They might as well install a revolving door at the front of the Buffalo Bills' training complex.
Coaches and front-office executives have been flying in and out the past month. Players will be doing the same over the next month.
The Bills' salary cap crunch is going to mean the departure of numerous veterans, just like last season when the Bills had to say goodbye to the Big Three of Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, along with a dozen others.
The Bills currently stand about $13.4 million over the NFL's projected salary cap of $67.4 million for 2001, according to salary figures obtained by The Buffalo News.
That situation is guaranteed to mean the departure of backup guard Joe Panos. Starting outside linebacker Sam Rogers probably will be gone, despite the fact he's an excellent player. And the team may have to purge a couple other high-paid, quality veterans - from a group that includes Ted Washington, Ken Irvin, Phil Hansen and Henry Jones. Of course, one of the Bills' top two quarterbacks is going to be gone, too.
Exactly who gets cut will depend in part on how far the Bills want to get under the cap in order to try to sign free agents Eric Moulds and Marcellus Wiley.
"We are going to have some very difficult decisions to make in the next few weeks," Bills President Tom Donahoe said. "Right now, we're in cap jail and we have to get out. We have to do whatever it takes to do that. We have a plan, and we have begun to implement some aspects of the plan. It's going to take a lot of work over the next three weeks."
"I'd love to have all our players back," Donahoe said. "If there was a way to do that, that would be great. But it's probably not realistic with the salary cap."
Every NFL team must be under the cap by March 2. That's when the 2000 contracts expire and the 2001 contracts take effect. That means the Bills will be doing a flurry of restructuring of contracts over the next month and also will have to release some players in the week or days leading up to the deadline.
The Bills have 41 players under contractfor 2001 and their salary cap figures total $80.8 million.
In reality, however, their salary cap total will be higher. The Bills will pay out about $3.5 million to $4 million to sign their draft choices. They currently have six picks, but they will get a few more compensatory picks for free agents they lost last season. They also have a few restricted or exclusive rights free agents they can keep at an inexpensive cost. Safety Keion Carpenter and receiver Jeremy McDaniel are two of those. That brings the Bills' current cap costs up to about $85.48 million.
So they ultimately have to trim about $18 million - plus more to sign Moulds and Wiley - to get under the cap.
If it sounds bad, there's a reason: It is bad.
But it's not as hopeless as the numbers make it appear.
First, a few explanations.
There are four potential ways for a team to save money against the cap: 1) cut or trade a player; 2) restructure a player's contract; 3) renegotiate and extend a player's contract; 4) get a player to take a pay cut.
When a player gets cut or traded, the amount of signing bonus money he's due to get still counts against the cap, but it's often less than if he stays on the team. Example: Rogers is entering the final year of his contract. If he's on the team without getting a contract extension, he counts $6.3 million against the cap. If he gets cut or traded, he counts $2.9 million. (So the Bills would save $3.4 million.)
When a team restructures a contract, the length of the deal remains the same and the player gets the same amount of money. But his base salary gets converted to bonus money, which gets spread out over the rest of the contract. It's a way to save money for the upcoming year.
Renegotiating and extending usually is trickier, because a team usually has to extend over a long period of time to spread the bonus money out far enough to save money for the upcoming year. So if a team is going to extend - like the Bills did last year with John Fina through 2006 - it better be sure it wants to keep that guy around for a long time.
So how might the Bills solve this cap overrun they face?
Here's a realistic way it could happen:
They could save big money against the cap by cutting or trading Rogers ($3.4 million) and Panos ($2.1 million). Each have big salary cap figures for 2001. Throw in running back Antowain Smith (about $350,000 in savings) and you've got $5.85 million saved already.
Of course, it's not exactly that simple. Each of those three guys will be replaced by somebody who will have to get paid. Let's say three rookies replace them at a rookie minimum salary of $200,000 each. Now your savings is $5.25 million.
Now let's go to restructuring. Just by spreading 2001 money around for four veterans with long-term contracts - Fina, Ruben Brown, Pat Williams and Jay Riemersma - the Bills will save a bundle. (In fact, they've already restructured Riemersma.) Throw in six other vets each of whom have two years left on their deals - Washington, Hansen, Jones, Irvin and John Holecek - and you've got a savings from nine restructurings of $10.01 million.
Now comes the quarterback situation.
Rob Johnson counts $8.2 million against the cap, Doug Flutie counts $7.7 million. If the Bills cut Johnson, he counts $6.6 million and they save $1.6 million. If they cut Flutie, he counts $4.7 million and they save $3 million.
It's assured that whoever they keep will get his contract restructured or renegotiated, so that will save some more money, although it's hard to guess how much, since there are so many ways to renegotiate.
Let's say for the sake of argument, they cut Flutie and restructure Johnson. That saves $4.7 million.
Total savings from cuts, restructuring and the QBs: $20 million.
Remember, the Bills ultimately need to trim about $18 million. So that would leave them about $2 million under the cap.
What about Moulds and Wiley?
Moulds and the Bills are close to agreeing on a long-term deal that is similar to those signed by Keyshawn Johnson (eight years, $53.5 million) and Joey Galloway (seven years, $42 million). Galloway's cap figure this year, the first year of his deal, was $2.2 million. Pretty manageable.
Wiley hasn't accomplished as much as Moulds, but defensive ends are so hard to find he will get a huge offer. Let's say he commands a deal similar to that of Chicago's Phillip Daniels, a fifth-year guy who had nine sacks when he hit the market last year. Daniels signed for five years and $24.5 million. His cap figure was about $2.8 million this year.
Add $2.2 million and $2.8 million and you get $5 million.
Bottom line: It's going to be extremely tough to sign both Moulds and Wiley.
To do so, it's certain the Bills will have to cut or trade a couple of those veterans. Irvin, for one, would provide almost $1 million more in savings if he were cut as opposed to restructured.
Keep in mind, too, this is somewhat of a simplification of the process.
An extra $25,000 here or there unaccounted for in these figures could make a difference. The Bills have some restricted free agents (Daryl Porter, Robert Hicks, etc.) they might want to sign. They have some other unrestricted free agents (Steve Christie, Marcus Spriggs, etc.) They will need some extra room for injuries during the season.
They have a few other veterans they could cut to save a little money. Cutting snapper Ethan Albright would save $400,000. If punter Chris Mohr were replaced by an undrafted rookie, he would save $350,000. He'd save about $60,000 if he were replaced by a four-year veteran punter. Is it worth it to go with an undrafted rookie as a punter?
Yet another consideration is the 2002 cap.
The more the Bills restructure, the more they push some money into the future.
Let's take Washington as an example. If they restructure him this year, they cut his cap figure from $7.6 million down to $6.05 million. Save $1.6 million. That also pushes $1.6 million of extra bonus money into next year. So his 2002 cap figure is $9.59 million. If they cut him next year under this scenario, he costs them $4.29 million.
Maybe Donahoe will decide he wants to take the brunt of the cap hits this year and create more space next year to be active in free agency.
Finally, another word about the draft. The Bills don't need to make space for draft picks until draft day. They need to have the rookie minimum amount available ($200,000) to draft each player. Not until they actually sign the rookies in July do they need the full rookie cap space - we estimate it to be $4 million.
That creates the possibility the Bills could wait and cut one of their veterans after June 1 as a way of saving a little more money.
That brings another set of cap rules into play, which is a story for another day.
Some fans may revel in this brand of NFL mathematics.
Others may want to take an aspirin and a nap and check back on March 2.