ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills’ salary-cap issues during the tenure of former general manager Doug Whaley continue to be cleaned up by Brandon Beane.
Two years ago, Whaley was scrambling to get the Bills under the NFL's salary cap by a March deadline. Excess spending resulted in players being pushed off the roster and money from some deals being pushed into future years to find relief.
Now, the situation is improving. The Bills are comfortably under the salary cap and have fewer big-money contracts dictating how their roster will be reshaped this offseason.
"We're in better position than they were a year before," said Beane, hired last May to replace Whaley, last week. "But we're not out of the woods. We're still working on it. We're still massaging it. With some of the moves we made, we still have to eat some dead money. But it's heading the right direction. 2018 was better than 2017. I foresee 2019 being a little rosier than 2018."
Pinning down where the Bills stand against the salary cap in 2018 is difficult because the NFL has yet to establish its league-wide cap for next season. But using a projected $176 million league-wide cap and adding $11.8 million in 2017 cap space that the Bills can potentially carry over into 2018, Buffalo will have about $36 million in cap space next season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
More than $30 million of the Bills' approximately $137 million in 2017 salary-cap commitments was "dead money," or amounts already paid to players who did not remain on the roster. That was the third-highest amount in the NFL and included $10.6 million from the October trade of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and $5.6 million from the August trade of wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
The Bills enter 2018 with about $20 million in dead money, the second-highest total in the league. That includes $14.2 million from Dareus' contract.
Buffalo could add to its dead money total this offseason as Beane continues to churn a roster that underwent significant changes last season.
The Bills can create more 2018 salary-cap space by releasing or trading quarterback Tyrod Taylor before he is paid a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the new NFL league year, which begins March 14. Releasing Taylor would save Buffalo about $15 million, while trading him would save $16 million. Either way, the Bills would have in excess of $50 million in projected 2018 cap space after such a move.
Buffalo could also save $3.4 million in 2018 space by releasing oft-injured left tackle Cordy Glenn, or $4.9 million if they trade him.
Deals for Dareus and Glenn have both weighed down the Bills' salary cap the past two seasons, and will continue to affect the team's financial situation in 2018. Both contracts were executed by Whaley, who was fired last May after four seasons.
Dareus signed a six-year extension in September 2015 worth about $100 million, including $60 million guaranteed. He underperformed in 2015 and missed eight games in 2016 because of an NFL substance-abuse-policy suspension and injuries. Not considered a good fit within first-year coach Sean McDermott's culture this past season, Dareus was traded midseason to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2018 fifth-round pick.
Whaley should have been more cautious in extending Dareus given similar off-field issues earlier in his career, but it is more difficult to fault Whaley for extending Glenn in May 2016. That deal, which might have exceeded Glenn's value as a player, guaranteed $36 million over four additional seasons. He has missed 15 games the past two seasons because of ankle, foot and back injuries.
Glenn's extension came after Whaley released several players and restructured several contracts to get the Bills under the salary cap before the 2016 league year opened. Some of that crunch was because of moves Whaley had made the previous offseason, such as offering tight end Charles Clay $24.5 million to lure him away from the Miami Dolphins. Part of it was because of the $100 million deal previous general manager Buddy Nix gave defensive end Mario Williams in 2012.
Although the Bills were able to navigate through a tricky salary-cap situation in 2016, they could not come up with enough space to match the New England Patriots' restricted free-agent offer sheet to wide receiver Chris Hogan. He became an important contributor for the Bills' division rival, and the loss of Hogan should be considered one of Whaley's biggest blunders as general manager.
Mismanaging the salary cap has been part of Buffalo's reputation in recent seasons, but that could end soon. If Beane's first eight months as general manager are any indication, he is more likely to move bloated contracts off his roster this offseason than to add more to his payroll, creating a healthier financial situation moving forward.
Beane, who played a large part in managing the Carolina Panthers’ salary cap the past decade, has put his signature on new player contracts since arriving in Buffalo last summer. Previously, the signature of senior vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf -- and not Whaley -- had been at the bottom of deals.
Overdorf, who has been with the Bills since 1986, will remain with the team.
"Jim and I, we've jelled well," Beane said last week. "He's filling the same role. He's our chief negotiator. I don't see that changing."