Best and Worst NFL Contracts 2016: Buffalo Bills

This week I’ll be kicking off the best and worst contract summer series starting with the Buffalo Bills. The selections are made from the team perspective looking at a contract so a “best contract” generally represents a team friendly contract, meaning one that seemed to get very good terms for a good player. A bad contract is also not representative of a bad player and in fact many times it is a good player who gets the bad contract designation. It simply means that the player is, in my opinion, over-valued or signed to a contract that gives a team no flexibility. Finally rookies are not considered since the salaries are slotted unless some extraordinary circumstance dictates using a rookie contract. Onto the Bills…

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Marcell Dareus, Outlier Contracts, and Team Precedents

Late last night following the Bills preseason game against the Browns, star defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, in the final year of his rookie contract, expressed disgust over the lack of movement on a contract extension. Dareus has stated that the offers indicate that Buffalo isn’t serious about keeping him and don’t reflect his value as a dominant talent. According to Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News, the Bills have offered a contract worth $90 million over six years, which would make Dareus the second highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL if those are the full extension numbers. Dareus is aiming for more as he looks at the outlier contracts in the NFL and sees bigger dollars for a player like himself, especially because of the Bills past history with contract negotiations for highly desired players. Continue reading Marcell Dareus, Outlier Contracts, and Team Precedents »

The Bills Approach to the Charles Clay Extension

The numbers are officially in on Charles Clay’s new contract with the Bills and I thought this deserved a closer look because of the structure of the contract. At the time he signed the contract Clay was designed a “Transition” player by Miami, which gave them the right to match any offer for Clay. Though Miami had already signed Jordan Cameron to replace Clay, the Bills proceeded to craft an offer sheet as if Miami might consider matching the offer so let’s examine just what they did.

Last year there were two attempts made to sign player’s to offer sheets that the other team would not match. The Browns were successful in taking Andrew Hawkins, a restricted free agent, away from the Bengals by utilizing a frontloaded contract structure that would pay Hawkins 80% of the total contract value in the first two years. The contract was designed in part to go against the grain of the pay systems used by the Bengals in their very deliberate negotiations, plus they knew the Bengals did not want to over-commit money to a position they already had a great deal of talent in.

The Jaguars then attempted to take Alex Mack from the Browns by using a void clause in the contract that would allow Mack to earn a pretty large sum in the first two contract years and then void the contract. This was not successful as the Browns quickly matched the offer sheet likely for two reasons. One there was nothing from an actual valuation standpoint that would make a team think twice about paying the player. Mack wasn’t being overpaid nor was the deal structured in a way to deter the Browns from matching it. Secondly the void clause was too far out such that it was of little concern to the team.

I wrote about the Mack contract last year before the Jaguars made an offer and said that the only way to take Mack from the Browns was to put together an offer sheet that had so much money up front the Browns would not match it. It was basically a big money play using a similar mechanism as the Hawkins one. That is clearly what the Bills did with Clay.

The annual value of Clay’s contract is just $7.8 million a year which is in the realm of the second tier tight end (Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Jared Cook, etc…) market.  The high end market consists of all players above $9 million (Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas, and Jimmy Graham).  The Bills put Clay, in terms of expected cash flows, in that top contract tier to discourage the Dolphins from matching the offer.

Here is the way the cash flows of the more recent free agent contracts at the position break down:

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5

The two year total for Clay is massive, as is the three year total. Considering the true length of most free agent contracts is three or less years, Clay is essentially now a tier 1 tight end. While Cook is his closest comparable in terms of total value and production the true terms of the contract are never even remotely close. Basically anyone negotiation on the team side for a tier 2 tight end would immediately throw the Clay contract out of any analysis because of this.

When we look at it as a percentage of 4 year contract value (to bring the players to the same level as Graham) we can really visualize just how crazy the contract would be for any team to match.

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4

Clay will earn over 73% of the four year value in just two years. Everyone else in the 50% range. He’ll be over 85% by year 3, again well above anyone else and any normal contract structure. When you factor in some of the soft factors of the contract such as a big signing bonus ($10 million) and possible second signing bonus ($10 million) plus the guarantees it is simply an unmatchable contract.

