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10 potential salary cap cuts for the Bills, with the dollars and sense behind them

Doug Whaley joked this week that reporters can take the first week of free agency off.

His point was the team does not anticipate being all that active in the market.

The big reason for that is the lack of available funds. As of Thursday afternoon, the Bills had 60 players under contract for the 2016 season, accounting for $158,260,782, according to figures from the NFL Players Association. The NFL has not set a league-wide cap figure for 2016 yet, and that number changes for each individual franchise based on the amount of unused space it carries over from the previous year.

Regardless of that, it’s clear the Bills are going to need to free up some money.

The league’s base salary cap in 2015 was $143.28 million, and if a two-year trend of a $10 million increase continues, would be in the neighborhood of $153 million for 2016. Even with what the Bills carry over, they will be close to the cap ceiling when the new league year begins March 9. At that time, the “top 51” rule begins, which means the total of the top 51 contracts for every team must be under the salary cap.

Even a modest goal for the Bills -- say, resigning their own pending unrestricted free agents (like offensive linemen Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito), tendering all seven restricted free agents with the lowest offer and signing the team’s draft class -- will require significant chiseling away at the salary cap.

Here are 10 potential salary cap cuts, along with the amount of money the team could save before and after June 1. The league’s collective bargaining agreement with players allows teams to designate up to two players as “post June 1 cuts” even if they are released before that date.

That allows the player to hit the open market sooner, but the Bills are forced to carry the player’s entire contract on their books until June 1. That means that releasing a player with a June 1-designation before that date does not help a team get under the salary cap by March, but could help leave enough money to sign the draft class.

Included for each player in this list will be his “dead money” on the 2016 salary cap. That is the remaining unamortized bonus money that accelerates immediately onto a team’s salary cap when a player is cut. For those players cut before June 1, all of that bonus money goes onto the current year’s cap. For those cut after June 1, only the current year’s bonus money goes on the current year’s cap, with the remaining balance becoming dead money on the 2017 salary cap.

Information from the websites spotrac.com and overthecap.com, along with contract information obtained by The Buffalo News, were used in providing these numbers.

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1. Mario Williams

2016 cap number: $19.9 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $12.9 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $14.5 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $7 million

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $5.4 million ($1.6 million in 2017)

When’s the best time to do it: Right now. It’s simply a matter of when, not if, Williams will be cut. The Bills desperately need the space, and Williams didn’t come close to earning this type of salary with his performance in 2016. Cutting Williams will easily get the Bills under the cap, but it won’t be a cure-all for the cap problems. It wouldn’t make sense for the Bills to cut Williams with a post-June 1 designation, because they need the savings now to get under the cap by March.

2. Corey Graham

2016 cap number: $4.675 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $2.675 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $3.675 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $2 million

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $1 million ($1 million in 2017)

When’s the best time to do it: Before the start of the league year. If the Bills decide to move on from Graham, it’s better to gain the $2.675 million of cap space doing so would produce now as opposed to waiting for the extra $1 million that would come after June 1.

3. Leodis McKelvin

2016 cap number: $4.9 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $3.9 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $3.9 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $1 million

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $1 million ($1.6 million in 2017)

When’s the best time to do it: Now. Since he’s entering the last year of his deal, there would be no reason for McKelvin to be a June 1 cut.

4. Aaron Williams

2016 cap number: $6.1 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $0

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $3.675 million.

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $7.275 million

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $2.425 million ($4.85 million in 2017)

When’s the best time to do it: After June 1, or now with a post-June 1 designation. Williams’ contract situation is interesting. The Bills say he’ll be able to return to the field after missing all but three games in 2015 because of a neck injury. Williams, however, admits he won’t truly know that he’ll be able to play again until he takes a hit in training camp. That puts the Bills in a tough spot, because how much can they really count on him? If the team were to release him before the start of the 2016 league year, with a June 1-designation, they should be able to avoid paying him a $1 million roster bonus and $100,000 workout bonus, both of which are typically paid out in the spring. The team would take a significant dead-cap hit in 2017 by doing so, but also realize a significant cap savings this season.

5. Kyle Williams

2016 cap number: $8 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $5 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $6.5 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $3 million

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $1.5 million ($1.5 million in 2017)

When’s the best time to do it: Now would be the time based on the cap savings. Bills General Manager Doug Whaley and coach Rex Ryan both said at their season-ending press conference that Williams wants to return for 2016 – so it sounds like he’ll get that chance – but at his age and cap number, it’s inevitable to start looking at a future without him on the team.

6. Dan Carpenter

2016 cap number: $2.8375 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $1.7625 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $2.3 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $1.075 million

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $537,500 million ($537,500 in 2017)

When’s the best time to do it: The best plan here might be to bring in another kicker in the offseason to compete with Carpenter. If the player wins the job, the Bills can free up a significant amount of cap space without a huge dead-cap hit the next two years. Or, if Carpenter returns to form, they’ve got a kicker under contract at a manageable number.

7. Kraig Urbik

2016 cap number: $2.625 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $1.775 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $1.775 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $850,000

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $850,000

When’s the best time to do it: Now, unless they can persuade Urbik to take a pay cut like he did last season.

8. Anthony Dixon

2016 cap number: $1,316,668

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $1.15 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $1.15 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $166,668

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $166,668

When’s the best time to do it: Now, if the team feels comfortable heading into next season with LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee as its top three running backs.

9. Jarius Wynn

2016 cap number: $1.125 million

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $1 million

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $1 million

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $125,000

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $125,000

When’s the best time to do it: The Bills could do it now to free up the $1 million, but if they think Wynn can contribute in 2016, they’re better off taking him to training camp. If he doesn’t look fully recovered from the knee injury that caused him to miss all of 2015, they can move on from him then.

10. Duke Williams

2016 cap number: $792,563

2016 cap savings if cut before June 1: $675,000

2016 cap savings if cut after June 1: $675,000

2016 dead money if cut before June 1: $117,563

2016 dead money if cut after June 1: $117,563

When’s the best time to do it: At Williams’ salary, releasing him now will have a minor impact on what the Bills want to do in free agency. Like with Wynn and Carpenter, it’s probably best to bring him to camp in the summer and see if he can make strides in Rex Ryan’s defense in year two.

Conclusion

If the Bills were to execute all 10 of these moves in our time frame – admittedly unlikely – it would save the team just over $35 million on the salary cap. Almost all of that would be able to be used in March for free agency, with the exception of the savings that would come from releasing Carpenter and Aaron Williams post-June 1. Of course, the actual savings would be less when considering the cost for replacing these players.

There are also other ways that the Bills can save salary cap space in 2016. Like Urbik did in 2015, players may accept pay cuts. McKelvin, for example, told The News during the season he may be open to that.

Another way to save money is through restructuring contracts, which kicks the can down the road, but may be necessary this year. One player who may very well fit into that is tight end Charles Clay. He is due a $10 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year, and has a cap number of $13.5 million. The Bills could ask Clay to restructure that bonus, spacing out the cap hit over the remaining four years of his deal.

Whatever they decide to do, chief contract negotiator Jim Overdorf will have a busy offseason for the Bills.

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