Answering key Bills 2016 free agency and salary cap questions

With the Buffalo Bills' offseason officially beginning Monday, here are answers to several key questions about what changes the next several months will bring to the roster:

How much cap space will the Bills have?

That's yet to be determined because of two main factors. First, the NFL must decide on the 2016 league-wide salary cap. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported last month that teams were told the cap would be between $150 million and $153.4 million. Second, the Bills can carry over unused cap space from the 2015 season. Currently, they have about $5 million in 2015 cap space. That amount will effectively be reduced by incentives that players hit during season but weren't counted against the 2015 cap; notably, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and guard Richie Incognito reached incentives in their deals that the Bills must count against their 2016 cap. NFLPA records currently list the Bills with about a $153 million 2016 salary-cap number, which is the third-highest in the league. They'll be close to or over their adjusted salary cap until they release defensive end Mario Williams, which will free $12.9 million in cap space.

How can the Bills free up cap space?

Releasing Williams will help the Bills' tight financial situation considerably, but their $13 million in savings will drain quickly. If they want to free up more space, one method would be to renegotiate tight end Charles Clay's contract, which calls for him to count $13.5 million against the 2016 cap. Other salary-cap and performance-related cuts the Bills could ponder are cornerback Leodis McKelvin ($3.9 million savings), running back Boobie Dixon ($1.15 million savings), guard Kraig Urbik ($1.775 million savings) and kicker Dan Carpenter ($1.762 million savings). The Bills cannot save cap space by releasing quarterback EJ Manuel because his base salary is fully guaranteed.

Who has the biggest 2016 salary-cap hits?

The top 10, in order: Mario Williams ($19.9 million), Marcell Dareus ($14.55 million), Charles Clay ($13.5 million), Stephon Gilmore ($11.082 million), Kyle Williams ($8 million), LeSean McCoy ($7.675 million), Jerry Hughes ($7.575 million), Aaron Williams ($6.1 million), Eric Wood ($6.075 million) and Sammy Watkins ($5.436 million).

Who is under contract for the Bills next season? The Bills have 52 players currently under contract for 2016:

Who are the Bills' unrestricted free agents?

The Bills have nine: quarterback Josh Johnson; wide receivers Percy Harvin, Leonard Hankerson and Greg Salas; offensive tackle Cordy Glenn; Incognito; defensive end Alex Carrington; linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerback Ron Brooks. These are all players with at least four years of NFL experience. Harvin technically signed a three-year contract with the Bills last March but the final two years automatically void on Feb. 12, 2016. The maneuver allowed the Bills to count $1 million of Harvin's $3 million signing bonus against their 2016 salary cap and another $1 million of that bonus against their 2017 cap.

Which unrestricted free agents are the Bills likely to re-sign?

Glenn should be the top priority. He's 26, entering the prime of his career and has developed into one of the NFL's best players at his position. He is expected to command a deal in the range of Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams, who signed a five-year extension last August that averages $13.2 million per season and includes $41.25 million in guaranteed money. If the Bills can't reach a new deal with Glenn, they could assign him the franchise tag at a yet-to-be-determined amount that is expected to exceed $13 million for this season.

Incognito is likely the Bills' No. 2 priority, but his age (he turns 33 before next season) will limit the length of his deal and its value. Incognito played at a Pro Bowl level but his deal will likely be in the range of $5 million to $8 million per season.

The Bills are unlikely to pursue a big contract for Bradham, who can find a better deal elsewhere with a team that plays a 4-3 system better suited for his skill set. If former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz finds a new team this season, that could be an ideal landing spot for Bradham.

Harvin is a wild card. Ryan said late last month that he has been in contact with the veteran wideout and that Harvin intends on continuing his playing career. But coming off yet another injury-shortened season, his value is limited. The Bills won't have much to spend if they re-sign Glenn and Incognito, so Harvin is unlikely to be a priority.

Carrington and Brooks are defensive role players with some special-teams value who could come back at small-money deals. They won't be priorities for the Bills to re-sign.

Johnson served as the Bills' No. 3 quarterback and knows offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system. However, if the Bills draft a quarterback, there might not be room to bring Johnson back. He also could try to find another team where he can serve as the No. 2 quarterback.

Salas and Hankerson were late-season signings to fill injury voids at receiver. The Bills have incentive to let both players leave through unrestricted free agency; if they sign elsewhere, they will count as unrestricted free-agent losses in the NFL's formula for 2017 compensatory draft choices. The Bills need a net loss of unrestricted free agents to qualify for 2017 compensatory draft choices, so if Salas and Hankerson tip the scales and give the Bills more free-agent losses than gains, they could be in line to receive an extra draft pick for another higher-priced free-agent loss such as Bradham.

Which unrestricted free agents are the Bills expected to pursue from other teams?

Not many. GM Doug Whaley said last spring that he expected this upcoming offseason to be focused on retaining players such as Glenn and Dareus, who already signed a massive extension with the team. Even with the Bills freeing up cap space by releasing Mario Williams -- and potentially by releasing other players -- they aren't going to have much to spend on outside free agents, especially once (or if) they re-sign Glenn.

Who are the Bills' restricted free agents?

The Bills have seven: wide receiver Chris Hogan; tight end MarQueis Gray; offensive tackle Jordan Mills; defensive tackles Corbin Bryant and Stefan Charles; linebacker Ty Powell and safety Bacarri Rambo. These are all players with exactly three years of NFL experience.

Which restricted free agents are the Bills likely to re-sign?

All seven had roles for the Bills in 2015 or, in the case of Gray and Powell, would have contributed if they were not injured. Ideally, the Bills would benefit by having all of them back. However, restricted free agency is tricky because it's becoming more expensive to re-sign players to restricted tenders. Last season, the three tender levels were $3.354 million for first-round draft choice compensation, $2.356 million for second-round compensation and $1.542 million for original-round compensation. Those figures will all increase this offseason. Hypothetically, even if the Bills offered the lowest tender to all seven of their restricted free agents, it would cost more than $11 million to bring all of those players back. It's unlikely the Bills can afford that, so they might need to let a few of these players sign elsewhere, or try to negotiate lower prices on longer-term deals.

Who are the Bills' exclusive-rights free agents?

The Bills have four: running backs Mike Gillislee and Cierre Wood; cornerback Mario Butler and punter Colton Schmidt. All of these players have less than three years of NFL experience. The Bills can tender all of these players at the minimum salary and if they do so, the players have no option to sign elsewhere. Expect the Bills to bring back Gillislee, Butler and Schmidt, who could all be contributors in 2016. They could either bring back Wood to add depth in training camp or decline to tender him.

What positions are the Bills' biggest needs?

  • If Glenn doesn't re-sign, the Bills will need to address their tackle position, likely with a high draft choice. If he re-signs, tackle won't be a pressing need but the Bills won't have much cap room to spend on other positions.

  • The Bills need a five-technique defensive end who works better in Ryan's scheme than Mario Williams did. They could either address that need with a high draft choice or a free agent, but they're unlikely to have the cap space to pursue Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

  • The Bills need to fill a hole that will likely open at linebacker if Bradham departs through free agency, while they could upgrade at their other linebacker spot from Brown.

  • Wide receiver is a need because Woods' contract expires after the 2016 season.

  • Safety is a need if Aaron Williams' neck injury prevents him from playing next season.

  • Guard will be a need if Incognito departs through free agency.

  • Depth at tight end is needed.

  • The Bills will have a long-term need at quarterback until they are certain they have a franchise quarterback.

  • The Bills are deep at running back and cornerback but that could change if they release Dixon and/or McKelvin for cap purposes.