2016 Cap Outlook: Buffalo Bills

Through the 2015 NFL season, Pro Football Rumors will be looking ahead to the 2016 offseason, gauging the salary cap situation for each of the league’s 32 teams. The cap for 2016 hasn’t been set yet, but we can still assess the salary commitments made by a club and determine whether or not that club will be in good financial shape going forward.

In addition to evaluating each team’s overall cap situation, we’ll focus in on a few key players who may be candidates to be extended, restructured, or released by their current teams. These lists aren’t comprehensive, and depending on a player’s 2015 performance and health, he could drop off one of these lists – or be added to one – as the season goes on. For now though, these are some players to watch.

Using data from Over The Cap, we’re making our way through the 32 NFL teams in order of total salary commitments for 2016. Today’s team is the Bills, who currently have the second-most money on their ’16 cap.

Let’s dive in….

Top 10 cap hits for 2016:

  1. Mario Williams, DE: $19,900,000
  2. Marcell Dareus, DT: $14,550,000
  3. Charles Clay, TE: $13,500,000
  4. Stephon Gilmore, CB: $11,082,000
  5. Kyle Williams, DT: $8,000,000
  6. LeSean McCoy, RB: $7,675,000
  7. Jerry Hughes, DE: $7,575,000
  8. Aaron Williams, S: $6,100,000
  9. Eric Wood, C: $6,075,000
  10. Sammy Watkins, WR: $5,436,983
    Current 2016 cap number for top 51 players: $149,880,615

The Bills’ cap commitments are incredibly defense-heavy going forward, with all four of their defensive linemen ranking among their top seven cap hits for 2016. In addition to those four players, two defensive backs – Gilmore and Aaron Williams – are in the top eight.

Without a franchise quarterback to take up a huge chunk of cap space, the Bills can afford to invest significant money on the defensive side of the ball, as well as devoting cap room to traditionally less expensive offensive positions like tight end, running back, and center. But even without a pricey quarterback, Buffalo finds itself with nearly $150MM cap commitments for next season, meaning moves will need to be made for the team to function in free agency and in the draft.

Candidates for extension:

While left tackle Cordy Glenn is perhaps the most noteworthy extension candidate on the Bills’ roster, signing him to a new contract wouldn’t help the team’s cap situation, since he’s not currently under contract at all for 2016 — a new deal for Glenn would only add to the club’s cap commitments for next year, rather than reducing them.

That’s not the case for Gilmore, who is currently on the books next year for a fifth-year option that exceeds $11MM. Gilmore has been a solid player for the Bills, but it seems highly unlikely that the club will want to carry him at that price. The most logical solution would be a multiyear contract that gives the 25-year-old cornerback a little more long-term security while perhaps slicing his 2016 cap number in half.

As for McKelvin, his future in Buffalo relies on how he comes back from an ankle injury. McKelvin, who remains on the non-football injury list for now, is entering his early-30s, and his contract expires after the 2016 season. His $4.9MM cap charge for next year isn’t unwieldy, but if the Bills determine he won’t be the same player he was before the injury, he’s a candidate to be released — if he comes back strong, the Bills could reduce his ’16 cap number by adding a couple years to his contract.

Candidates for restructure:

  • Charles Clay, TE
  • LeSean McCoy, RB
  • Mario Williams, DE

A pair of these players just signed new contracts with the Bills this offseason, and Clay’s looks like it was practically designed to be restructured — his cap hit spikes to $13.5MM next season, but doesn’t exceed $6.5MM in any of the subsequent three years.. Of course, the sizable second-year cap charge was initially designed to prevent Miami from matching Buffalo’s offer sheet, but reducing that figure and smoothing out Clay’s cap hits a little should help out the Bills in 2016.

McCoy’s new extension doesn’t include a similar year-two spike, and at $7.675MM, his 2016 cap number is manageable. But he got off to a slow start in Buffalo, and is now sidelined with a hamstring injury. At age 27, McCoy should still have plenty of gas in the tank, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Bills move forward at the running back position if Karlos Williams continues to impress. Through four weeks, the rookie has averaged 5.4 yards per carry, compared to 3.4 for McCoy.

Elsewhere, Mario Williams remains a key contributor to the team’s pass rush and shouldn’t be in danger of losing his roster spot, despite the rising cost of the defensive line. But at $19.9MM, his cap number is one of the largest in the NFL, so the Bills may try to find a way to cut it down a little.

Candidates for pay cut or release:

Manuel has already lost his starting job in Buffalo, and Carpenter could lose his soon. If Billy Cundiff assumes the team’s kicking duties within the next few weeks, Carpenter is unlikely to remain on the roster into the offseason, and even if he holds onto his job, the Bills could explore a cheaper alternative in 2016. Manuel, on the other hand, should still be with the team at season’s end, as he nears the final year of his rookie contract.

At this point, it’s a virtual certainty that the Bills won’t exercise their 2017 fifth-year option on Manuel, but would they keep him for 2016? At about $2.827MM, Manuel doesn’t cost a ton for a backup. Still, it’s not clear if Rex Ryan and the team’s new coaching staff has much confidence in the former first-rounder, even as the club’s No. 2 option, so he’s no lock to make the 2016 roster.

As for Williams and Wood, both players have been productive veterans over the years in Buffalo — particularly Williams, who has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons. It’s possible that the team will simply keep both players on its roster without adjusting their contracts, but at $8MM and $6MM respectively, neither player will be cheap. If they struggle at all down the stretch and the Bills have the opportunity to bring in inexpensive young talent at their positions next year, the veterans may be asked to rework their deals in order to stick around.

Contract information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post.

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