In improving their roster during one of their busiest and most expensive offseasons in recent memory, Buffalo Bills management ensured not only that the team would put its best foot forward in 2015, but that it will likely come at a cost of notable players in 2016. That will be the cost of making their newest acquisitions fit under the salary cap alongside upcoming long-term contracts that will be negotiated next offseason.
Who might those cap casualties be next spring? Let's look at a few candidates for either fiscal or competitive job loss between now and a year from now.
WR Marquise Goodwin
Goodwin might be lucky to make the team out of training camp, in truth. Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Percy Harvin easily outrank him at the moment, so it's hard to see Goodwin playing in anything but a special teams role in 2015. That could prompt the team to cut him sooner rather than later. Goodwin is under contract through 2016 at an ultra-cheap price, though, so if he can find a niche on special teams or as a deep threat, he could defy expectations.
CB Leodis McKelvin
Once the Bills selected a cornerback in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, it became clear the team was already preparing for a future without one of its veteran cornerbacks. It will be up to McKelvin to beat out Corey Graham, who carries a similar cap hit in 2016, if he wants to avoid a release when the team has to pony up for top corner Stephon Gilmore. Right now, the odds favor Graham from where we're sitting, which could mean McKelvin is out next year.
DE Manny Lawson
Here's a tenuous selection: Lawson could very well show his 2013 form, rather than his 2014 form, and impress the staff enough to keep him and his $3.4 million cap hit for the 2016 season. However, with Nigel Bradham in need of a new contract, the Bills could decide that's who they prefer - and based on last season's production, they'd have good reason to land there.
QB EJ Manuel
It's a near-certainty that the Bills' current quarterback situation won't carry over to 2016. While the coaching staff must do its due diligence with the roster at hand, there is plenty of evidence from the last two seasons still leads me to believe that Manuel is the odd man out once the Bills re-enter the draft in 2016 with a first round pick. If anticipated starter Matt Cassel can play small ball effectively in 2015, he'll render the former first-round pick a moot selection. If Manuel can defy the odds and play well enough to unseat Cassel, then obviously this will be turned on its head. For now, we're not holding our breath on such a prospect.
OG Richie Incognito
Could this be a one-and-done mercenary situation at One Bills Drive? It sure seems like it. The guard position is a mess for the Bills, but it's one that can be addressed in a multitude of ways. If Incognito isn't squeaky clean all year (and honestly, I expect that he will be) he's definitely gone. Even if he is, however, the Bills may have drafted his 2016 replacement in Louisville guard John Miller.
WR Percy Harvin
This has felt like a one-year stop of mutual interest for both parties since Harvin first signed on the dotted line: the player displays his talents for a big contract from a more receiver-starved squad next offseason, and the Bills have more talent on a shaky offense that needs short-term help. It's hard to believe the team can find the cap space to keep Harvin in 2016 and pay younger prospects at other positions.
RB Bryce Brown
Let's be honest: Brown should want nothing to do with Buffalo after what's transpired in the last year. First, he was acquired in a trade that still boggles the mind. The team had already traded two picks away for Watkins, but somehow saw value in losing a third pick for a guy who had 36 carries last season. Hey, it's not like the Bills wanted an extra fourth-round pick or anything. Brown is a free agent after the 2015 season. LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon, and fifth-round rookie Karlos Williams are already in the fold, so it's uncertain how many carries Brown might see this year. If I were him, I'd be thinking about a fresh start elsewhere.
DE Mario Williams
This isn't something that anyone wants to see, naturally, but it's something that might become necessary if the Bills want to keep their younger defenders on the roster with long-term contracts. The Bills could take the money they save by cutting Williams next offseason and pay anchor Marcell Dareus, who brings more long-term value to the defensive line. With Dareus set to command top money, it's hard to imagine the Bills having two behemoth contracts on their line to complement those of Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes. At least we know he'd be paid handsomely to go play elsewhere.