This is the first of a three-part series on the Bills' salary cap as the team prepares for the NFL free agency period.
The Buffalo Bills will enter the 2018 free-agent shopping season in better salary-cap shape than in the past two years.
They're still a long way from where Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott want to be in the cap department because they lead the NFL in dead cap money.
The Bills have about $29.3 million in cap space with a month to go before the start of free agency on March 14. That currently ranks as the 16th-most cap space in the NFL, according to Spotrac.com.
It means the Bills can be more of a player in free agency than the past two years – if they want to be a bigger player.
Two years ago, the Bills were slightly over the cap with two weeks to go before free agency. Last year they had about $20 million in space on the eve of free agency.
However, the Bills' financial ledger still is suffering from the six-year, $96-million contract handed out in 2015 to Marcell Dareus, traded to Jacksonville in October.
Buffalo has $18.68 million in dead money, tops in the NFL, according to Spotrac. Dead money is cap space being taken up by players no longer on the roster. Dareus still counts $14.2 million against the Bills in 2018. San Francisco is second in dead money at $15 million, and only five teams currently have more than $10 million in dead money.
The Bills' dead-money total is guaranteed to go up because center Eric Wood is going to retire. He counts $8.6 million against the cap in 2018, although that could decrease slightly if a settlement is reached on the bonus he has been paid.
A lot will happen before or just after the start of free agency to impact the Bills' cap space total. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is due a $6 million bonus on March 16. If the Bills cut or trade him instead of paying it, they would add $9.44 million more cap room for 2018. Cordy Glenn's big contract puts his status in question. Kyle Williams, who just completed a contract worth $7 million a year, will take up space if he decides to keep playing.
The top five teams with the most cap space as of this week, according to Spotrac, are: 1. San Francisco ($117 million); 2. Cleveland ($110 million); 3. New York Jets ($79 million); 4. Indianapolis ($79 million); 5. Tampa Bay ($63 million).
Among the reasons the Bills are in better shape than the past two years is they were able to roll over more unused cap space from 2017 into 2018. Consider it like rolling over unused cellphone minutes.
The Bills will end the 2017 league year about $10.6 million under the salary cap, although the players' union has yet to release the exact totals for each team. That will get added to 2018. Teams are required to notify the NFL of how much they're carrying over into next year by the day before the regular-season finale.
Last year, the Bills rolled over only $2.8 million into 2017. In 2016, only $2.2 million was rolled over from the previous year.
More teams are trying to roll over money. This year, about 14 teams are expected to roll over $10 million or more, Spotrac calculates. The previous two seasons, five and seven teams, respectively, added $10 million or more to their cap space.
The last time the Bills entered free agency with a lot of cap space was 2015, when they had about $30 million. That offseason saw the Bills make a big outlay of cash. Besides the Dareus deal, Jerry Hughes and Williams were re-signed. LeSean McCoy was acquired and signed to a big contract. The Bills acquired Charles Clay, Richie Incognito and Taylor in free agency.
The last time the Bills rolled over a big amount was 2014, when they added $17.5 million of unspent space from the prior year.
At $20 million under the cap last year, the Bills ranked 23rd in the league. They were able to be selective shoppers, and they made good choices. New additions Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Stephen Hauschka all were big producers for the Bills.
Next: Bills top salary cap players.