Free Agency Thoughts: Buffalo Bills


Key Additions: Mike Williams ($6.4M per year), Corey Graham ($4.08M), Chris Williams ($3.28M), Brandon Spikes ($3M), Keith Rivers ($2.03M)

Key Re-Signings: Dan Carpenter ($2.49M per year), Scott Chandler ($2.38M)

Key Losses: Jairus Byrd (Saints), Alex Carrington (Rams)

Major Cuts: Kevin Kolb($3.1M cap savings)

Free Agency Thoughts:

The Bills have always had the reputation of being one of the more money conscious franchises in the NFL and the decision to let safety Jairus Byrd head to New Orleans probably just helped reinforce that position. That’s not to say the Bills were wrong in their approach. Byrd seemed to have no desire to remain in Buffalo and tying him up with the tag, even if just to trade him for a mid to late round pick, could have compromised their ability to be active in free agency. Once they re-signed Aaron Williams it was pretty clear that Byrd was done with the team.

The Bills attacked the lower mid tier of free agency to try to add some pieces to a roster that has not produced a winning record since 2004. While the level of talent that was brought in may not be exciting, especially in light of losing Byrd, the team was already more or less set at the positions that would be big money positions like defensive end/outside linebacker. The team has decent cornerbacks and adding Graham to the mix makes more financial sense than stepping up a tier to the next level of corner.

The Bills probably made two moves that could pay off big in 2014. Brandon Spikes is a higher upside player who star fell sharply when it was clear he was having issues with the Patriots. There are already many teams that don’t value the position highly, so the Bills were able to get him on a pretty reasonable one year contract. If he fails in the summer he can be cut with little cost to the cap with Keith Rivers being the veteran insurance policy.

The second move was a late trade for Buccaneers WR Mike Williams. Though Williams contract averages over $6 million a season over the remaining 5 years, this year he carries just a $1.8 million cap charge. He is due $6.8 million in 2015, but none of that becomes guaranteed until the 3rd day of the 2015 League Year. If Williams is healthy and has his head on straight he can be a nice complementary piece to Stevie Johnson, essentially giving the Bills two high level two’s to carry the load.

The Chris Williams signing is the one that is hardest to make sense out of. While the Bills needed interior line help Williams is not an improvement over anyone on the team. There were much better players available who signed for about $1 million more per year. While by no means is that insignificant the quality of player is much better.

Rivers was a bit of an overpay. In each of the last two seasons he has been a low guarantee, $1 million range player. The Bills paid him over $2 million this season with $1 million guaranteed. As mentioned above he has a role in mind, and is a bit of a jack of all trades, but the contract seems to represent a team happy with a lower cost player even if the contract may represent an overpaid number.

Overall Grade: C

Did the Bills, on paper, improve tremendously?  No, but for a team that is far away they are better off signing a Williams and Spikes for one year tryouts than forking over more money for more proven talent. The two things I disliked about the offseason were moving on from Byrd for nothing and minimizing cap charges in 2013. The Bills, who have a little over $12 million in cap space, probably could have used a little more of a cash model for some of the more questionable signings like C. Williams and Rivers. Perhaps they are leaving that for extensions to CJ Spiller and Jerry Hughes. Still there is some upside here and they paid little for it which makes for a pretty average free agent period.




Bills Open To Trading Jairus Byrd


According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter the Bills are now open to trading Safety Jairus Byrd, the teams Franchise player.

Byrd had been seeking a trade since it seemed clear that the Bills were not going to come to an acceptable agreement with Byrd and he was going to be forced to play the year on a one year contract. The Bills likely had more trade leverage before the season began when teams had more salary cap space to work with and would have been able to negotiate a long term contract with Byrd. Byrd is now locked into a one year contract and has yet to play this season because of injury. It was rumored that Byrd was healthy enough to play this past Thursday but was held out of the game. In light of this new information its possible the Bills did not want Byrd to aggravate any injury that could dampen their trade possibilities.

