CAPACCIO: An in-depth look at the Bills' current and future salary cap situation

What's the state of the salary cap for 2018 and beyond?

Sal Capaccio
May 09, 2018 - 11:03 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

With the draft over and the Buffalo Bills getting set to hold their rookie minicamp later this week, here’s a look at the team’s current roster, and current and future salary cap situation.


The Bills currently list 78 players on their active roster. That counts each of the team’s eight draft picks, even though none are actually signed to contracts yet. However, that number does not reflect any undrafted free agents. Those should be announced by the club within the next 48 hours, prior to rookie minicamp starting on Friday. Up to 12 UDFAs can be added to get the roster to 90 players, the maximum allowed through the offseason and to bring to training camp.

The 78 players also counts center Eric Wood, who is retiring, but due to contractual and CBA language hasn’t officially been placed on the reserve / retirement list yet. There’s no word on when that will happen. So, for now, Wood counts against the team’s active roster limit.  

Guard Richie Incognito, however, has already been placed on the reserve / retirement list and does not count against the 90-man roster limit. If Incognito were to change his mind and want to play next season, the team would have to either release him or activate and place him on the active roster.

Current Salary Cap Situation:

According to the NFLPA’s public salary cap report, the Bills currently have $19.38 million in available cap space.  

That figure doesn’t include any of the recently drafted players’ cap hits since none of them have signed their contracts yet. According to the website Over The Cap, taking into account the rookie wage scale, the total cap hit in 2018 for the team’s eight picks, combined, is just over $9 million. However, the NFL has what is called “the top-51 rule.” That means during the offseason only the team’s top-51 salary cap hits count against the league’s limit. 39 of the 90 players will fall under that threshold and not matter. Once final cuts are made after the last preseason game and every NFL team finalizes their 53-man roster, all of those salaries will count until the following March.

Here’s where creative calculating comes into play:

Even though the total of the eight draft picks’ cap hits adds up to over $9 million, the actual amount the Bills will be charged will be somewhere around $5.2 million, again, because of the top-51 rule. And it’s not just because some of those salaries will fall below the 51st-highest salary. Here’s why:

First, let’s look at where the Bills' top 51 salaries fall in line. According to the website Spotrac, the 51st-highest salary cap hit on the team right now, under contract, is $555,000. That means any salary that comes in under that won’t count at all during the offseason. None of the team’s last four draft picks should be making that much in 2018, so none of them will matter.

For their first four picks, once one of those players is signed his salary will count, but then that No. 51 salary of $555,000 will become salary No. 52 and automatically not count. The net difference between the two is what the Bills will be charged on the cap.

For example, third-round pick Harrison Phillips should carry a salary cap hit of $673,000 according to the rookie wage scale. Once he signs his deal, that $673,000 will count, but $555,000 will come off the books since it then falls under the top-51. So the Bills' cap number will only actually go up by the difference of $118,000.

The next highest salary then becomes No. 51 is $593,000. When Josh Allen or Tremaine Edmunds sign their deals, the Bills will be charged the difference of their cap hit minus that $593,000, and so on.
When it’s all said and done, the Bills should need roughly $5.2 million total for rookies. That should leave Brandon Beane approximately $14.1 million in salary cap space to use as needed during the offseason. Once the 53-man roster is finalized and all salaries count, that will leave about $12.8 million available.

Don’t expect Beane to run off and spend all of that. He said last month he likes to keep plenty of cap room in case of injuries and having to sign new players.

“I like to be conservative with the injury replacement costs when you get guys injured starting in camp and through the year,” he said. “You’ve got to have money to replace those guys. I like to have a nest egg back there. We’ve got, in my mind of free agency money, we’ve got a little bit left, but it’s not much.”

There’s another reason why Beane won’t have an itchy trigger-finger when it comes to spending this year’s cap room. And it’s all about 2019.

Looking Ahead:

Any unused salary cap space from one year can be rolled over to the next. This year, the Bills rolled over $11.58 million from last year’s unused cap money. Things appear to be on track for about the same amount from 2018 into 2019, and that’s when the team’s cap situation really opens up.

As of right now, based on a $190 million cap (factoring in roughly the normal annual increase), Over The Cap has the Bills $74.3 million under the 2019 cap, the third most room in the NFL (this figure doesn’t represent any of this or next year’s draft picks’ contracts).

How can it jump that high? Dead money. This year, the Bills have to absorb guaranteed or signing bonus money still remaining on the contracts of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus ($13.5M), offensive tackle Cordy Glenn ($9.6M), and quarterback Tyrod Taylor ($7.6M), among others. They are on the hook for over $36 million in dead money this year, the most - by far - of any NFL team. But all of that will be wiped away after 2018, with no dead money currently scheduled.  

The Bills have several players scheduled to become free agents next offseason. The main names among them are defensive tacke Kyle Williams, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and offensive lineman Ryan Groy.  



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