For Buffalo to get value on the contract they will either need Clay to play for five years at a very good level (similar to a Greg Olsen/J. Witten type career I’d guess) or they need Clay to play at an extreme level for two of the first three years (Graham/Gronkowski level). There has been little in his career to show that he can do that, but that must be their expectation otherwise they would not have signed him to this contract.

Had Miami not signed Cameron to a contract would the Bills have had to go this high in salary to keep them from matching. Maybe. I think they could have come up with a contract that would benefit the team somewhat while still protecting their interests, but they would have needed to do something aggressive like this structure.

Once Miami signed Cameron I think using this type of contract was pointless but I would not be surprised if the Bills and Clay had agreed to this deal a week before and wanted to see who Miami did with their roster before finalizing the structure of the contract to best block Miami. In this case the high salary cap charge in year two was developed based on Miami’s projected cap situation next year with a no trade implemented to make certain the Dolphins could not trade him off to avoid the charge.

Odds are this will go down as one of the worst signings of free agency, but if Clay does in fact become an elite level player, credit the Bills for thinking somewhat outside the box with their approach to a contract which could have been nothing more than them negotiating for another team like occurred with the Jaguars last year. We’ll see if more teams use these structures in the future for players that are internally projected to be much better in the future than the past.

Bills 2015 Salary Cap Outlook

Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $22.1M ($140M cap limit)

Roster Overview

Players Under Contract: 62 (Includes Kyle Orton)
Pro Bowlers: 3
Unrestricted Free Agents: 11(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 19

Salary Cap Breakdown

Bills 2015 Salary Cap

Bills 2015 Offensve Salary Cap

Bills 2015 Defensive Salary Cap

Free Agents to Re-sign

The top priority for the Bills should be retaining defensive end Jerry Hughes, who has developed into one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL. Hughes will enter free agency with back to back season of double digit sacks and is versatile enough to play in any defensive scheme. Hughes is a much more productive rusher than Paul Kruger was when he got $8.1 million and Hughes should be pushing for $10+ million. Franchising him is an option…Running back CJ Spiller has issues remaining healthy, but he is a known commodity and since running backs are not expensive it might be worth re-signing him. With Rex Ryan in as head coach one would expect Spiller to get more opportunities than he did in the prior offense…Ryan also likes to load his teams up with defensive backs which could make keeping Da’Norris Searcy an option. He’s versatile and a sound player which should make him a player to keep around. He won’t break the bank to keep him.

Free Agents to Let Walk

Brandon Spikes is one of those old school linebackers that has lost more and more importance in todays NFL. The Bills should have no shortage of players to replace him and Ryan could push for players he is more familiar with to be the teachers of his new defense…Buffalo’s offensive line was a problem all of 2014 which means anyone is fair game to go. With that in mind I am not certain there would be any consideration given to bringing back a 33 year old Eric Pears, at least not until after the draft in the event no replacement is found.

Contracts to Modify

Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has proven to be the real deal and those players are better locked up sooner rather than later. One thing that you can count on is that Ryan will hype up his players to the point where they end up demanding more from the team. Combining that with a market set to increase with Suh’s free agency it is so much smarter for the Bills to get the deal done before all these things occur…Depending on what goals the Bills have in free agency, there could be some consideration given to working with the contract of Mario Williams. Williams has a cap charge of $19.4 million which they can lower by a few million, but that will just add to an already giant cap charge of $19.9 million in 2016…Kraig Urbik is due $3 million in salary and the team could consider lowering that charge or even releasing him outright if they believe they can find a better player. I would think they would like to keep him only because there are so many questions with the line and spots to fill that he might be the guy to stay.

Players to Consider Releasing

The Bills offensive line should get an overhaul which I believe puts center Eric Wood in danger. Wood was graded poorly by Pro Football Focus and the team may find his $4.85 million salary too high. They would save $1.25 against the cap and could also use June 1 cut, a mechanism the Bills have used in the past. That allows them to spend to the cap limit now and use the full $4.85M savings to pay the draft class…. Releasing linebacker Keith Rivers, who was used sparingly last year, saves the team $1.7 million in cap space….Manny Lawson saw action in about 30% of the teams snaps last season and would save the team $1.6 million if they cut him.

