2006 Bills Offseason Outlook and Cap Update

BillsZone.com salary cap expert Robert Balistreri looks over the Buffalo Bills cap situation going into the NFL's free agency period. With a new collectively bargained cap figure, how will the Bills approach this offseason and draft to fill the team's holes? What options do the Bills have to create more cap space and what veterans can the team bring in to help rebuild?

I originally covered the Bills' salary cap situation in my 2006 Bills' Salary Cap Analysis & Outlook. However, since the owners have finally agreed to the players' final proposal, we will need to revisit the cap situation a bit.

Please refer to the 2006 Bills' Salary Cap Page. Well, as of 3/12/06, I have the Bills' $14,758,819 under an "adjusted salary cap" of $101,776,911 with "dead cap" of $8,622,892. This will change a bit when new minimum salaries are applied to the cap and possibly new provisions as well.

NOTE: FA signings not included

Using the information from the 2006 Cap Page, I will first highlight what moves I would make to create cap space, cover what I believe are the free agent needs of the Bills' and offer some free agent targets that would fill those needs, then offer a review the draft.

Offseason Outlook

Well, from part I (see link above), I presently have the Bills' $14,758,819 under an "adjusted" salary cap of $101,776,911. The landscape with an extension is different because "we" do not know how new provisions will impact the salary cap and also how over $400 million of additonal cap space league wide will impact the free agent market.

A few moves have already taken place. The releases of OL Mike Williams, DT Sam Adams, TE Mark Campbell, and S Lawyer Milloy collectively saved approximately $10.5 million after adjusting for "top 51". Bills' have also tendered RFAs (WR Sam Aiken, LB Mario Haggan, LB Josh Stamer) and EFAs (CB Jabari Greer, OT Jason Peters, RB Shaud Williams, WR Jonathan Smith). The tenders used up slightly more than $2 million after adjusting for "top 51". I agree with all moves with one exception. I would have kept Sam Adams, but since he's gone, I will continue on under the assumption that I did agree with it. It's the only way to make sense of my future moves.

Late note: RFA LB Josh Stamer has re-signed to a multi-year deal. His tender was for $712,000. I cannot imagine his deal will greatly increase his 2006 cap number, thus I'm predicting minimal impact. Bills have also added TE Robert Royal, WR Andre Davis, and DT Larry Triplett. Cap impact not included as of yet.

Revisiting where the Bills can find cap space

NOTE: New provision with respect to June 1st rule per John Clayton Teams can now designate two veteran players that can be released prior to June 1st but still be able to split remaining proration between two seasons. HOWEVER, this designation requires the team to continue to carry the players' cap number until June 1st.

This does not change the Moulds' situation IMHO. Why? Well, why release him now if there is no immediate cap savings? Technically, the Bills' should be off the hook for his $1 million reporting bonus and $100,000 workout bonus, but that's not how I interpret the provision as stated on NFLPA website (PDF). I would still attempt to work out a restructured deal that can save cap space in 2006 as there is little pressure to release him right now.

Simple Restructures:

Now that we have an extension, "simple restructures" are once again part of the world of capology. Basically, a "simple restructure" converts salary to signing bonus. The player loses no money, the team pays no additional money, but the team saves cap space in the year of restrucuture. I have 2 candidates and will outline below:

Aaron Schobel:

In 2006, Schobel has a salary of $2 million and also a roster/reporting bonus of $1 million. Reduce his salary to $600,000. Take the $1.4 million reduction plus $1 million bonus and "guarantee" it by converting it to a signing bonus of $2.4 million. It can be prorated over the 4 yrs remaining on his extension he signed in 2005 at $600,000 per season. This results in a cap savings of $1.8 million in 2006 but adds $600,000 to each of 2007-2009 cap years.

Terrence McGee:

In 2006, McGee has a salary of $2 million and a roster bonus of $750,000. Reduce his salary to $500,000. Take the reduction of $1.5 million plus the bonus of $750,000 and "guarantee" it by converting it to a signing bonus of $2.25 million. It can be prorated over the 4 yrs remaining on the extension he signed in December. This results in a cap savings of $1,687,500 in 2006 but adds $562,500 to each of 2007-2009 cap years.

