What Matt Warren would do with the Bills, from free agency through the draft and managing the salary cap
At Buffalo Rumblings, we usually like to break out each individual aspect of a bigger topic to analyze it from multiple points. With the Buffalo Bills’ offseason, we’ve been taking a methodical look at every position but with Buffalo’s postseason run, the team is making moves before we’ve hit every position group, salary cap maneuver, and free-agent possibility. So before we get too many more moves, here is my offseason plan for the team.
We will keep publishing those breakout pieces, for sure, but this should serve as a guide for what I want for the overall offseason on the roster.
The Buffalo Bills start the offseason with $-2.226 million in cap space, per Spotrac, but that doesn’t include Siran Neal, who signed last week. Let’s assume his cap hit is around $2 million for our accounting here based on the previous reporting, starting us at $-3.226 million in Top-51 cap space. (Only players in the top 51 contracts on the roster count during the offseason.)
The first thing I need to do is create cap space, so I would look at pay cuts for a few players first. I’m not trying to create holes here, but if a player refuses the pay cut, I can release them. That’s why this is first.
- WR Cole Beasley (creates $2.4 million)
- OL Daryl Williams (create $2.5 million)
- DT Star Lotulelei (creates $2 million)
That saves $6.9 million in cap space, so we currently sit on the positive side at roughly $3.7 million.
I am also going to convert the base salary of Dion Dawkins to a signing bonus and spread out the cap hit, saving $4.7 million in cap space. Similarly, converting Tre’Davious White’s salary to signing bonus saves $6.7 million.
Matt Milano’s restructure could push $4.3 million more into the 2022 cap number, but I’m going to hold off on that for now unless I see another free agent to pursue.
Our new cap space of $15.1 million is a start, but not good enough.
2. Create cap space with releases
You have to make some assumptions here. If the Bills want to go with a mauling offensive line, Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford makes sense at a guard spot, but Mitch Morse feels out of place. If they want to be more finesse, Morse is great and Feliciano and Ford not so much. I’m going to stick with Morse and upgrade the guard spots, even though the team brought in a more mauling OL coach in Aaron Kromer.
A.J. Klein has been a nice luxury to have, but his cap hit is too high for this team. Matt Haack was not good in 2021, and he’s due a roster bonus at the end of March.
- OG Jon Feliciano ($3.5 million)
- LB A.J. Klein ($5.1 million)
- P Matt Haack ($1.2 million)
That adds another $9.8 million in cap space (plus Tyler Matakevich if we want) so we sit at roughly $24.9 million in available money. That’s plenty to get us off the ground filling holes in free agency.
3. Identify areas of need
What starting spots are we desperate to replace? What depth positions are important? Here’s my prioritized list.
- Starting CB2
- Starting OG/Backup C
- Starting 1-Tech DT
- Rotational DE
- Backup 3-Tech DT
- Backup QB
- Backup outside WR
- Backup TE
- Backup OG
- Backup slot WR
- Backup RB
- Depth LB
- Offensive line depth
- Defensive line depth
- Safety depth
4. Re-sign my free agents
The Bills like to go into the NFL Draft with options, which means their major holes are already filled. That’s going to be a tall order this year, but I expect they’ll be close to achieving it. Time to spend some money starting with our own free agents.
- Re-sign DT Harrison Phillips (Uses $5.1 million in cap space)
He fills a need for the team and is coming off injury-plagued seasons. He wants to be here. I think it’s a no-brainer. Here is the contract projection I wrote earlier this offseason.
- Re-sign DE Jerry Hughes (Uses $4 million in cap space)
Buffalo gets a guy who wants to be here and a rotational piece who played well in 2021. His sack numbers aren’t there, but his pass rush win rate, hurries, and QB pressure numbers were good. It solves a problem on your defensive line with a proven veteran. Here is my contract projection piece.
- Re-sign OL Ryan Bates (Uses $2.4 million in cap space)
I personally think the RFA tender of $2.4 million just for the right of first refusal is pretty high for Bates, who hasn’t met Aaron Kromer and has jut a handful of starts under his belt. Bates is a good piece to have in your tool belt and that’s the going rate for an OG. I’m more down for this than I was a Levi Wallace tender a year ago.
- Re-sign WR Isaiah McKenzie to a veteran minimum deal
These guys are not likely to cash in on the open market. They should come back to Buffalo for another run.
That uses $12.7 million, leaving us with $12.2 million or so to work with on new free agents. When these players are signed, cheaper players are bumped off the Top-51 cap for now, so the number is closer to $14 million or thereabouts.
5. Sign new free agents
I don’t have a ton of cap space to work with anymore, but I have some holes I want to prioritize with free-agent additions instead of the NFL Draft.
- Sign a backup QB (Uses $3 million)
There are two names on my list that I am targeting if Mitchell Trubisky goes looking for a starting job as he should; Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota. With Davis Webb, Shea Tierney, Brian Daboll, Jake Fromm, and now Trubisky gone, the QB room is going to look a lot different. Adding in a guy who has experience seems like a wise decision. Neither of these guys are going to get sniffs for starting jobs, so they can be had in the $3 to $5 million range. Jacoby Brissett is further down my list.
