Welcome to this week’s Bills Mailbag. It’s been a rather uneventful start to free agency for the Buffalo Bills, but that was to be expected based on their salary cap situation. That’s a good topic to start this week. Let’s get right to your questions …
In a cabinet in Brandon Beane’s office is a book. The Buffalo Bills' general manager compile…
Bill asks: How bleak is the Bills’ future just a couple seasons and more down the line? How does our salary cap situation in the coming years compare to other teams? With all these restructured contracts, there is a lot of money coming due in the next few years. It seems like our ability to do anything with free agency will be nil in the near future. Am I too pessimistic?
Jay: Good observation and good question, Bill. Sports financial website Spotrac is great for this information. Currently, it has the Bills as being $18 million over the projected 2024 salary cap. Of course, that is only a projection because we don’t know what the cap will actually be. The Bills must hope that as the league’s revenues stabilize after the Covid-19 season wiped out fans in a lot of cities, and money from the new TV deals continues to pour in, the cap shows significant growth. The Bills’ 2024 cap number, according to Spotrac, is roughly $253 million. The team ranks 26th in terms of available cap space, which isn’t great. However, you can make yourself feel better by saying “at least I’m not a Saints fan.” New Orleans has $351 million committed to the cap for 2024, a whopping $116 million more than what it is projected to be. The Bills are one of eight teams projected to be over the 2024 salary cap. The news gets worse in 2025 for the Bills, who rank 30th in projected cap space for that season, according to Spotrac. You are correct in saying that, as constructed, the Bills are going to have a hard time being big spenders in free agency in the near future. That’s what happens when you pay a premier quarterback, edge rusher, wide receiver, cornerback, left tackle and linebacker, among other big contracts. That’s not being pessimistic, it’s being realistic. That’s why it is so important that general manager Brandon Beane drafts well, because those players come into the NFL with cost-controlled contracts.
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General Manager Brandon Beane said Thursday the team has no plans to move linebacker Matt Milano, who recently signed a two-year contract extension, to the middle of the defense.
Ralph asks: If the Bills really valued Tremaine Edmunds, why didn’t they try to sign him much earlier, after his third year, like they did with Matt Milano and Dawson Knox? I think they expected more out of him sooner and despite the talk were not interested in signing him at all. What do you think, Jay?
Jay: I think the Bills made a calculated gamble, and they lost. I also think the Bills were right not to pay Edmunds after this third or fourth season. It’s hard to argue that he had done enough at those points in his career to earn a big-money deal, and as Beane pointed out this week, there are only so many players you can pay, even if you drafted and developed them, which the Bills did, in Edmunds’ case. Credit the player for having the best season of his career in a contract year. Edmunds deserved to cash in. It’s easy to say the Bills should have locked Edmunds up sooner, but ask yourself this question: Would you have? Edmunds’ legacy in Buffalo will be that of a player who had tantalizing physical skills, but maybe did not quite ever put it all together to meet the expectations that were set for him. Perhaps those expectations were a bit unfair, but they were the reality.
"Get used to it, fans. Get used to the Bills prioritizing one player every March to add to the mix (like McGovern) and focusing on keeping their in-house talent (like Poyer) instead of having to make cap-creating cuts," Ryan O'Halloran writes.
Gerry in Lewiston asks: Great time of year for a football fan. Am I overthinking here? Chad Hall seemed highly respected, but left Buffalo to take the same position elsewhere. My question is, do you think Sean McDermott told him to look for a job so he wouldn’t be set free? Consider the promise Isaiah McKenzie and Gabe Davis showed in the 2021 season, only to both regress last year. Also, nice letter Leslie Frazier sent to the Bears. He did play there, but the way he gushed about Tremaine Edmunds made me think losing him was part of the reason he took the year off from Buffalo. Your thoughts?
Jay: Both Hall and the Bills have been tight lipped about his departure for a lateral position. My thinking: The Bills weren’t all that upset to see him go. You’re right that he had the respect of his players – they bought him a truck for Christmas, for crying out loud – but the Bills’ receivers regressed in 2022. The team had one of the worst drop rates in the league, and it was contagious – impacting everyone from Stefon Diggs to Davis to McKenzie. It is rare for coaches to make the type of lateral move Hall made, unless the team that employed him didn’t put up much of a fight to keep him. I suspect that’s what happened here. As for Frazier, I’m sure he was aware of the Bills’ cap situation and the difficulty that there might be in keeping Edmunds on the roster, but I’d be surprised if that was much of a deciding factor in him not coaching in 2023. Players come and go every year, and as good as Edmunds is, I can’t see Frazier being that attached to him that he’d walk away.
Here are highlights from Bills General Manager Brandon Beane's news conference Thursday.