Both moves together save $3,487,500 on 2006 cap. Add in Moulds' possible reworking of his deal and you could realize as much as $5-5.5 million in cap savings. However, other possibilities for cap savings exist. As outlined in Part I (modest editing):

CB Nate Clements

Clements was given the "non-exclusive" Franchise tag. That means he can negotiate with other teams and the franchise amount of $7.226 million is locked. If he had been given the "exclusive" tag, he would not be allowed to negotiate with other teams but the possibility exists that the franchise tender could increase come later in the League Year. This being said, Clements could be traded. That would save $7.226 million. He could also sign a long-term deal which would result in as much as $5 million in cap savings on 2006 cap. Nate's best move right now is to sign the 1 yr tender. This effectively guarantees the $7.226 million and possibly forces the Bills' hand. However, the Bills likely tendered Nate knowing that it was possible he could play the year at the franchise tender and the Bills' 2006 cap could accomodate it.

LB London Fletcher

Fletcher has 1 yr remaining with $4 million salary, $800,000 proration, and $100,000 workout bonus for a cap number of $4.9 million. Bills could sign him to an extension and save approx. $2 million on 2006. His release would save $3.79 million.

G Bennie Anderson

Anderson has 2 yrs remaining with salaries of $1.5 million (2006) and $1.65 million (2007). His proration each season is $500,000 for cap numbers of $1,906,160 (2006) and $2.15 million (2007). His release would save $683,840 on 2006 cap.

LB Jeff Posey

Posey has 1 yr remaining with a salary of $1.75 million and proration of $437,500 for a cap hit of $2,187,500. His release would save $1.44 million. He's been a workman-like "Sam" OLB but the switch to the "cover-2" may end his time here in Buffalo.

DB Troy Vincent

A well respected leader not only on the Bills but throughout the NFL because of his position as Union President of the NFLPA. I cannot imagine the Bills parting ways with Vincent this year. His release result in minimal cap savings of approx. $500,000.

With my restructures above, the Bills could have approx. $20 million to work with. If the Bills feel they need more cap space in 2006, they could focus first on trading or extending Clements. I would only release players if it were deemed they no longer fit in the teams plans AND I had in place a viable option to replace that player.

Bills UFAs:

The Bills' have 8 UFAs (C Trey Teague, WR Josh Reed, DT Ron Edwards, LS Mike Schneck, DT Justin Bannan, DL Ryan Denney, OT Greg Jerman, QB Shane Matthews).

At this point, I would entertain bringing all back with the exception of WR Josh Reed and DL Ryan Denney. It's likely that QB Shane Matthews will retire. My first priority would be Pro Bowl LS Mike Schneck. His long-snapper was solid and both Moorman and Lindell benefitted from it. Teague has been a warrior at C. I know many fans want an upgrade, but that may not be available. Edwards is a good #3 DT. Bannan and Jerman are hard working depth type players who should come relatively cheap.

What are the Bills needs?

Heading into the free agnecy period, I believe the most pressing need is the defensive line. The other needs are OL with emphasis on the left side of the line, safeties that can play "cover 2", compliment to Lee Evans at WR whether Moulds is released or not, veteran option at RB as a mentor to or starter if McGahee gets injured, comeptition at LB to push Posey and/or Fletcher, #3 CB, and determine whether Losman is truly the QB of the future.

Defensive Line: Clearly the most pressing need. The release of DT Sam Adams is disconcerting in some respects because it leaves us very vunerable inside. Many teams will be in the market for slightly above average DT talent. My targets would include Larry Triplett (Colts-SIGNED WITH BILLS), Maake Kemoeatu (Ravens-SIGNED WITH PANTHERS), Ryan Pickett (Rams), and Travis Hall (Falcons). I would even consider resigning Sam Adams.

Schobel and Kelsay ably man the DE positions. However, it's obvious that we need a player at DE that can alter the offenses game plan. Adding a top flight pass rushing DE like Darren Howard would solidfy the outside. Kelsay could then be a solid #3 DE who can play both sides but he will also be UFA after 2006, so Bills need to plan for that. Other options include Brett Kiesel (Steelers) and Brady Smith (Falcons).