- Add a backup TE (Uses $3 million)
When Dawson Knox broke his hand, it really impacted the offense in 2021. I want to avoid that by adding an above-replacement level backup, which might also allow the Bills to use some 2-TE sets to enhance the run game. I’m not in the market for a high-priced tight end, but someone.
- Sign a punter/holder (Uses $1.5 million)
I am tempted to draft a guy, but Tyler Bass is young and the Bills have an inexperienced and brand-new special teams coach. Let’s add a veteran here.
- Add a vet minimum 3-tech DT (Uses $1.1 million)
Ideally, this would be Justin Zimmer or someone along the same lines. Zimmer had knee surgery in November and isn’t likely to be 100% by the start of the season, though.
After that, we are down to roughly $5 million in Top-51 cap space. I’m not going to do anything there just yet. I want to keep that cushion for now. I need to sign draft picks and injury replacements. I also have Matt Milano’s contract that can be restructured to give me $4 million in cap space if I want it. If you want to add Emmanuel Sanders or another mid-tier veteran wideout, that’s where the money would come from.
6. Re-evaluate my needs list
My needs list is dwindling now with a few glaring exceptions. I put how the position is going to be addressed in parentheses next to the position as of this moment in the offseason.
- Starting CB2 (Dane Jackson)
Starting OG/Backup C(Ryan Bates re-sign)
Starting 1-Tech DT(Harrison Phillips re-sign)
Rotational DE(Jerry Hughes re-sign)
Backup 3-Tech DT(Vet minimum free agent)
Backup QB(Free agent)
- Backup outside WR (Isaiah Hodgins)
Backup TE(Free agent)
- Backup OG (Cody Ford)
Backup slot WR(Isaiah McKenzie re-sign)
- Backup RB (Christian Wade)
- Depth LB (Matakevich/Smith/Giles-Harris)
- Offensive line depth (Jacob Capra, Tommy Doyle)
- Defensive line depth (Eli Ankou, Mike Love)
- Safety depth (Josh Thomas)
7. NFL Draft time
My priorities heading into the 2022 NFL Draft are pretty straightforward now and I have two positions I’m targeting in the first two or three rounds. Nothing is on fire, but we have obvious places to upgrade.
Round 1/2: Cornerback
I said I wouldn’t let myself get talked into this, you guys. I promised I wouldn’t draft a CB this high for the Bills under head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane. It makes way too much sense now. Tre’Davious White’s ACL tear in late November means he won’t be 100% on opening weekend and the timing of the remaining years on his deal works in the favor of this scenario. Draft a CB now and when Tre’s deal is over, the new CB will be ready to cash in on his new contract extension. From a cap management standpoint it lines up perfectly and addresses a need for the team now.
Round 1/2: Wide receiver
Oh boy, I can just hear the NFL Draft parties bombing this pick. It makes sense, though, trust me. Stefon Diggs is about to sign a big extension, so cost-controlling the spot around him is important. Gabriel Davis is two years away from his free-agent contract, so drafting and developing this guy to replace Davis when he hits it big is good planning. Keep the option to rotate the WR2 spot every two years. Plus, the Bills used three receivers on the outside for 40% of the snaps in each of the last two years. It’s one step below a starting spot and in heavy rotation.
Round 3/4: Offensive guard
They need to add another player in the mix who can start potentially right away. The new guy competes with Ryan Bates for the starting spot or is the first guy off the bench. With how many OGs they’ve gone through the last two years, you need one.
Round 3/4: DE or 3T DT
The Bills want to invest in their pass rush and they can do it with a backup to Ed Oliver or another rotational defensive end. I am probably leaning more toward 3T right now, but whatever the board can handle.
Round 5/6/6/7/7: DE or 3T DT, LB RB3, TE3, 1T DT
8. Stefon Diggs contract extension
Diggs has two years left on a deal that is underpaying him and would likely open up cap space for the team so they can add injury replacements in training camp. It also locks in a key piece for them moving forward. Adding four years and $88 million to the remaining two years of his deal and spreading out the cap hit into future years will likely lower his $18 million cap hit in 2022. I haven’t worked out all the details, but this is the centerpiece of their offseason negotiating, beginning in June.
9. Contract extensions for guys with one year left
Mitch Morse, Dawson Knox, Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds, and Ed Oliver (two years)
If you want to build your OL around a smart finesse player, Morse is the guy. He turns 30 this year and enters the final year of his contract, so adding another two years on the end would be ideal for me. Knox’s value could jump significantly after a second straight season of kicking butt. It’s too late to buy low, but maybe you can buy medium—but this feels like a training camp deal. Is Poyer too old for a multi-year extension? Probably not. Tremaine Edmunds is super-interesting; do they want to lock up that much money at linebacker long-term after already signing Matt Milano? Oliver’s fifth-year option is a no-brainer, but they extended Josh Allen a couple months after picking up his option and could do the same with Oliver. Buffalo has only $5 million minus a couple million to sign the draft picks. That’s not a lot to handle these extensions in my scenario, but as extensions go, most of them can be done without adding a significant cap hit in 2022, at least for Morse, Poyer, and Edmunds.
It’s been 2000 words, so I don’t need to add much more here. Leave your thoughts in the comments or drop your own in the fanpost section.