In order to trade for Byrd a team must be able to absorb $4,881,882 in salary unless the Bills would be willing to prepay some of that money to facilitate a trade. Unless a team was willing to part with a high second round pick I would find that hard to imagine. Based on the current cap league cap space report the only teams that could absorb the charges are the Browns, Jaguars, Dolphins, Eagles, Panthers, Packers, Buccaneers, Bengals, Titans, Patriots, Broncos, and Cardinals, some of whom would have no interest for a variety of reasons. For a one year rental I could see the Panthers and Bengals both being interested in the player.

View Jairus Byrds Contract and Salary Cap Page

Follow @Jason_OTC


State of Rebuild – Buffalo Bills


How do you build a winning football team?  Over the next few weeks I am going to look at a handful of teams that are either relatively early in their rebuilding process or on the verge of a possible rebuild.  The purpose of this is not to reflect on past regime decisions compared to the current decisions but rather to start the analysis from day one and evaluate personnel decisions along with contract structures and styles to see if certain trends help produce a winning franchise.

doug_whaley.jpg_30ea03e4d780625de53d9a55a525f2f0State of the Franchise and Front Office

Since the 1999 season, 31 of the 32 NFL teams have made the playoffs in at least one season.  After five straight seasons finishing last in the AFC East, its fourth in a row under now former GM Buddy Nix, the Buffalo Bills are the lone team not to make a playoff appearance since 1999 and are in the process of a full rebuild.  With new General Manager Doug Whaley, Head Coach Doug Marrone, and first round quarterback selection E.J. Manuel, the Bills are hoping they can turn the franchise around and end the long playoff drought.  Whaley, who served under Nix as Assistant General Manager since 2010, assumes the vacated GM position created by Nix’s resignation after this years NFL draft.  Whaley received a contract extension in February and had been heavily involved in the coaching search that eventually led to former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone replacing Chan Gailey as the Bills new head coach.  Nix’s resignation as GM is not a clean cut from the organization though, as he is being retained as a Special Assistant to the team.

Contract Strategies and Trends

The succession of Nix to Whaley and subsequent retaining of Nix on staff poses an interesting question – will anything actually be different?  The Bills have not been shy about using both roster and workout bonuses in significant deals.  Over the past few years, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, and Leodis McKelvin all received substantial roster and workout bonuses in their respective extensions and Kyle Williams also received yearly roster bonuses in his.  Free agent acquisitions Manny Lawson and Kevin Kolb received both roster and workout bonuses as well in their deals this offseason.  Lawson is due a $500,000 roster bonus in 2014 and 2015, a $250,000 roster bonus in 2016, and a yearly $50,000 workout bonus as part of his 4-year deal while Kolb is due $250,000 roster bonus in 2013, a $1 million dollar roster bonus in 2014, and a yearly $100,000 workout bonus as part of his 2-year deal.

USA Today

The big elephant in the room though is Mario Williams’ behemoth contract he signed last offseason.  Williams’ 6-year/$96 million contract also has substantial roster and workout bonuses including a $10,600,000 roster bonus in 2014 and a yearly $500,000 workout bonus in 2013-2016.  Jason did a great job summarizing exactly why this deal does not make any sense considering the circumstances and why its such a cap killer in his Best and Worst Contracts: The Buffalo Bills.

“Williams was never a top pass rusher in the NFL. He has always been good but more like top 20 good, not top of the NFL good. Williams makes 14% more than Julius Peppers and about 26% more than Charles Johnson and Jared Allen, the next three highest paid players at the position. Williams 3 year average leading into his deal with the Bills in both sacks and tackles was worse than all 3 of those players yet he earned significantly more. Williams will cost the Bills $17.8 million in dead money if cut in 2014 and $12.4 million in 2014, making him a near impossible player to move on from in the near future. Williams can be productive but it is unlikely he can ever be productive enough to match the price that the Bills agreed to pay for him.”

