Buffalo Bills Restructures & Cuts
These are the financial gymnastics I was talking about. Being under the cap to start, the Buffalo Bills will need to look inwardly on some deals to get things rolling. For starters, Buffalo could and should get out in front of things with Stefon Diggs’ deal.
The two-time Pro Bowler came in from Minnesota on a modest deal, so the Bills were lucky to have the league’s leading receiver in 2020 playing for a discount. As of today, according to Spotrac, Diggs’ average annual salary of $14.4 million ranks 17th overall in the league behind the likes of Robby Anderson, Jarvis Landry, and Kenny Golladay. Woof.
With him already signed through 2023, maybe an extension through 2025 makes the most sense. If the Bills can shoot for somewhere between the Amari Cooper ($20 million) and Tyreek Hill ($18 million) average salary range, it could be fruitful for both sides, as Diggs would be locked up for four more seasons. Plus, he could learn a thing or two from the Hill salary; take a little bit less so your team can continue to build around you and a QB set to make eye-popping numbers.
It’s hard to tell a guy who’s worthy of the top-dollar — especially when he’s outperformed DeAndre Hopkins (league-high $27.25 million average WR salary) over the past two seasons — but Diggs is showing to be less of a “me” guy than people thought he was coming to Western New York:
Next may be handling things with the All-Pro safety tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. It’s hard to see the team completely ripping up their deals, as Poyer and Hyde are 10th and 11th, respectively, in terms of average safety salaries. But similarly to Diggs, the team could hand out some extensions, especially for Poyer after his first-team All-Pro campaign.
Poyer will be a free agent following the 2022 season, so he could be first in line. The former Oregon State Beaver, who will turn 31 this spring, could seek a Brandon Beane favorite with a two- or three-year deal, possibly at two years for $28 million, putting him in the ballpark of fellow first-team All-Pro Kevin Byard.
Hyde, who is locked in through 2023, could be an option here too. The team could move some money down the line, pay Hyde guaranteed money upfront, while also keeping one of their top players in the fray. I believe a one-year extension through 2024 could remedy that.
One other potential extension candidate is Dawson Knox after breaking out in 2021. The former Ole Miss Rebel tied Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews for a league-high nine scores from TEs this season. Outside of his TD total, Knox also set career-best marks in receptions (49) and yards (587) and he touted a 127.8 passer rating when targeted.
As a player that hasn’t even entered his prime yet, Knox, 25, figures to improve for years to come. Being a former third-round pick, his average annual salary ($880,400) ranks 62nd in football. He showed flashes of a true breakout, so before he goes crazy with Pro Bowl or All-Pro status, Buffalo’s best move may be to get ahead on this deal.
Knox’s deal is set to expire following the 2022 campaign, so if I’m the Bills, I’d take the lead on this and give him a three- or four-year extension. That way the team can spread the money out over several seasons, you lock up one of Allen’s top targets and you set him up with a deal that takes him up to the time he’s approaching 30.
A deal in the $7-$8 million per year range makes a ton of sense. That would slot Knox in the mix with the likes of Kyle Pitts ($8.23 million), Darren Waller ($7.45 million), and Tyler Higbee ($7.25 million).
Now here comes the tough part; potential cut candidates. Unfortunately, Star Lotulelei seems to be the name many have speculated as to who could be on the way out. After sitting out the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, Lotulelei only played in 11 games this past season, including eight starts.
It’s a lot to ask a franchise to take on a $9.2 million cap hit for a part-time player. In the 2021 season, Lotulelei never played a game in which he played over 60% of the defensive snaps. That figure dwindled even more so down the stretch — in his final five games of the season, the Utah product only had one game where he played over 40% of the defensive snaps.
Lotulelei would be nice to have back as a veteran, rotational player, but it may be untenable if his deal isn’t restructured. He could be a post-June 1 release, as it’d save the team $4.1 million. If he’s traded, that could save roughly $6.6 million.
Other Buffalo Bills cut candidates include:
Cody Ford — this could happen as soon as free agency opens. The team could save $1.5 million by letting the former second-rounder go, as Ford has struggled with consistency and injuries.
Jon Feliciano — as Bates emerged, Feliciano was phased out after suffering a calf injury. Maybe depth issues up front mean his spot is secured, but Buffalo could save $4.2 million if he’s released after June 1.
Zack Moss — unfortunately, things just have not worked out for the former Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. As Devin Singletary began to heat up over the final seven weeks of the season, Moss was demoted, including five healthy scratches on the year. In another post-June 1 cut, that move could save the Bills nearly $1 million.
Matt Haack — it was an up-and-down 2021 for the fifth-year punter, as he tallied the fourth-lowest yards per punt average in the league. To get the full $1.55 million in savings, the Bills would have to let Haack go after June 1 as well.
One other name that’s floated around is Beasley. Now he may ruffle some feathers with his stances, but he’s one of Allen’s guys. He tied a career-high with 82 catches to go along with 693 yards and a score in 2021. I think the only way he’s gone is if the team decides to bring McKenzie back on a decent deal.
At that point, the Bills could ask the former SMU Mustang to restructure his deal. The team could release him to save roughly $6.1 million on the cap, but I can’t see that as he enters the final season of his four-year deal. It seems like what would be best for both sides is that he either: 1) restructures his deal to land more cash upfront; or 2) he plays out the 2022 season and the team lets him walk from there.