Offseason Plan

The Bills should be an extremely interesting team to watch this offseason. In hiring Rex Ryan they are clearly focusing on winning now with their veteran defense while they hope they can find enough consistent firepower on offense to improve. They have money to spend and the ability to create more if they need to. The question is where do they spend it?

Currently Kyle Orton has yet to officially be placed on the retired list for the Bills. The team continues to hold his rights and his $7.5 million cap figure remains on the books. Orton played the “Im going to retire” card with the Cowboys last season only to change his mind and I have to believe that Ryan would like to convince him to stay. While Orton is limited he is a more proven player than EJ Manuel.  If he stays he’ll likely get a raise and if he goes they create $6 million in cap space.

If Orton does maintain his retirement one would expect the Bills to go after a quarterback in free agency. The logical choice would be to go after Mark Sanchez, who knows the AFC East, and played much better in Philadelphia than he did in New York.  Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman was able to completely salvage the career of Alex Smith so the coordinator kind of fits here as well. Sanchez won’t be incredibly expensive- likely in the same $7-9 million range with a chance to earn more that Smith worked on in San Francisco in 2012.

Once they settle on a QB they should focus on the offensive line. They will start with right tackle where they can look at Bryan Bulaga, Joe Barksdale, and Doug Free. Orlando Franklin is a very intriguing option because he’s a known commodity that can play tackle or guard at a high level, giving the team more draft flexibility. A higher end, right tackle likely costs around $6M a season. There will be shortage of centers available with Stefen Wisniewski and Rodney Hudson at the top of the chart. Brian De la Puente may be an affordable option.  I believe they need to fill at least two spots in free agency (right tackle and either guard or center depending on the Pears/Urbik decisions).

Running back will be a place where they can find some help for Fred Jackson if they decide to go away from CJ Spiller. The question is would Ryan influence trying to sign a workhorse back (DeMarco Murray) or would they find a lower cost veteran and then pair him with a draft pick?  Ryan’s best seasons in New York came with the combo of an older player (Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson) paired with a younger back (Shonn Greene). If he believes Jackson still has it in him for a full 16 game schedule then expect this to be more of a draft target.

The big question on defense becomes whether or not the Bills get involved with Darrelle Revis, if he becomes a free agent. The team has a good secondary but Revis and Ryan were a tremendous pairing and he would give the Bills one of the best secondaries in the NFL. He’s incredibly expensive but it would be sold as a move that weakens their biggest division rival at the same time it improves the Bills. If you sign Revis you are going to be limited in what you can do elsewhere as this would probably leave the team with two of the top five, possibly top 3, defensive salaries in the entire NFL on the roster. Add in Hughes and you have an insane amount of money invested in the defense. If they do go after Revis it will be difficult to bring in the linemen they desperately need.

If they don’t pursue Revis they should have money to send out feelers for players like Jordan Cameron or David Harris, if Ryan opts to have a voice of a familiar face on his defense. I would expect Ryan to push to sign some of his lower level guys from the Jets to bolster the defensive depth such as Kenrick Ellis or Leger Douzable.

Unfortunately for the Bills they don’t have a first round draft pick so going all in on free agency becomes almost a necessity. They have been willing to do some player friendly contract structures to land big players in the past- Mario Williams’ first year cap charge was under $10 million- so I don’t see the cap being much of a barrier. Being that they have no QB on the roster worth any money, nor any player they could sign worth big money they will be under-invested at that position for the next 4 years at a minimum, giving them reason to overspend on “superunits” elsewhere. I think the plan will be to deal with 2017 cap charges when 2017 comes.

The Bills are really a team to keep an eye on this March. They are going to be one of the lurkers that people don’t expect much out of but may come out of the gates firing. If Orton goes than expect the team to be around $32 million in cap room following cuts. If they work out a new deal for Dareus and convert some of Williams money to a bonus they can push $40 million. The key is getting Hughes signed early because there is no cap relief gained from applying the franchise tag. If they carry him at $13 million it will put a limit on what they can do and quickly eat that space away. My gut feeling is that by the end of free agency there will be a great deal of buzz about the Bills chances in 2015.