One final thing to take a quick look at is the Bills’ dead money situation.  As part of their massive rebuild, the Bills released Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrence McGee, Nick Barnett, George Wilson, Tarvaris Jackson and Mark Anderson among other players and as a result racked up about $11.6 million in dead money so far for the 2013 season.  In year 1 of a rebuild, that figure is nothing to really worry about and by comparison is fairly low.  Other teams in the midst of a full rebuild like the Jets and Raiders have upwards of $21 million (mostly $13 million from trading Revis) and a whopping $50 million respectively this year.  The part to keep an eye on is 2014 where right now the Bills have the most dead money going into the 2014 season at $10 million due to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s $7 million and Mark Anderson’s $3 million respective charges.  By comparison, the Jets don’t have a single dollar of dead money charges right now and the Raiders only have Michael Huff’s $6.2 million charge.

JairusbyrdBiggest Upcoming Roster Decision

A few months ago, this section would have been all about what to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick and would have looked like a much more basic version of Jason’s great write up here.  Now the biggest decision for the Bills is how to handle their All-Pro free safety Jairus Byrd.  Instead of letting Byrd test free agency, the Bills used their non-exclusive franchise tag on him.  The non-exclusive tag for a safety this year is $6,916,000, contingent on Byrd signing his tender.  Under the non-exclusive tag, Byrd was free to negotiate with other teams, but if he agreed to terms with that team, the Bills had the right to match the offer or receive two 1st–round picks as compensation for Byrd.  Unsurprisingly, no team agreed with Byrd, and after extensive attempts by the Bills and Byrd to come to an agreement, a long-term deal could not be reached by the July 15 deadline.  Currently, Byrd refuses to sign his tender and his holding out of training camp.  The Bills’ hands are tied – by rule, they are unable to sign Byrd to a long-term extension until after the 2013 season or trade him until Byrd signs his tender.   Byrd’s options are now to sign his tender before week 1 of the regular season and play out the year under the franchise tag or wait until week 10 and sign his tender in time to play 6 games and get credited for the league year.  The best Byrd can hope for is to sign his tender and collect a nice paycheck this year and try to prevent the Bills from franchising him again in 2014.

Reports are that Byrd wishes to be the highest paid safety in the league and Bills seem to not be willing to match that demand.  Will that demand change by the end of the 2013 season? At the high-level Byrd has played consistently over the past few years, probably not.  Assuming that Byrd signs his tender at some point and gets credited for the league year, the Bills will have a few options once the season ends.  They can agree to a new deal with Byrd, franchise him for a second year in a row, or let him test free agency.  If they decide to tag him again, the price will be at 120% of his tag price this year, which comes out to about $8.3 million.  The bottom line is this situation is a long way away from being resolved whichever route the Bills decide to go.

Past ‘State of Rebuild’ Articles

San Diego Chargers


Ryan Feder
Tulane University Law School
J.D. Candidate 2015

Brad Smith Takes Large Paycut with Bills


We had mentioned the other day that WR/KR Brad Smith of the Buffalo Bills had restructured his contract to reduce his cash and cap charges to help keep a spot on the roster. Smith reduced his total contract by $3 million dollars, taking a $1.25 million dollar paycut in 2013 and a $1.75 million dollar paycut in 2014 in an attempt to keep his roster spot with the Bills.

Smith’s new base salary for the season is $1.5 million.  Smith had already received a $500,000 roster bonus in March and he will carry a $2.575 million dollar salary cap charge for the season. Smith’s 2014 salary will decline from $3 million to $1.4 million and his roster bonus was reduced from $500,000 to $250,000. Smith also has the potential to earn a $100,000 workout bonus in 2014 plus incentives. No upfront money was paid to Smith in the renegotiation.

Smith had signed a 4 year contract with Buffalo worth $14.75 million in 2011, based on his work as an all around threat for the New York Jets. The contract, which contained $3.25 million in guarantees, reflected the belief that Smith could be a “Wildcat” QB, Wide Receiver, and Kick Returner for the Bills. The Bills may have fallen into the trap of falling in love with a division rival’s player as Smith has failed to develop as a WR for the Jets and was one of just many return men to thrive under Mike Westhoff’s special teams units. With Smith’s dead money remaining at $500,000 in 2014 he will need to become a bigger contributor to the Bills offense in 2013 if he has any chance of playing out the 2014 season.

