There are some ways to get cap space where everyone is happy
Prior to releasing linebacker A.J. Klein, the Buffalo Bills sat at $6.6 million over the NFL’s salary cap. They have a week to get under that cap and they started that process by releasing Klein, so they now are roughly $2 million over the cap.
A few weeks ago, we went through pay cuts that could save the Bills some cap space and we listed them as contract restructures, because each player could earn back the money they lost in base salary. Really, they were just pay cuts and the players would have to be convinced they wouldn’t make that lost money on the free-agent market.
Conversely, the restructures we are listing here today aren’t pay cuts, they are pay accelerations. We are giving each player their 2022 base salary up front as a means to spread it out over multiple years.
When a player is given a signing bonus, it’s spread through the remaining years of the deal equally. If you give a guy an $8 million signing bonus and he has four years on his deal, it’s spread out as $2 million in each season. If you convert $8 million of base salary to a signing bonus, the cap hit goes from $8 million in the current season to just the $2 million in pro-rated money.
It’s not a fool-proof no-brainer. Eventually the bill comes due, and the salary cap will need to be reckoned, which is general manager why Brandon Beane hasn’t loved doing it. You’re seeing the consequences of it with the New Orleans Saints right now.
From a player’s perspective, it’s a fool-proof no-brainer so these are usually easy to accomplish very quickly if a team needs to free up some quick cap space to sign a contract.
In order to qualify, a player must have at least two years remaining on his deal and have a considerable amount of base salary. (They still will need to make at least the league-minimum base salary in the current season, so taking a guy from $2 million down to $1.2 million and spreading out $400,000 into the future doesn’t make sense.) The team should ideally also think they aren’t going to cut this player in the near future, which would accelerate that dead-cap hit. This move not only locks them in for the current season, but puts more pressure on the subsequent season’s cap.
Here are the primary candidates, listed in terms of cap space saved:
(Note: I’m using numbers from Spotrac)
They did this with White last offseason, which is why the numbers are starting to get less round and more nitty-gritty, but I’d definitely be in favor of doing this again. It creates a good chunk of cap space and I fully anticipate White playing out this contract. He has four years left on that deal that expires when he’s 31.
This is a tricky one to figure. You think the Bills are going to give Diggs a new contract soon, as early as the beginning of training camp, and so perhaps you wait on this one. But it also opens up a chunk of cap space and you know for sure he’s going to be here in two years when it’s done. Buffalo did a massive restructure last year with Diggs. I can see them waiting until the new deal for this one or pulling the trigger now, but I think there is little chance he plays 2022 on his current $17.9 million cap hit.
Dawkins is another player who saw this same contract move happen last offseason, but it’s still made his cap hits incredibly reasonable for a left tackle in the league. Plus now he’s made a Pro Bowl. He has three years left on his deal and no guaranteed money left, plus he’s likely to finish the contract when he’s 31.
Milano signed his contract last offseason and has three years left on his deal. Like the deals negotiated on this list by Brandon Beane, it’s likely Milano will be here for the remainder of that contract so it seems like an easy decision to give him this money up front. In my mock offseason, I held off on using this one unless I absolutely need it later not because I don’t value Milano, just because I want to manage future cap hits.
Despite signing a massive contract last offseason, Allen has a tiny base salary in 2022. Why? He already has an option bonus built in to spread out his cap hit over the remaining five years of his deal. He only has a $4 million salary this season but a week from now, he’s getting $42.4 million. With how big Allen’s cap hits are going to be, they can do this restructure if they want, but I don’t see the benefit. Plus, they already knew they were going to have to do some restructures early this offseason and still built his contract the way they did. I think it’s more likely this one stays as is.
The Bills can create nearly $24 million in cap space with these moves, but as I said in the opening lines, the bill will eventually be due (or, if you’re punning, the Bill will eventually be due). Like Brandon Beane, I want to be very judicious with how I use these so I still have cap space down the line to sign other players I want instead of paying for the 2022 season in 2025.
With expected jumps in the salary cap, you might be tempted to count on an increase there to bail you out. That didn’t work when COVID-19 shrank the revenue and it’s not going to be able to keep up with the inflation of Josh Allen’s contract, either. His cap hit goes from $16 million in 2022 to $40 million in 2023 and 2024, then a restructure evens out his future cap hits in the $45 million range for 2025 to 2028.
If it’s me, I am restructuring with Dawkins and White, signing Diggs to a new deal this offseason, leaving Allen alone, and waiting on Milano unless I have to make that move.