(This is the second of a three-part series on the Bills' salary cap heading into the 2018 free-agency season.)
One look at the top seven players on the Buffalo Bills' salary table shows why the team still is a ways from title contention.
The top two – quarterback Tyrod Taylor and left tackle Cordy Glenn — surely aren't part of the long-term future of the team, regardless of what happens to them in 2018. Two others – defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and center Eric Wood — already have finished their Bills careers.
The good news for the Bills is looking at 2019 and beyond, their salary structure is one of the least top-heavy in the league. They're almost $30 million under the league average for cap commitments in 2019, according to Spotrac.com.
First, however, they have to navigate some tough financial decisions in 2018.
Here's a capsule look at the most expensive players currently on the roster for the coming season:
1. Tyrod Taylor, $18.08 million. Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus on March 16. If he's released before then, he counts $8.6 million against the cap due to bonus money he already has received and guarantees in the contract. Releasing Taylor gives the Bills $9.48 million in extra cap space. The expectation is the Bills will opt to save the cap space rather than have Taylor play out the final year of his two-year deal.
2. Cordy Glenn, $14.45 million. When fully healthy, Glenn is a quality left tackle. However, he battled foot problems all year, managed to play only five games and underwent surgery after the season. The Bills have a viable alternative at left tackle in Dion Dawkins. If the Bills release Glenn before free agency starts, he counts $11.1 million against the cap (a savings of $3.35 million). A complicating factor that weighs against the Bills keeping Glenn: $6.5 million of his $9.25 million base salary for 2018 becomes guaranteed March 16. Then he's due a $2 million roster bonus March 18.
The Bills could try to work a trade, but it might be hard to deal a 345-pounder with a foot injury. If Bills doctors feel great about the condition of Glenn's foot, the team could keep him in 2018. His cap hit would be $6.4 million if he's released in 2019. If they view his health as a risk, he could become another giant log on the Bills' dead cap pile.
3. Marcell Dareus, $14.2 million. The big defensive tackle, traded in October to Jacksonville, was paid $32 million in bonus money by the Bills in 2015 and 2016. The 2018 charge is what's left from that total that rolled back into the Bills' cap when he was dealt.
4. Jerry Hughes, $10.4 million. The team's top edge rusher is entering the fourth-year of a five-year deal signed in 2015. He turns 30 in August.
5. Charles Clay, $9 million. The tight end also is in the fourth year of a five-year deal. Clay just turned 28.
6. LeSean McCoy, $8.95 million. The best player on the Bills also has two years left on his contract. McCoy's $8 million average salary is tied for second among NFL running backs, behind Atlanta's Devonta Freeman ($8.25 million).
7. Eric Wood, $8.62 million. Wood's career-ending neck injury was an unexpected setback for the Bills on the field and on the financial ledger. Wood's $4.8 million base salary in 2018 is guaranteed for injury. He has a $2.1 million pro-rated bonus charge currently counting toward the 2019 season. If he retires before June 1, that probably rolls back into 2018 and raises his cap charge to $10.72 million. Then there's the question about his signing bonus. Will the Bills want or be expected by the NFL to seek a portion of it back, given his injury? The players' union and NFL will have to sort it out. A settlement could reduce his cap number a little. Financial bottom line: He remains a significant cap charge in 2018 no matter what.
8. Kelvin Benjamin, $8.45 million. He's entering the last year of his contract, which is the fifth-year option of the rookie deal he signed with Carolina.
9. Richie Incognito, $7.57 million. This is the last year of a three-year contract he signed in 2016.
10. Micah Hyde, $6.8 million. Hyde looks like a bargain after making his first Pro Bowl in 2017. He's under contract for four more seasons.
Next: Best-value Bills.