ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Bills don’t have to do anything.
Buffalo is projected to have over $80 million in cap space. It might be more depending on what the exact cap figure turns out to be. Whatever Brandon Beane’s plan this offseason, he has the resources to make it happen.
That includes bringing back all the veterans. There are 25 players currently on the roster who will count a million dollars or more on the 2020 cap. There’s a pretty decent argument to be made for running it back with the team that won 10 games last year, plus another draft class, plus all those aforementioned cap dollars.
Or the Bills could pile on even more free agent cash.
There are a few players who may be more useful to Beane for the space they can create against the salary cap than the plays they can create against another team.
These players aren’t “cap casualties” because the salary cap poses the Bills no danger.
You could call them “contract casualties.”
The following are the top candidates not to survive the offseason in Buffalo, listed from least likely to most likely. Releasing the entire group would add a bit over $20 million to the Bills’ free agent treasure chest and give Beane over $100 million to spend.
(cap figures courtesy Overthecap.com)
T. J. Yeldon
Cap Savings: $1.65M Dead Money on Cap If Released: $250K
Yeldon, mostly, did not have a good season in 2019. He totaled 187 yards on 30 touches (17 rushes, 13 catches) with no touchdowns and a lost fumble. His blocking was not very helpful. Yeldon only played in six games and did not appear in the playoff against Houston. Even his not-too-high-to-begin-with special teams snaps dwindled as the year continued.
He is also the only true NFL running back left under contract not named Devin Singletary (Yes, Christian Wade is, technically, on the roster. No, we aren’t discussing him until he gets out of International Program Purgatory. So, don’t ask). Whenever the Bills do add a running back or four, Yeldon still has a competitive advantage because he’ll know the Brian Daboll offense better.
This will simply come down to if the Bills can find two running backs they like better than Yeldon to fill out the depth chart alongside/behind Singletary. Yeldon’s cap hit won’t force him off the team, but that couch cushion change dead cap hit won’t make him hard to jettison, either.
Cap Savings: $1.75M Dead Money: $1.5M
Smith is the NFL’s version of Liam Neeson. He has a particular set of skills. He can block.
That skill is not to be overlooked. If the Bills want to part ways with Smith, it will have to be replaced. Dawson Knox’s blocking improved significantly over the course of 2019, but it’s hard to imagine a young guy developing as a receiving weapon also getting swamped with a high volume of blocking assignments.
In addition, Smith checks the experience box that Sean McDermott wants to fill in at every position group. In fact, he has leadership ability cascading out of his ears. It’s a role Knox or Tyler Kroft (we’ll get to him in a minute) don’t really fill well.
Smith’s snap count did decrease in the second half of the season. Over the first eight games of 2019, the nine year vet did not play less than 30% of the offensive plays. Over the last eight, he topped 30% only once (48% against the Steelers). He did play 29% of snaps in the Wild Card game, but it’s possible the Bills were already phasing him out.
While he might save the Bills nearly a couple million, it’s still going to take a tight end…. with a particular set of skills… to make Smith expendable.
Cap Savings: $1.85M Dead Money: $500K
DiMarco was fine as a fullback last year. Not great, but fine. The Bills used him on 15% of their offensive snaps. That works out to once every seven plays or, essentially, once per possession. He was also a top special teamer who was on the field for 37% of those snaps.
His locker is full of McDermott preferred intangibles. He hasn’t missed a game since 2013 and owns a streak of 110 consecutive starts. DiMarco also wears the Scarlet L of leadership among the running backs with Frank Gore on his way to free agency.
The Bills aren’t likely to remove the fullback from their offense after employing it with the same coordinator the last two years. There are free agent options that could make Buffalo younger or better at the position. If that’s the choice, DiMarco’s contract won’t be an impediment. For what it’s worth, that contract is also currently the second highest deal for a fullback in 2020.
Cap Savings: $2.5M Dead Money: $700K*
Long was a dependable backup interior offensive linemen for the Bills last year. However, Buffalo’s Avengers-like ability to remain uninjured limited Long to only 174 snaps or 16% of the season (nearly a third of that was in the meaningless finale against the Jets).
Beane already has committed his top contract to the offensive line in center Mitch Morse. He might have to open the vault wide to keep Quinton Spain. If he does, the $2.5 million saved by releasing Long would come in handy. Buffalo could easily find a cheaper backup guard with one of those five 5th and 6th round draft picks.
There is plenty of money and plenty of good reason to spend all over the offensive line depth chart. If that’s not Beane’s plan, Long’s contract will probably be the first to go.
*There are some discrepancies between different reports regarding this contract. The Overthecap.com figures are the most conservative from the team point of view. It’s possible a Long release may result in zero dead money against the cap, but the difference is less than a million dollars.
Cap Savings: $5M Dead Money: $1.6M
It seemed Tyler Kroft cornered the market on injury bad luck in the Bills locker room. He broke his foot in spring workouts and missed all of the preseason. When it seemed like he was poised for a week two debut, Kroft re-injured the foot and ended up missing the Bills’ first five games.
It’s certainly possible the injury was a factor in Kroft’s 2019 season, but he just wasn’t that effective. Kroft finished the year with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. He also was not a stand out blocker.
If he’s the second best receiver behind Knox and the second best blocker behind Smith, it’s hard to justify keeping Kroft around for a $6.6 million dollar cap hit. Fair warning: Kroft’s cap number is only 15th highest among tight ends. Replacing him with a quality veteran won’t come cheap.
Nearly $3 million of Kroft’s 2020 salary becomes guaranteed on March 22nd. He’s the only one on this list with a hard deadline for the Bills to make a decision.
Cap Savings: $8.025M Dead Money: $1.75M
If I can pry your eyes from that large number next to “cap savings”, allow me to present the argument for keeping Murphy:
His five sacks and nine quarterback hits were both third most on the team. His nine tackles for a loss were fourth most. Murphy played 65% of the snaps. That was 7th most on the defense and more than any other defensive linemen, including Jerry Hughes. Murphy also had the best grade from Pro Football Focus on the defensive line.
Murphy is not terrible. Not even close.
Is he good enough to justify nearly an eight figure cap hit? Considering Hughes already has one of those eight figure deals and Shaq Lawson is going to demand a sizable hit of his own, Murphy may be too much money at one position. This doesn’t even account for the Bills chasing a free agent among a fairly deep group of high level pass rushers.
For the record, Lawson was one of the few in front of Murphy in all of the stats mentioned above. If Lawson leaves Buffalo, there’s a good chance Murphy stays. There’s also a good chance there won’t be enough money budgeted for both of them to stay.