Bills Links

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Bills Free Agents

Bills Contracts

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Other Offseason Salary Cap Reports

Bills Free Agent Simulator

Bills Bench EJ Manuel and Bring in Kyle Orton


The Buffalo Bills have benched starting QB EJ Manuel in favor of journeyman Kyle Orton in an attempt to stabilize a season that may have been slipping away. The decision was somewhat notable because Manuel was drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft and was expected to be the future of the organization.  Such moves often spell the end of a player’s run with a team as a viable option as a starter.

The move again shows the importance of the new CBA in the role QB decision making,. Though Manuel would not have been very highly compensated under the old system there would have been more hoops to jump through to benching him and holding him as a potential trade piece. From 2011 through 2013 there were nine quarterbacks drafted in the first round. This season we are now down to just three starters from that group- Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill. Of the other players, Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden were given up on by the organizations and moved, Robert Griffin III has battled excessive injuries and ineffective play, Christian Ponder was benched and Jake Locker has been consistently injured in his run with Tennessee. It is almost a given that five of the nine players will not make it to a fifth season with the team that drafted them. The jury is still out on Tannehill and Griffin getting that far.

The last time we had a movement rate this quick would have been the 2005-2007 draft classes, which saw the uncapped year help teams move on from their draft mistakes. In 2010 Jason Campbell, Jamarcus Russell, Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart were all cut or traded. The year before the Broncos traded away Jay Cutler. The only players to see a 5th year with their team in that timeframe were Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, and Vince Young.

The Bills are one of the more strangely constructed and managed teams in the NFL. At almost every turn they send mixed signals about where their team is. A few years ago they signed Mario Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Stevie Johnson to big contracts. They parted ways with the latter two and seemed prepared to become a younger team. The Bills selected Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft and this year traded up to draft a receiver, a position that usually pays dividends two to three years down the line, not right away.

Their financial decisions resemble seat of your pants management. They paid Johnson a large roster bonus to turn around and change their minds and trade him for peanuts later. He is not the first player where they have paid the player offseason bonuses only to change course weeks later and release them. They put the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd but never made a real attempt to keep him in Buffalo.  At the end of the day they received nothing for him.

The decision to bring in Orton when they did likely signaled another one of their changing courses of action. I have to believe that they sent feelers out to Orton when he was under contract to the Cowboys and it was clear they never would have pushed so hard for Orton if they believed in Manuel. There was nothing on the Bills season that really hinged on the health of Manuel. They were never going to win because of him that made it so imperative to have a quality backup. There is nothing in Orton’s game or history that would indicate he would be a good mentor to the young QB. This was about replacing the QB from day 1.


Their timeline was likely diverted when Manuel won the first two games of the year, but after back to back losses it was time to make the move. It’s not as if Manuel had shown anything of merit last season or in those first two games to make someone think they could win because of him. I’m not sure any team can win because of Orton, but the team will likely have more confidence in him which is important when you get down in the second half of a game.

I think this was a move made to try and help make one last push at the playoffs. The Bills have the longest playoff drought in the NFL and with the decline of the Patriots and general ineptitude of the Jets and Dolphins the division was wide open for the taking for the first time in a very long time. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jackson, are not getting any younger.  Mike Williams and CJ Spiller may be in their last seasons with the Bills as may Jerry Hughes. Their offensive line has its fair share of older veterans and two of their corners will make the turn past 30 next season. For half the team this is probably about it and an opportunity to make a push for the playoffs.

Dumping Manuel does not impact any of the other young players on the roster moving forward. If the organization has effectively thrown in the white flag and is likely going back to the draft to grab a QB in the future it’s a no lose situation. If Orton is passable they may be relevant for a season. If Orton is passable and they are not relevant then there are no excuses that it’s the QB and it’s an easier to task to blow up the team. If Orton fails the team still gets a strong draft pick in the future.  EJ Manuel isn’t so damaged that the team cant trade him, which may have happened if he continued to start.

