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The Bills' five best & five worst contracts ... and why

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The rookie wage scale implemented by the NFL as part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement with players has been a huge win for teams.

Draft well, and a player is under your control for four seasons at bargain-basement prices.

Whiff on a selection, however – especially in the first round – and a team can take a financial hit in addition to the damage that comes from picking a bust.

In examining the Buffalo Bills’ five-best and five-worst contracts, recent draft picks take up spots on both lists.

The five best contracts are defined as those in which the players are greatly outplaying their compensation.

The five “worst” contracts is a little trickier. Those belong to players who haven’t come close to earning what they’re being paid. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that those players should simply be cut.

In some instances, there would be no salary-cap relief in doing so. In others, a player still has value to the team, it’s just not commensurate to what they’re being paid.

That’s why a player like Mario Williams isn’t on the list. His $19.9 salary-cap hit for 2016 is obviously the worst contract on the team. Because the Bills can save $12.9 million against the cap by releasing him – a no-brainer decision – he’s not included on this list.

Five best contracts

1. Tyrod Taylor

Signed through: 2016

Remaining value: $1.133 million (plus incentives)

Why it’s good: A starting quarterback with Taylor’s average annual salary is the biggest bargain in the NFL. Consider that more than 50 quarterbacks have a higher average yearly salary. The Bills are playing a high-risk game of poker with Taylor, saying they want to see more from him before offering a contract extension. Their lack of salary-cap space this upcoming season is one reason why. But if Taylor improves and gets the Bills to the playoffs in 2016, he could command a salary that’s easily 15 times what he’s currently making.

2. Ronald Darby

Signed through: 2018

Remaining value: $3.738 million

Why it’s good: Darby is a contender for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award after a phenomenal first season. As a second-round draft pick, he signed a four-year contract. The Bills will be basically stealing his services for at least the next two seasons before the two sides are even allowed to negotiate an extension.

3. Karlos Williams

Signed through: 2018

Remaining value: $2.006 million.

Why it’s good: Just like Darby, Williams is a member of the Bills’ 2015 draft class. With nine total touchdowns as a rookie, he outperformed expectations for a fifth-round draft pick by a mile. Durability, however, is a big question mark, as he suffered three separate injuries in his first season at a rugged position. The Bills, though, can basically run Williams into the ground for the next couple seasons without worrying about that, because there is so little invested financially. It’s understandable why players like Darby and Williams would have a legitimate beef with the current CBA.

4. Sammy Watkins

Signed through: 2017

Remaining value: $11.78 million

Why it’s good: Watkins developed into one of the best receivers in the NFL over the final nine games, with 49 catches for 900 yards. Only two receivers in the league, in fact, had more – Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Watkins also took on a more vocal leadership role, and there’s every reason to believe his career should take another step forward in 2016. If it does, it will come at a bargain price.

5. Colton Schmidt

Signed through: 2016.

Remaining value: $600,000

Why it’s good: Schmidt ranked seventh in the NFL in net punting average, at 41.3 yards per attempt. He also had just three touchbacks. He’s one of the 10 best punters in the league, and is playing on a minimum salary.

Five worst contracts

1. EJ Manuel

Signed through: 2016.

Remaining value: $2.87 million.

Why it’s bad: Manuel’s contract as a 2013 first-round pick was fully guaranteed. That means if the Bills were to cut him, he’d still count $2.87 million against their salary cap in the form of dead money. Given that Tyrod Taylor has solidified himself as the starting quarterback, and Manuel fell flat on his face in two starts in 2015, it’s clear he does not have a future here. The only way out of the contract for the Bills is to find a willing trade partner. Good luck with that.

2. Charles Clay

Signed through: 2019.

Remaining value: $33 million ($13.5 million salary-cap hit in 2016).

Why it’s bad: Clay didn’t have a bad first season in Buffalo, finishing with 51 catches for 528 yards and three touchdowns before missing the final three games of the season with a back injury. Those aren’t superstar numbers, though, and that’s the way Clay is being paid. The big issue is his 2016 cap hit. Clay is due a roster bonus of $10 million on March 11, the third day of the 2016 league year. For a team in desperate need of cap space, that’s a huge number. The Bills can turn that roster bonus into a signing bonus for cap purposes. Clay would still get the $10 million, but the cap hit would be spread out over the remaining four seasons of his deal, lowering his cap number in 2016 to $6 million, and increasing it to $9 million for the remaining three years.

3. Jerome Felton

Signed through: 2018

Remaining value: $7.45 million.

Why it’s bad: Felton was supposed to be a bruising lead blocker in the Bills’ power rushing attack, but he didn’t make much of an impact in his first year with the team, appearing in just 26 percent of the offensive snaps. Chemistry with running back LeSean McCoy seemed lacking. Felton also doesn’t have much of a role on special teams, playing just 17 percent of the snaps there. The Bills, though, wouldn’t realize much of a cap savings if they were to release Felton this year before the free-agent shopping season – just $350,000.

4. Cyrus Kouandjio

Signed through: 2017

Remaining value: $2.841 million.

Why it’s bad: A second-round draft pick in 2014, Kouandjio has nobody standing in front of him for the starting right tackle job. He simply hasn’t been good enough to take it. Cutting Kouandjio before the free-agent shopping season would save the Bills just over $400,000. That’s probably not worth it. The better option would be to hope with another offseason of training, Kouandjio can make a serious push for a starting job. If he’s cut at the end of training camp, the Bills’ 2016 cap savings would be more than $850,000.

5. Percy Harvin

Signed through: N/A.

Remaining value: $2 million.

Why it’s bad: Harvin’s contract with the Bills, signed before the 2015 season, was essentially a one-year deal. On paper, however, it was a three-year deal, with a $3 million signing bonus. The 2016 and 2017 seasons were voidable, but the $2 million in remaining bonus money ($1 million for each season) counts as dead money against the Bills’ salary cap for the coming season. In all likelihood, Harvin won’t be back with the Bills, and might not play again because of injury concerns that limited him to just five games and 22 percent of the offensive snaps in 2015.

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