The Buffalo Bills are going to have more of their salary cap eaten up by "dead space" this year than at any point in their last 16 seasons.
The good news for the team is they have cleared the decks of a lot of contracts and should have huge room to be free-agent spenders next season.
The Bills currently have $35.9 million in dead cap space – money allotted to players no longer on the roster. That total is expected to rise to $44 million once retiring center Eric Wood officially is moved off the roster.
The base salary cap for all teams is $177.2 million in 2018. Dead cap money will account for 25 percent of the Bills' cap. That's tops in the NFL, and it will be the third most dead cap space in the league by percentage in the last five years, according to financial figures from Spotrac.com.
Dead cap space isn't all bad. Every team weeds out some contracts every year that no longer make sense, based on a player's production. However, 25 percent is a huge chunk.
The average dead cap money last year was $15.6 million, or 9.3 percent of the cap, according to Spotrac. Arizona currently is No. 2 in dead cap space at $20.3 million.
The jettisoned players eating up the most Bills space are: Marcell Dareus ($14.2 million), Cordy Glenn ($9.6 million), Tyrod Taylor ($7.6 million) and Aaron Williams ($2.4 million). Wood is expected to take up another $8.2 million. All those players are off the books after this season except for Wood, who still likely will cost about $2.1 million next season.
Still, the Bills have been able to add 15 veteran players in free agency (or pre-free agency). The most expensive was defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who got $24.6 million guaranteed on a five-year contract. He will take up $6.7 million in space this year.
The Bills have about $16 million in space under their cap of $188 million (which is adjusted to account for money the Bills rolled over from last year). They will need about $10 million to sign their draft picks (depending on what picks they end up with). That puts them at about $6 million in space, and they'll need most of that to account for signings due to additions they will make during the season.
"We have to save money for the draft picks, and I like to be conservative with the injury replacement costs when you get guys injured starting in camp and through the year," Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said last week. "You’ve got to have money to replace those guys. I like to have a nest egg back there. We’ve got, in my mind of free agency money, we’ve got a little bit left, but it’s not much."
The worst dead-cap burden the Bills ever had was in 2001 when dead-cap space ate up 31 percent of their cap. The next year they still were weighed down. It ate up 25.3 percent in 2002.
Most of the time, teams in the top three or four of the dead cap list are not in the playoffs. However, there are exceptions. The Bills were third in dead cap money in 2017 (at 17.3 percent) and made the playoffs.
Dallas led the NFL in dead cap money in 2014 at 20.6 percent and went 12-4. Indianapolis led the league in 2012 at 28.4 percent and won its division at 11-5. The worst cap-jail team in recent years was Oakland in 2013. The Raiders had $55 million in dead money (45 percent) and went 4-12.