 2015 cap hits down, as well.
Under all of these assumptions, I think it is fair to say that Miami will, again according to Spotrac's calculations of the majority of contracts, have about $7 million in cap space with which they can match an offer from the Bills. In addition to this money, it was reported that punter Brandon Fields has restructured his contract, freeing up additional money not included in the Spotrac figures.
While all of the assumptions made and the lack of specific, detailed information mean these figures could be slightly off, the highly creative and unique structure of Suh's monster contract does mean that the likelihood of the Bills being able to create an offer sheet which the Dolphins would be unable to match took a slight hit this evening.