BUFFALO, NY — During general manager Brandon Beane’s six-year tenure, the Buffalo Bills have cleared plenty of hurdles while building the team into a title contender.
This offseason, the big challenge is addressing the Bills’ needs with a franchise quarterback on the beginning portion of a big extension.
The team is currently $18.13 million over the salary cap (set at $224.8 million in 2023), per Roster Management, and has a month to become cap compliant before the new league year starts on March 15.
“We’re going to have to get under the cap by moves — could be roster cuts,” Beane said in January, noting that the Bills’ 20 unsigned free agents also aren’t on the books yet. “All of those are counting zero dollars.
“There’s not going to be a Von Miller signing or somebody [like that]. We’re going to have to work to get under the cap so that we can operate next year.”
Having already paid many of the team’s best players means a significant portion of the team’s cap is dedicated to a few stars.
While quarterback Josh Allen accounted for 9.23% of the team’s total cap in 2022 ($16.4 million), he is set to take up 16.3% of the team’s cap this upcoming season ($39.8 million).
The Bills could manage the cap by restructuring some deals to be more team-friendly. They will also have some big decisions to make on potential cap casualties, re-signing free agents and signing players to extensions.
“Now they have to just make choices in context knowing that, you know, not everyone’s gonna be able to be paid as a veteran,” ESPN analyst and former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said, “and some of their free agents are gonna have two graduates.”
Let’s look at the Bills’ options:
The Bills are investing a significant amount of money in the team’s top players. Per Roster Management, the team’s four highest-paid players (Allen, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Miller and cornerback Tre’Davious White) account for more than 40% of the team’s cap.
Fortunately for the Bills, there is simple restructuring they can do to create space this year. But pushing too much money down the road can create a bad situation.
“You just got to know that eventually you’re gonna have to pay for it and budget accordingly,” Tannenbaum said. “Sometimes you want to do that when you feel like, you know, your window is close, but you do want to do it within reason because, at some point, you’re gonna have to pay those bills.”
Here are some restructuring targets:
Josh Allen, 2023 cap value: $39.8 million
Potential savings by restructuring: $21.1 million in 2023
Restructuring Allen’s deal by making his base salary the veteran’s minimum and converting the rest into a signing bonus. The team is committed to Allen for the long haul (under contract through 2028), and his contract allows for pushing some of his money down the road not to be the end of the world.
Von Miller, 2023 cap value: $18.62 million
Potential savings by restructuring: $10.86 million in 2023
While Miller is going into the 2023 season recovering from his right ACL injury, the Bills can move things around and convert his $13.3 million roster bonus because of the fifth day of the league year into a signing bonus to create space for 2023. The move won ‘t restrict the team from getting out of Miller’s contract in 2025, as the contract was originally constructed, if needed.
Stefon Diggs, 2023 cap value: $20.28 million
Potential savings by restructuring: $5.4 million
Diggs signed a four-year extension last offseason with his deal now going through 2027. While it wouldn’t take quite as much money off this year’s cap as with Allen and Miller, it also wouldn’t result in serious cap implications down the road .
Other potential restructurings: White, LB Matt Milano ($13.4 million cap value), LT Dion Dawkins ($14.85 million) and nickel corner Taron Johnson ($9.25 million)
Potential cap casualties
What factors are teams considering when making tough roster decisions?
“I think a few things like, durability is certainly one of them, their character, their impact on the locker room, how hard would it be to replace a player,” Tannenbaum said.
RB Nyheim Hines, 2023 cap value: $4.79 million
A restructuring would likely make more sense here as the Bills will end up sending a fifth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for Hines. While his two kick returns for touchdowns in the regular-season finale against the New England Patriots will be remembered for some time, the reality is that he was not used enough in the Bills offense in 2022 (13 total touches).
Hines’ cap number has to change in some way. Releasing him would leave no dead money behind. A restructure, however, would allow the Bills to maintain a receiving back and returner with talent, both things this roster needs.
WR Isaiah McKenzie, 2023 cap value: $2.9 million
A beloved member of the locker room, McKenzie being in this category is a reflection of the wide receiver room falling short in 2022. While he had career highs in receiving yards (423) and receptions (42), McKenzie wasn’t the slot receiver the Bills needed him to be, partly resulting in Cole Beasley being brought back later in the year.
If McKenzie is released, it would free up $2.9 million with only $300,000 in dead money. His value around his teammates and as depth in the wide receiver room will have to be measured against how else the team could use that money.
DT Tim Settle, 2023 cap value: $4.96 million
Settle was signed last offseason to be a part of the Bills’ rotation on the defensive line, but he didn’t quite rise to the occasion with his playing time decreasing in the second half of the year. He did not play more than 40% of the defensive snaps once in the last eight games he played in after doing so five times in the first seven.
Per Over the Cap, the Bills can save $3.595 million by designating Settle as a post-June 1 designation with $1.35 million in dead cap (a total savings of $2.25 million). He could end up staying, however, to provide depth on the defensive line with the team set to have some changes up front in free agency.
From a cap perspective, the three players who would make sense for extensions would be center Mitch Morse, safety Micah Hyde and defensive tackle Ed Oliver. All three are set to account for over $10 million in cap space with Hyde and Oliver entering the final year of their deals.
2023 cap value: $11.36 million
The starting center is soon to be 31 years old and signed a two-year extension last offseason. The move lowered his $11.25 million cap hit for 2022 to $9 million. Signing Morse to another short-term extension, if it works for both sides, could lessen his cap hit for this year.
2023 cap value: $10.75 million (fifth-year option)
Oliver is a tricky situation. He didn’t end the season on a high note once Miller went down with his injury — his run stop win rate and total pressures dropped — but he has shown plenty of promise over his time with the Bills. But if Oliver is to be part of future plans, signing him to an extension now compared to next offseason would be advantageous from a cap perspective.
2023 cap value: $10.57 million
The safety would have returned from his neck surgery in the AFC Championship Game if the Bills had made it and should head into next season fully healthy. A short-term extension for the 32-year-old could open some cap room.