It's been clearly established this week: The Buffalo Bills have some serious work to do in regards to the 2017 salary cap.
Because of that, it's inevitable that the team will say goodbye to some higher-priced, veteran players. Could one of them be running back LeSean McCoy?
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com thinks so. In an article published Wednesday, Rosenthal offers up 30 AFC players who could be released this offseason. McCoy is listed under "potential surprise names."
"McCoy is a very awkward fit in new coordinator Rick Dennison's one-cut running attack. The Bills could decide to risk letting McCoy go a year too early rather than hold on to him a year too long," Rosenthal writes. "If the team designates McCoy a post-June 1 cut, they get $6.25 million in cap room and -- more importantly -- save $6 million in cash to spend elsewhere.
"The Bills have a number of high-priced players who may no longer work with the new coaching staff. Tight end Charles Clay is paid like a superstar for role-player production, although his contract makes him difficult to cut. Defensive end Jerry Hughes and defensive tackle Kyle Williams are also questionable fits with new coach Sean McDermott. GM Doug Whaley may be loath to blow this team up because of the dead money involved, but there's a case to be made to start clearing the decks."
That last sentence is one we wholeheartedly agree with. But will the Bills?
If the front office and ownership signs off on a total rebuild, then by all means, release McCoy, and don't stop there. Say goodbye to Kyle Williams, Corey Graham and Aaron Williams, too, for starters.
But if that's not the direction of the franchise -- and there has been no indication given as to which direction the decision-makers are leaning -- saying goodbye to McCoy wouldn't make much sense. If the Bills want to make a 2017 playoff run, they'd be best served in keeping their best offensive playmaker.
Either way, it's clear there is a need for more cap space. With that in mind, here are five players who could be cap cuts.
1. Dan Carpenter: The struggling kicker is the easiest call in terms of who to cut. Doing so would save the team $2.4 million against the salary cap. Carpenter's fate should have been sealed with his performance against the Dolphins in the home finale that knocked the Bills out of playoff contention.
2. Marcus Easley: The veteran wide receiver missed all of last season because of a knee injury. Cutting him would save the team $1.025 million against the salary cap. There should be cheaper, younger options to compete for Easley's role as primary gunner on special teams.
3. Patrick Lewis: The little-used reserve offensive lineman was given a contract extension in 2016, but it's hard to see why. The Bills' starters at guard (Richie Incognito, John Miller) and center (Eric Wood) are set, as is the primary interior reserve (Ryan Groy). Releasing Lewis would save $1.2 million against the cap.
4. Corey Graham: The Buffalo native provided the team some much-needed stability at safety last season, playing 98 percent of the defensive snaps. He's been durable, too, playing all 16 games for nine straight years. But Graham will be 32 at the start of 2017, and his $5.65 million salary-cap hit is the 11th highest on the team. Releasing him would save $4.050 million.
5. Nickell Robey-Coleman: The diminutive cornerback had a pair of interceptions last season, returning one for a touchdown. He's been a steady performer in four years with the Bills, but it's unknown how he fits into a defensive scheme. His release would save the team $1.65 million.
Conclusion: If the five above players were released, it would save the team $10.325 million, although that amount would be decreased by paying their replacements. That amount is not overly significant, which means the Bills have more work to do in terms of restructuring contracts for players currently on the team. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and left tackle Cordy Glenn are the primary two candidates for that.