Something has to give.
The Buffalo Bills can't be sitting with the seventh-least space under the NFL's salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and have genuine hope for improvement any time soon.
The Bills are so top-heavy with salaries that they're severely limited in their ability to improve on last season's 7-9 finish, or, for that matter, build a roster finally capable of ending a 17-year playoff drought.
It's time to do some serious clearing of space, either by making cuts or restructuring multiple deals that push money into the back end or result in a pay reduction.
The latest cap data accounts for quarterback Tyrod Taylor receiving the contract extension that would guarantee him $30.75 million if the Bills were to keep him on the roster past March 11. If they release Taylor before the deadline, that would free up about $16 million in cap space for this year.
But that doesn't necessarily address all of the Bills' roster challenges.
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus sits at the top of the payroll, one spot above Taylor, with a $16.4-million cap number. Given his less-than-stellar production the past two seasons, and off-field conduct/injuries that resulted him missing more than half of the 2016 campaign, Dareus is one player whose deal would figure to offer ample opportunity for restructuring.
Offensive tackle Cordy Glenn comes in third at $14.2 million, followed by defensive end Jerry Hughes ($10.45 million), tight end Charles Clay ($9 million), running back LeSean McCoy ($8.9 million), defensive tackle Kyle Williams ($8.3 million), center Eric Wood ($7.6 million), safety Aaron Williams ($6.6 million), and wide receiver Sammy Watkins ($6.3 million).
McCoy is, by far, the most productive player in the top 10, but he plays a position where quality players are frequently found for far less money as low-end free agents, mid-round draft choices, or undrafted signees. Although he rushed for 1,267 yards last season, his highest total since he had 1,319 yards in 2014 with the Philadelphia Eagles, McCoy turns 29 in July.
He takes remarkably great care of himself, but expecting his performance to remain at a dynamic level could be unrealistic.
Glenn hasn't distinguished himself as the elite tackle that the pay raise he received last year reflects. Hughes has been far from spectacular since the big salary increase he received two years ago, while Clay, signed as a restricted free agent in 2015, has been ordinary.
Kyle Williams, who turns 34 in June, is in the twilight of his career and his body is wearing down. Wood, who turns 31 next month, is returning from a broken leg. Aaron Williams has never been right since the neck injury he suffered early in the 2015 season and is NFL future is in doubt.
The Bills seemingly could rework some, if not most, of the top 10 contracts on the team.
Could they consider parting ways with anyone else besides Taylor?
Absolutely. For instance, McCoy might very well fall under the category of a player that could be worth the risk of releasing a year too early in order to avoid the potential of doing so a year too late.
Both Williamses on defense would figure to be the most vulnerable to being cut. Kyle Williams is on record as saying he is willing to be part of yet another rebuild, but new coach Sean McDermott and his defensive staff will undoubtedly be looking for signs of decline through the offseason and preseason.
On Wednesday, NFL teams can begin applying franchise and transition tags to pending free agents. If the Bills decide to do so with cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the price would be about $14.3 million. If they were to do so with their only other high-profile player headed for free agency, wide receiver Robert Woods, the cost would be roughly $15.8 million, something the Bills would never consider for a No. 2 receiver.
Long-term deals with both players are possible, but the Bills aren't expected to be highly aggressive and are more likely to try to find help at both positions in the draft.