View Brad Smiths Salary Cap Page



Contract Year Series, Jairus Byrd


Jairus Byrd #31 FS, Buffalo Bills

by Paul Carrozzo

When Barry Bonds was in the midst of his steroid stupor, MLB pitchers strategically began walking him for the opportunity to face the next hitter in the San Francisco Giants lineup.  The logic was simple enough for even the most casual baseball fan to understand.  The risk of pitching to Bonds had exceeded to value of offering the Giants a free base.  It became the equivalent of handing money to the bully as a preemptive strike as to not go through the hassle of him attempting to take it with force.

A very similar function is happening in the NFL but with much less fanfare.  We all remember Deion Sanders, in his prime, taking half the field away from the offense.  Teams decided to just not throw to Deion’s side of the field.  To a lesser extent, (although listening to the New York media you would think an even greater) Darrell Revis has had a similar effect on offensive play calling in recent years.  What the casual fan has not realized is a Free Safety in Buffalo that has built a reputation to stay away from.  Jairus Byrd was the 42nd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and afforded the Bills the ability to trade their 2008 FS, Ko Simpson, a week before the ’09 season started.  The son of a former 2-time Pro Bowler Gil Byrd, Jairus impacted the league almost immediately.

Even though Byrd had a solid first three seasons, 2012 was by far his best.  Already having a reputation to avoid throwing at him, the QBs in the NFL almost completely shut off the spiget.  According to Pro Football Focus, Jairus Byrd played 1047 snaps for the Bills last year and was thrown at 21 times.  Need to repeat that… twenty one times!  By comparison Eric Weddle (the best market comparison and 2nd highest paid FS in the NFL) was thrown at 34 times allowing 2 touchdowns against 3 interceptions.  Byrd did not allow an interception and picked off 5 passes.  Almost one quarter of the time teams threw at Byrd, he converted the opportunity into a turnover.  No wonder teams have decided to penalty box throwing at him.

Analysis of Byrd’s future contract value starts and ends with Weddle.  Even though Dashon Goldson just signed the highest contract for FS last year, it was a terrible value for the Bucanneers as they will soon find out that he can’t hold a flame to Weddle or Byrd..  As we can see Byrd minimally should be in the ballpark of Weddle’s record breaking 5 year $40mm signed just prior to the 2011 season.  Based upon his consistency and the progressively more respect that he has gained from the league, my argument is that he should exceed that contract.  The Bills decided to use their franchise tag on Byrd this season, which will make him a 27 year old free agent after this season.

Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $43mm

Best & Worst Contracts: The Buffalo Bills


A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

Stevie Johnson

Best Contract:  WR Stevie Johnson

A tough decision here as the Bills have very few players that would be considered good value talent. The other two players I would consider are DT Kyle Williams and G Kraig Urbik, but Johnson stood out more to me than both of them. Working with no help at QB or from other receivers Johnson has managed to produce over 1,000 yards 3 years in a row from 2010-2012. The only other players to accomplish that feat were Marques Colston, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Roddy White.

Johnson only makes $7.25 million a year and had $11 million of his contract fully guaranteed. Those numbers rank around 20 and 24 among all wide receivers. He has also been the only player in the NFL to consistently match up well with CB Darrelle Revis when Revis was healthy. When players like Mike Wallace are making $12 million a year having Johnson on such an affordable deal allows the Bills to outspend their rivals at other positions. His annual value is less than inferior players such as Pierre Garcon, Santonio Holmes, Miles Austin, and Sidney Rice, making him one of the best bargains in the NFL at the position.

Because Johnson is so young the deal itself only carries the Bills to when Johnson turns 30, giving them a reasonable dead money charge if they decide to move on in the last two years of the contract if his play begins to falter with age.

Mario Williams

Worst Contract: DE Mario Williams

The Bills have their fair share of bad deals on the books, but none worse than the head scratching 6 year $96 million dollar contract they gave to Williams. Williams was a former number 1 pick of the Houston Texans and 3 years removed from a 10 sack season when the Bills signed him to bolster their defense. To make matters worse he was coming off a season ending injury in 2011, the second time in two years he ended the season with an injury.