You can not wait until 0-4 to make this move. That is a backwards way to approach the situation and why the New York Jets at this point should not bench the young QB for a veteran. The reason to insert a veteran into a lineup is to avoid falling out of the playoff race. At 0-4 you are out of the playoff race and there is no reason to put a veteran out there. There is nothing for the veteran to salvage except some pride. At 2-2 Orton can still make a difference in the Bills season before it slips away.

It may not be the most popular approach in many circles but the timing was right to give this a chance. How it works out is anyone’s guess but in the future the Bills need to stabilize their business planning if they want to have a more consistent approach to roster management. Maybe then the franchise can get back to where they were in the Jim Kelly era.


Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Buffalo Bills


Jumping into the AFC East with a close look at the Buffalo Bills

Best Contract: Kyle Williams

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland BrownsThe Bills do not have many veteran contracts that would qualify in the “good” category, but one of the few that fits the bill is the contract signed by defensive tackle Kyle Williams back in 2011. Williams at the time was coming off one of his best seasons as a pro, notching 5.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl bid. At the time Williams still had two years remaining on his contract but the Bills took a proactive approach and locked him up for another four seasons. While things got off to a rocky start as Williams was injured in 2011, he made up for it with his play in 2012 and 2013.

Williams contract contained a small signing bonus of $4.75 million and no true guarantees beyond the 2011 League Year, giving the Bills various outs with minimal salary cap penalties. The cash portion of the contract was very modest with $5 million a season being committed from 2012 to 2015. Those numbers are not that outlandish for older players at the position considering the year by year nature of the contract in light of the low signing bonus.  To maximize his value he would need to earn escalators and incentives.

On an annual basis Williams’ contract still ranks as one of the highest contracts at the position but due to the early extension the effective value against the cap is reduced.  Most seasons he is just under $6 million a season with the largest cap charge, $7 million, coming in the final year of the contract. The value attached to that season is almost worthless. In general his cap charges in each year rank around 10th at the position due to the timing of the extension and he is far better than the 10th best player at the position.

Worst Contract: Mario Williams

Mario WilliamsThere are a number of factors that can often lead to a bad contract for a team and in a few cases you get the perfect storm that pays off big for the player. Matching a desperate team with a premier position player that has a draft status cache is what led the Buffalo Bills to spend $16 million a season on Mario Williams in 2012.  This is one of those entries in the series where people will say he isn’t a bad player (he isn’t) and the he made the Pro Bowl (he did), but plenty of good players can be on contracts that are bad for the team.

When the Bills negotiated the contract with Williams he was coming off an injury filled season that saw him only play in 5 games. The two prior years he failed to produce double digit sacks or significant pressure. Under almost any metric that you could have used to compare him to the other big contract players at the time (Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, and Charles Johnson) he trailed, yet his contract was worth significantly more. Williams has always been inconsistent and his best trait is that he has a tendency to turn limited pressures to sacks, but his pressures are not as high as others.

Williams earns nearly $3 million more than Clay Matthews of the Packers and $3.5 million more than Charles Johnson of the Panthers. Williams contract virtually guaranteed him $53 million, his first three years of cash payments, which was $7 million higher than Johnson received. By year 4 the difference was $66.6 million versus $55 million. One can argue how good Williams is compared to Johnson and others, but I don’t think anyone can argue that he is worth this much more a season than those players. On top of this if Williams is a Pro Bowl level player and the team is successful he can earn an additional $4 million in his contract.

The Bills used a large signing and option bonus to keep the initial cap charges low for Williams which has given the Bills few outs in his contract. Any attempt to move Williams in 2015 would cost the Bills $12.4 million against the cap and in 2016 there is still $7 million remaining. For Williams to ever come close to living up to the contract he needs to be a player that transcends the position and play at a MVP level which is doesn’t seem likely to happen leaving the Bills with one of the worst contracts in the entire NFL.

2013’s Best and Worst Bills Contracts:

2013 Best Contract: Stevie Johnson (Trades to 49ers)

2013 Worst Contract: Mario Williams (See above)

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