ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There aren't many teams in a better position this offseason than the Buffalo Bills.
With core players on rookie deals or reasonable contracts, a team that made the playoffs with a 10-6 record in 2019 and has a projected $84 million in salary-cap space is set up nicely to continue its push toward becoming a Super Bowl contender.
But no roster is perfect and the Bills are no exception. Even with plenty of money available, Buffalo has difficult decisions to make on several players, including some pending free agents, who could affect the team's success moving forward.
Potential cap cuts
Trent Murphy, defensive end
2019 stats: 36 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception (16 games)
2020 salary: $9.78M | Dead money if cut: $1.75M | Cap savings: $8.03M
Murphy currently represents Buffalo's second-highest cap hit, but has not been productive enough to warrant his salary. He is an unrestricted free agent in 2021, but the $8 million the Bills can save by cutting him this year might prove more valuable than Murphy's on-field impact. There's no rush to get him out the door, but if this offseason gets to a point where someone has to go, Murphy is likely a candidate.
Lee Smith, tight end
2019 stats: 4 receptions, 31 yards, 1 TD; 30% of snaps (16 games)
2020 salary: $3.25M | Dead money if cut: $1.0M | Cap savings: $2.25M
Moving on from Smith, 32, is an easier decision than Murphy. The Bills had four tight ends on their 53-man roster in 2019, and the other three offer more as a receiver than Smith. While he is one of the league's premier blocking tight ends, Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney have shown proficiency as blockers and are far better pass-catchers. It would make more sense for Buffalo to fully commit to its youth movement at the position.
Tyler Kroft, tight end
2019 stats: 6 receptions, 71 yards, 1 touchdown (11 games)
2020 salary: $6.4M | Dead money if cut: $1.6M | Cap savings: $4.8M
Speaking of Bills tight ends, Kroft never really got going in 2019 as he battled back from foot and ankle injuries. In his absence, Knox established himself as the team's primary receiving tight end, which more or less left Kroft in limbo once he returned. When healthy, Kroft is an excellent pass-catcher and he might be a candidate for a restructured deal.
Pending free agents
Shaq Lawson, defensive end
2019 stats: 32 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble (15 games)
The Bills declined Lawson's $9.45 million fifth-year option last offseason, making him an unrestricted free agent. General manager Brandon Beane said he and the team wanted Lawson to prove himself in 2019 and were impressed by what they saw. If Lawson is not back in Buffalo next season, it won't be for a lack of trying. Spotrac estimates his market value at $7.6 million per season -- a price the cap-rich Bills can afford for a 25-year-old at a premier position.
Jordan Phillips, defensive tackle
2019 stats: 31 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble (16 games)
The biggest question mark of the Bills' offseason, Phillips is a polarizing player. On one side, he led NFL defensive tackles and the team in sacks. On the other, his production in 2019 looks like an anomaly compared to his previous four seasons. The 27-year-old probably shouldn't warrant Aaron Donald-type money, and if he agrees with the $6.1 million average annual value (AAV) Spotrac estimates his market to be, that's a figure the Bills could make work. But Buffalo has two promising young players (Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips) at the position, so anything much higher than that figure might not fit into the team's plans.