It's become common knowledge at this point that the Buffalo Bills have one of the tightest salary-cap situations in the NFL as the 2016 offseason begins to unfold.
In fact, the latest projections from ESPN Stats & Information peg the Bills as being $2.14 million over their estimated adjusted salary-cap figure of $154.467 million. That amount takes into consideration carried-over cap space from 2015, as well as adjustments from earned incentives by quarterback Tyrod Taylor and others, but it cannot be pinned down to an exact number until the NFL finishes its calculations for its league-wide salary cap early next month.
According to ESPN Stats & Information figures, the Bills' $2.14 million overage is the most of the three teams (along with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins) that are over their 2016 projected adjusted salary caps. The Bills' quickest and most likely fix to that is releasing defensive end Mario Williams by the time the 2016 league year opens Mar. 9.
The Bills will save $12.9 million when they cut ties with Williams, but that savings would effectively be canceled out if Buffalo decides to assign the franchise tag to their top free agent, Cordy Glenn.
Glenn is expected to be one of the most coveted free agents on the market this spring, given his age (26), position (left tackle) and performance last season (he was Pro Football Focus' 10th-ranked offensive tackle). If he wants to be paid within the top 10 of NFL offensive tackles, he'll be seeking a deal worth at least $9.4 million per season. If he wants to crack the top five, the deal will be worth at least $11 million per year.
The Bills are almost certainly interested in reaching a long-term deal with Glenn, and doing so would allow them to configure the contract so that Glenn's cap hit in 2016 is lower and there is less stress against the team's salary cap this upcoming season.
But if a long-term deal isn't close, the Bills have the option of using the franchise tag on Glenn beginning Tuesday and continuing through Mar. 1. The exact figure for offensive linemen depends on the NFL's 2016 salary cap, so it won't be determined until early March. But ESPN Stats & Information projects the non-exclusive tag to be $13.7 million.
In that case, assigning Glenn the franchise tag would wipe out the $12.9 million in cap savings the Bills will gain by releasing Williams. The Bills would need to find other ways to create space, with some potential options including restructuring tight end Charles Clay's contract to save up to $7.5 million this season, releasing kicker Dan Carpenter to save $1.76 million this season, releasing running back Anthony Dixon to save $1.15 million and seeking pay cuts from players such as Leodis McKelvin, who is due to earn $4.9 million next season.
The possibilities are wide-ranging, but the Bills could create another $10 million in cap space that could help cover the cost of franchising Glenn, and then create some salary-cap breathing room so that they can sign their rookies, and then eventually fill out their practice squad and add injury-replacement players throughout the season.
The next two-to-three weeks will provide clarity on how the Bills plan to attack their tight financial situation this offseason, and that process effectively begins with taking action on Glenn and Williams.