Offensive Line: Nearly as pressing is the offensive line. Bills are likely to allow Trey Teague leave. The first option is 2005 draft pick, Duke Preston. However, recently released Kevin Mawae (Jets) is a possibility. Mike Gandy's play was average at best. He may be better suited at LG, thus the primary need of LT. My target was Kevin Shaffer (Falcons) who signed with the Browns. Quite honestly, not much else available at LT. Maybe Jason Fabini (Jets). Bills may need to address LT on draft day. If Gandy stays at LT, then the Bills could look at Stephen Neal (Patriots) to replace Anderson at LG. If Mawae is added, then Preston enters the mix at LG. Villarrial and Peters are solid.

Quarterback: Are we sure that Losman is the long term answer? Can Holcomb lead us to success? While the immediate needs are on both lines, these questions cannot be ignored. I must absolutely consider Brian Griese. I would not consider Culpepper.

Safeties: Bills switch to the "cover 2" defensive scheme requires safeties that can cover. Right now, the Bills are lacking that. Troy Vincent is a gamer and team leader. He's adequate at FS. We really need a John Lynch type at SS. Coy Wire is nothing more than an above average special teams player. Rashad Baker is, at best, a dime option in the secondary and special teams contributor. My targets would include Adam Archuleta (Rams), Dante Wesley (Panthers), and Micahel Stone (Patriots).

Wide Receiver: After Lee Evans, all I see are question mrks. Without any doubt, I want Eric Moulds back. He must understand that he's not a #1 in this league anymore and his contract really needs to reflect that. Parrish has potential as a #3 WR who plays the slot. Aiken is a solid special teams player. Bills have had difficulty scoring in the redzone. I think the addition of Andre' Davis(Patriots)who the Bills just signed may hasten Moulds' release. The Bills are planning to meet with Moulds and his agent early this week to discuss his future with the team. If a restructuring or outright pay cut can't be completed, then I see Moulds being released to seek his fortunes elsewhere. Other options that the Bills may be interested in are Jabar Gaffney (Texans), David Givens (Patriots) or Brian Finneran (Falcons).

Running Back: The Bills need a better option behind Willis McGahee. They need a veteran who can tutor him and also step in full time if something were to happen to him. Shaud Williams, is at best, a #3 RB and special teams player. My targets would include Michael Bennett (Vikings), Jonathan Wells (Texans), Mike Anderson (Broncos), and Stephen Davis (Panthers)

Linebacker: Maybe LB should be a higher priority. Takeo Spikes is coming off a major injury. Both Fletcher and Posey are UFA after 2006. I do not believe anyone presently on the roster could replace Posey at the "Sam" OLB spot. Crowell could be the future at MLB if Fletcher is not back in 2007. My targets would include Ben Leber (Chargers), David Thornton (Colts), Na'il Diggs (Packers), Jamie Sharper (Seahawks), or Sam Cowart (Vikings)

Cornerback: Our starting CBs are among the best in the NFL. McGee was re-signed in December and will be here for awhile. Clements was franchised but I believe the Bills step up and re-sign him long term. However, depth is a concern. I'm not ready for Eric King to be a starter in case of injury. Kevin thomas, resigned to 1 yr deal, is coming off microfracture surgery in 2005. The fact that McGee is a Pro Bowl KR makes the #3 CB position even more critical to fill as a McGee injury hurts us in two spots. My targets are the aforementioned Dante Wesley, Deshea Townsend (Steelers),

Tight End: With the release of Mark Campbell, Bills are very young at TE with no proven commodities. I suspect they will pursue a veteran. I do not have targets but apparently the Bills have signed n Robert Royal (Redskins). Not sure if the Bills would use another high choice at TE, but Vernon Davis could be tough to pass up.

Draft Outlook:

In my opinion, free agency should be used to address a teams more immediate needs. The draft's function is to supplement free agency and to select players that the coaching staff feels fits the schemes and build depth to hedge for free agent losses, age, and injury. Early outlook, Bills can go in any direction on day one of the draft. I feel that both lines will be addressed in FA. Bills could use the 8th overall on nearly any position with the exception of RB, WR, or K/P. I will detail my draft strategy closer to draft day.

I thank all who show an interest in my work. I welcome comments and suggestions.

- Salary Cap Page Explanations & Footnotes - 2005 Bills' Salary Cap Analysis & Outlook - Salary Cap Forum - 2003 Salary Cap Page - 2004 Salary Cap Page - 2005 Salary Cap Page

Please feel free to contact me robert.balistreri@verizon.net

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