Bills General Manager Brandon Beane isn’t a fan of restructuring too many contracts, but knows it’s a necessary evil.
If you happen to follow me on Twitter, perhaps you noticed my account was hacked last week for about 24 hours.
Thankfully, Twitter Support was able to resolve the issue, but the ordeal was rather stressful – and did cost me about 200 followers. Let my issue be a warning if you’re active on social media – change your password often and use two-factor authentication for all your accounts.
With that, let’s get into another Bills Mailbag …
Any NFL general manager has to stay nimble, even within the constraints of the salary cap, and Brandon Beane has followed through on just about everything he set out to do in the offseason so far.
Norman Hummel asks: I think it’s great to see Brandon Beane sign key players like Stefon Diggs to long-term contracts. Considering the tight salary cap, do you think he is mortgaging the future of the Bills by spreading players’ compensation over years, or is the 2021 TV contract going to guarantee big cap increases every year?
Jay: The salary cap still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. It is expected there will be a healthy increase next year, and from that point on, yearly increases can be reasonably expected – assuming, you know, no more pandemics. Beane has talked at length about not mortgaging the future, including at the NFL scouting combine earlier this offseason.
“I’m one of those guys – in my life, I’ve never really had credit card debt. I just don’t like operating like that,” he said. “The less that I can push down the road and keep us competitive – I’m not going to sleep at night unless I’ve got a roster that I think we can win the whole thing – beyond that, I don’t want to just, again, give up, go for it this year or go for it for two years, and then all of a sudden we’re sitting here in two years and you’re going, ‘Brandon, you’re $92 million over the cap. Where are you going to get started? Are you cutting everybody except Josh Allen?’ That’s what I’m trying to avoid.”
Restructuring contracts, especially after the cap decreased because of the pandemic, was a necessary evil for all NFL teams. It’s clear Beane doesn’t favor using that tool too often, though. Because of that, I’d say you don’t have to worry too much about Beane totally mortgaging the future.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who was first to report the news of the extension, the deal is worth up to $104 million, with $70 million in guarantees.
Ed Helinski asks: Now with Stefon Diggs locked up for the next few years, what’s left up Brandon Beane’s sleeve prior to the draft? Speaking of the draft, might the Bills get creative and reduce the number of this year’s draft choices from seven to a lesser number?
Jay: The obvious remaining roster need has been talked – and written about – plenty, including in this edition of The Buffalo News: Cornerback. Diggs’ contract extension freed up some cap space, leaving open the possibility of adding a veteran to the position ahead of the draft. It’s also possible he waits until after the draft, both to see if a player he likes at the position lines up with where the Bills are picking, or to see if a team that does draft a cornerback early perhaps releases a veteran in a corresponding move. One way or the other, cornerback will be addressed before the start of the regular season.
As for moving up in the draft, that’s understandably a popular topic of discussion at this time of year. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not ever really in favor of doing it – unless it’s for a quarterback. In that case, all conventional rules of draft wisdom get thrown out the window. The position is just that important.
Todd McShay thinks Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. will be on the board and would be a good pick for the Bills.
Short of trading up for a quarterback, though, I’m not in favor of moving up. Draft picks are the best way for NFL teams to stock their roster with affordable contracts. For a team such as the Bills, who have handed out several big-money extensions or signings in recent years, those picks become even more crucial, because at some point, Beane isn’t going to be able to afford to re-sign everyone.
The counterpoint to that, and it’s a good one, is that the Bills’ roster is so deep, the likelihood of all seven picks making the 53-man roster is slim. That was true last year, when two of the Bills’ drafted players ended up on active rosters elsewhere in the NFL. Nevertheless, I’d rather roll the dice seven times as opposed to, say, four or five, given that the draft is a crap shoot, no matter how many picks a team has.
We should point out here that Beane does not necessarily share the same thought process on this topic. He has been unafraid to trade up for players who aren’t quarterbacks, doing so for linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, guard Cody Ford and tight end Dawson Knox. That list of players shows decidedly mixed results.
Another busy week of NFL transactions makes for another jam-packed Bills Mailbag.
Jeff Miller asks: How do performance bonuses and incentives work against the cap? If the team is tight against it, how do they know if they will have enough money? Theoretically, what if every player eligible for them was eligible for the max? Does that have to be figured into the numbers along with the final, 53-man roster total?
Jay: Bonuses in NFL contracts are classified in one of two ways – likely to be earned or not likely to be earned. Those classified as likely to be earned count against the current year’s cap. Those classified as not likely to be earned do not. Bonuses are classified as likely to be earned or not likely to be earned based on what a player did the previous season.
For example, a common bonus used in current NFL player contracts is a per-game roster bonus. Let’s say a player’s contract calls for him to receive a $5,000 bonus for every game he’s on the 46-man game-day roster. If that player participated in all 17 games last season, the entire $85,000 potential bonus would be classified as likely to be earned and count against this year’s salary cap. If the player played in only 15 games last year, $75,000 of his bonus would be classified as likely to be earned and count against the cap, while $10,000 of it would be classified as not likely to be earned. If the player then went on to play in all 17 games this year, the Bills would be charged $10,000 on next year’s salary cap because a not likely to be earned bonus was reached. Conversely, if a bonus is considered likely to be earned and not reached, the Bills would receive a cap credit next year.
Those adjustments are performed at the end of every season and factored into each team’s available cap space. Bonuses for statistical achievements work the same way.
