Knowing who to pay and when is a balancing act for Beane

The Bills general manager has to keep an eye on the future

Sal Capaccio
July 18, 2019 - 12:23 am

Photo: Maddie Meyer - Getty Images


There used to be a time in the National Football League - and not even that long ago - when teams drafted quarterbacks they wanted them to sit for at least one, and maybe even two years before throwing them on the field.

For the most part, that’s changed.

A big reason why is because of the salary structure of the league and position. The longer he sits, the less time you have him under a rookie contract that pays him far less than he will make if he’s actually as good as you hope. And the more money he makes, the less there is to spend around the roster to help him, hurting the overall talent of the team. It’s a double-edged sword, which is why more and more teams are trying to accelerate the process of developing and playing their young quarterback, building the best roster they can around him, and going for a championship in his first 4-5 years, while he’s still on his cheaper, rookie deal.

Josh Allen was drafted in 2018. His rookie contract runs through the 2021 season with the Bills holding a fifth-year option for 2022. If he’s the franchise quarterback they hope and expect him to be, they’ll know by then. They’ll also have to pony up big money on his next deal. Allen will count less than $5 million in the team’s salary cap this season. He’ll count for less than $7 million in 2021. That’s peanuts compared to what even half the quarterbacks around the league are making and counting against their teams' caps.  

Consider Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, for example. Going into his fourth season, Wentz just signed a contract extension (players can’t sign extensions until after their third season). He’ll go from counting about $8.4 million on the final year of his rookie deal to a whopping $34.6 million against the cap in two years.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is currently on his second contract, which he signed in 2016. He went from counting $7 million in Year 4 to what will be $27 million this coming season. At the time of that signing, Luck was set to become the highest paid player in the NFL, based on guaranteed money. Those two examples show how quarterback salaries have skyrocketed just in the last three years.

General manager Brandon Beane sees what’s happening around the league. He understands it, but he doesn’t automatically adhere to the theory and philosophy of trying to load up the rest of the roster while the quarterback is still on his rookie deal.  

“It definitely makes sense if your team is there and you're close to doing it to try and maybe make some moves,” Beane said in an interview after the Bills wrapped up mandatory minicamp. “Especially seeing where some of these quarterback numbers are going because, you know, once you make that investment, some of these guys are making $30-35 million a year, that you are going to have to sacrifice some other positions. So it's a sensible way to do it. You can't force it. You know, we still have to build it the right way and that's what we're trying to do through the draft, so we're not one player away or anything like that. I don't know that you ever are one player away. I don't really subscribe to that theory, but yeah I mean we're trying to put a winning product out there. Not that we haven't been before, but we definitely are now. We feel we've got some improved areas. Again, we're not a finished product, but I think, you know, I think we're trending in the right direction, but we've still got a lot of work to do.”

If Allen does become that franchise quarterback, there’s no doubt the Bills will pay what they have to to keep him under center. That will make it a lot tougher to keep other young players going into the final years of their own contracts. Cornerback Tre’Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano, and left tackle Dion Dawkins’ deals all expire after the 2020 season, although the Bills can exercise a fifth-year option on White, just like they can with linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, whose original deal is set to expire after 2021, just like Allen’s. Beane would love to have the best of both worlds - see Allen earn that huge second contract, pay him, but also retain those other young players. It’s a delicate balance, but one he’s keeping his eye on and trying to plan ahead for.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “You have to look at who’s coming up, whether it’s guys that are unrestricted or guys that you’re talking about, the rookies that are finishing, going into their third year, that you could negotiate with in their fourth year, based on where we see them after 2019. That’s part of the fiscal responsibility is knowing what we have down the horizon. That’s what we want to do.”

It’s not just the younger guys, either, Beane is referring to. It’s what he already did with veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes, who signed a two-year, $21.5 million extension this offseason, a year before he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.  

“We want to reward the guys that we think do it the right way, our way, and can show others,” Beane explained. “So hopefully guys in this locker room say, ‘all right, there’s a guy that Brandon and Sean [McDermott] and the Pegulas paid. Let’s watch him.’ We want to continue to do that, not chase from the outside but reward the guys here that earned the right or earned that pay day. So to your point, those guys will be conversations next year. Maybe we’ll be able to extend two, three, four. I don’t know. But then the same thing, we got the following year. Who’s going to come up after that who we can extend. That’s the goal, to pay our own players and fill a few holes here and there from the outside. But the core of our team coming from the guys that we draft, grow and develop.”

All that said, Beane also doesn’t want to put the cart in the front of the horse and make decisions too early that could backfire.

“We'll see how this year goes,” he said. “You definitely keep an eye on the future, but there's so much unknown that we have to let play out before we can decide where we're at. We'll obviously go through this year and evaluate where we're at the end of the season to decide what moves we make next year. But it's way too early for me now, this June, to start focusing exactly what our free agent needs are going to be, or our draft needs are going to be until we let some of this season play out.”​


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