Phil asks: With the Dolphins going all in with the trade for Jalen Ramsey and the Jets about to get Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback, have the Bills lost their place as favorites to win the AFC East? Also, with the concussion problems of Tua Tagovailoa, do you know if anything can be done to Tua’s helmet to give his head extra protection when he hits the turf? I’ve seen the Guardian protectors used over helmets during NFL practices, but have read it is illegal to wear them during actual NFL games.
Jay: I still look at the Bills as the favorites to win the division, but the Jets and Dolphins are doing their best to close the gap. Here is what Beane said about that Thursday: “I think, the last couple of years, it’s really been tightening up, and it’s not been easy,” he said. “Miami had a heck of a year last year, they had a little bit of a skid when the quarterback got hurt. But now the Jets, their defense was very salty last year, created some issues for us up there in New York and even here, it’s not like we were moving the ball up and down in either of those games. You understand every year people are going to come after you, especially if you’ve won it. We’ve won the division three years in a row and it’s going to get harder and harder every year and we’re going to do our best. We feel we’ve got some good continuity and we’re just trying to add the right pieces. But we understand, winning the East, this may be the toughest year yet to try and pull that off.”
As long as the Bills have Josh Allen in his prime, however, they’re going to be my pick to get that done. As for Tua, reports out of Miami have said that it is expected that he will look to change to a helmet with more protection in 2023. That won’t be the Guardian caps that are used in practices, but it will be something that, hopefully, offers a better chance at reducing the risk of concussions.
Poyer, 31, agreed to a two-year contract Wednesday and signed the deal Thursday. Terms have not been disclosed.
Joe from Long Island asks: With news that Zeke Elliott is a free agent, I think he’d be a great fit for the Bills on a reasonable, one-year, prove-it contract. He can be the short-yardage back they’ve lacked. James Cook’s development can continue, which would not be the case if they drafted Bijan Robinson out of Texas. For Elliott, he gets a chance to rehab his value on a winner (think Odell Beckham Jr. with the Rams) and parlay that into a new contract/starter’s job elsewhere, a la Mitch Trubisky. I can’t see anyone offering him a multi-year deal. What do you think? Do you think his past run-ins off the field will deter Beane/McDermott?
Jay: It’s become almost a cliché at this point to connect any running back – be it through free agency, a potential trade or the draft – to the Bills. I’ve seen the same things you have, Joe, about Elliott and the Bills being a possible pairing. Quite frankly, I don’t love the idea. Elliott seems cooked. I suppose if it’s the type of contract you’re proposing, there isn’t much of a downside for the Bills, but if you’re serious about letting Cook continue to develop, it’s hard to square that with giving Elliott the number of carries he would need to rebuild his value to the point he’d be in line for the type of contract you mentioned he’d chase after in the 2024 offseason. I don’t believe that Elliott’s off-field issues would have much to do with the Bills’ decision. The first thing to consider is financial. The Bills simply don’t have a lot of room, so if he’s looking for a big deal, he’s not likely to find it in Buffalo. The next thing to consider is fit in the offense. That’s up to the Bills’ coaching staff and front office to determine if Elliott fits in that regard.
The Buffalo Bills’ general manager has a decision to make on the contract status of defensive back Siran Neal, who is due a $400,000 roster bonus Sunday – the fifth day of the NFL’s new league year.
Jeff Miller asks: Your “GM for a day,” column every year is just overwhelmingly awe inspiring. How much time do you spend researching everything and arranging it for publication? It feels like a week’s worth and doing nothing else. It is excellence at its best. Thank you. There’s a lot of pre-draft talk about getting Josh more weapons, which is certainly warranted. But the way I see it is, before more weapons, he needs better protection up front to give his receivers time to complete their routes. Notwithstanding drops, that had something to do with receivers not getting the numbers they wanted. Do I have a fair argument?
Jay: You certainly have a fair argument. Look at how the Chiefs and Bengals have spent big to build up the offensive line around Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, respectively. When you have a franchise quarterback, which the Bills do, it’s workplace negligence not to do everything possible to protect him. That’s why I’d like to see even more of an investment along the offensive line. Connor McGovern is a decent start, but I’d be looking to give Spencer Brown a serious challenge at right tackle. Bringing in another guard who can push Ryan Bates also isn’t a bad idea. I’m all for devoting resources to the offensive line, and agree that more time can help the Bills’ current receivers.
As for the “GM for a Day” column, thank you very much for the kind words. It is a labor of love. I definitely spend multiple days working on it. I’m glad people enjoy it … even if Beane doesn’t take much of my advice (I did have Edmunds departing this year, though). Thank you, as always, for the questions. As a reminder, they can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter to @JaySkurski.