The extension would place Diggs in the top five for both highest paid wide receivers in the NFL and highest total guarantees among wide receivers, according to contracts website Spotrac.com.
Jim Maher asks: Can you provide some background relative to how guaranteed contracts got started? Seems like they are not helpful in managing expenses. If a player with a guaranteed contract is cut early, how does the guarantee impact the salary cap?
Jay: It’s important to note the NFL is the exception to the rule when it comes to guaranteed contracts in professional sports. In the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, if a player signs a 10-year, $100 million contract … he’s getting all that money. The NFL – or, more specifically, its owners, have kept fully guaranteed contracts out of the sport for a long time. The league’s injury rate, which is 100%, is most commonly referenced as the reason why. Of course, the lack of guaranteed contracts goes beyond that for owners. If a player isn’t performing up to his level of play, a team can simply release him and not owe him a big chunk of his contract. It’s easy to get in the weeds on NFL contracts, which can be quite complex, but the basics of a contract include a signing bonus, which is guaranteed and given to a player right away, and a base salary, which is often not guaranteed. In that case, if a player goes to training camp and gets cut, he keeps his signing bonus, but doesn’t collect any base salary. Now, to Jim’s question, if his base salary was guaranteed, he gets that money whether he’s on the roster or not, so that makes a big difference in how a team might build its roster.
A good example to use here is the recent contract signed by quarterback Deshaun Watson with the Cleveland Browns. The entire, $230 million deal is fully guaranteed – which has the chance to be a precedent setter. Word at the NFL owners meetings last month is that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was receiving some shade from his counterparts around the league for giving out such a deal – especially to a player facing nearly two dozen civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct.
If Watson gets cut before the end of his contract, the Browns are still on the hook for his money against the cap. That’s why owners have fought against guaranteed contracts for as long as they have. It will be interesting to watch what happens after Watson’s deal. Will that type of contract become the new normal, or will teams push back and say the Browns simply don’t know what they’re doing (which very well may be the case)?
The deal currently gives the Bills $7.2 million in cap space for the upcoming season, according to the sports financial website Spotrac.com. The Bills will need about $1.9 million of that cap space total to sign their draft choices before training camp.
Al Runkel asks: Since you never hear about players being tested for flexibility (ability to touch your toes, etc.) and mobility (joints that should rotate, like your ankle, and joints that aren’t supposed to rotate and are stable), does it affect their draft position or free agency? Obviously, the Bills must put a priority upon this conditioning with how few serious injuries they had through the past four years.
Jay: Every player signed to a contract must undergo a physical, and I’m sure some of what you refer to here, Al, is a part of that. The great value to teams at the NFL scouting combine is also the bevy medical tests that players go through. If there is some question about a player’s health in regards to what you are referring to, teams can also request follow-up medical exams. In a larger sense, the Bills have put a big emphasis on sports science and athletic performance. That’s evidenced by the investment made in the team’s training facility. That matters to players.
Bob from Orchard Park asks: One aspect of the dome/open air stadium debate I have not heard much about is a grass field vs. fake turf. I believe that research shows natural grass fields cause less wear and tear on players and fewer injuries than artificial turf. Obviously, with a dome, we have artificial turf, but we can grow grass in an open-air stadium. If I’m paying players a lot of money, I’d prefer that they play on a more forgiving playing surface. What’s your opinion?
Jay: Your thought process is spot on, Bob. The plan is for the new stadium to have a grass field, and it’s for precisely the reason you mentioned. Natural grass is preferred by players because it’s easier on the body.
Carole McNall asks: You said Highmark Stadium has good sightlines. I’d beg to differ a little. I gave up on the idea of going to the stadium for games after a game in which the man in the seat in front of me never sat down. As a result, I could not see either the field or the Jumbotron. A request that he sit occasionally was met with the comment that he had paid for his seat. So did I, but a lot of the money I spent was wasted. I’m not sure how the Bills could fix that problem with the new stadium, but they need to give it some thought. I’d bet I’m not the only one with this problem.
Jay: I’m sorry to hear of your experience, Carole, but I’d say that amounts to rotten luck more than it does a stadium-design flaw. It’s too bad that guy in front of you wasn’t a bit more understanding of your situation, but had he been sitting down, you would have had a good view, so that was more my point. Here’s to hoping your next game, either at the current stadium or the new one, provides a better experience.
Bob Measer asks: On any given week in the NFL season, the play clock will count down to zero before the ball is snapped. Instead of having the referees waiting a beat or two before throwing a delay of game flag after clock hits zero, why can’t the NFL install clocks, similar to the NBA, where under 10 seconds, tenths of a second is displayed? This would take all subjectivity out of it. When clock hits 0:00, the flag is thrown off immediately.
Jay: There’s no reason the league couldn’t do this. Therefore, my thinking is they don’t view it as such a big problem that needs correcting. Similarly, couldn’t the league come up with a more precise way of measuring whether a runner gained a first down or crossed the goal line? Surely, it could, but it must deem those issues as not worth bothering with. I’m with you, Bob, in thinking that making changes to take subjectivity out of the game is a good idea.
Thank you for all the questions. I’m on vacation next week, but the mailbag never rests, so there will be a guest author in this spot. I’ll gladly accept questions for when I return. Those can be sent via email to email@example.com, or via Twitter, @JaySkurski. And, remember, change those passwords!
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News Sports Reporter
I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.
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