Williams was never a top pass rusher in the NFL. He has always been good but more like top 20 good, not top of the NFL good. Williams makes 14% more than Julius Peppers and about 26% more than Charles Johnson and Jared Allen, the next three highest paid players at the position. Williams 3 year average leading into his deal with the Bills in both sacks and tackles was worse than all 3 of those players yet he earned significantly more. Williams will cost the Bills $17.8 million in dead money if cut in 2014 and $12.4 million in 2014, making him a near impossible player to move on from in the near future. Williams can be productive but it is unlikely he can ever be productive enough to match the price that the Bills agreed to pay for him.


Cap Management: Should the Bills Release Ryan Fitzpatrick

There are times when people can take a very short sighted approach to running the salary cap of a football team. Often we only think in the now and for fans like myself that is pretty much expected. I mean who wants to sit there and look at a huge cap charge for someone on your roster that is underperforming or even worse not even there to play. But for those in charge of each teams salary cap you should only take a short sighted approach if your team has no other options because of the cap position you are currently in. Otherwise you always need to have an eye on the future and maximize your payroll flexibility to improve the team in future years.

Multiple outlets reported today that the Buffalo Bills are not certain about bringing back QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and many have criticized the option because it does little to help the Bills today. The primary reason people point at is the fact that, if released, Fitzpatrick will still occupy $10 million in cap room on the teams roster. He currently occupies $10.45 million so once you factor in a replacement player the net cap gain is 0. It almost seems like a pointless move.

Managing the cap effectively means looking into the future to see why this is a move that should be made now unless you think Ryan Fitzpatrick gives you a real opportunity to make the playoffs in 2013. As you look further into the cap sheets for Fitzpatrick and you get to 2014 you see a more reasonable dead money charge of $7 million which represents a cap saving for the Bills of $3.55 million in 2014. Sounds great and most will look at that and say Fitzpatrick gets one more chance to prove himself and then you move on next season because it make sense from a cap perspective to gain space in 2014 rather than take a neutral position in 2013. But is that really wise?

If you let Fitzpatrick play out 2013 because you fear the dead money associated with him how does that improve your team in the future?  What happens to your team in 2014?  You take an unnecessary $7 million dollar dead money charge for Fitzpatrick. So its not just the cost this year of keeping Fitzpatrick that we have to look at when managing the teams salary cap. If you decide that this cap charge is too high to release him you are essentially stating that you are willing to use $17.45 million in cap space on Ryan Fitzpatrick over the next two years. That is insane given his level of performance over his career. Release him now and it only costs the Bills $10.4 million, that’s a big cap savings for the team.  Now it might be a different story if the Bills were in a bad cap position, but being between $19-20 million in cap room they have enough space to sign their rookie class, key free agents, and maybe more.  On top of that his release gives the team $10 million in real cash to spend by dumping him now. It is a no-brainer to strongly consider this option.

Now the other option for the Bills is to attempt to get Fitzpatrick to agree to a significant paycut. None of Fitzpatrick’s $7.5 million dollar cash salary is guaranteed and we all know that no team in the league outside of the Bills would consider paying Fitzpatrick that much, even in a down QB market. Mike Vick, who has significantly more cache than Fitzpatrick, received a 1 year deal worth $7.5 million plus incentives. Tarvaris Jackson received a $2.25 million dollar contract with incentives. A few years ago Matt Moore signed a contract worth $2.5 million a year plus incentives. Fitzpatricks original deal with the Bills was around $2.6 million a year plus incentives.

You can see where this should be headed.  The “high end” backup QB market is in the ballpark of $2.5-$3 million a season plus incentives and Fitzpatrick won’t fetch any more than that on the open market. If he wants to stay in Buffalo that is the number the Bills need to work with and have him accept to compete for the job this year. Otherwise he needs to be released. It’s the only way to appropriately manage the salary cap and prepare for the future.