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Bills In Good Cap Shape
A closer look shows the Bills need minimal money to sign picks.
by Robert Strawbrich
Special to Bills Daily
May 14, 2002

The Bills need only to free up a maximum worst case of $420,000 to sign all of their draft picks right now, even assuming that Tom Donahoe uses every dollar of the rookie allocation of $5.139 Million. This amount of cap space hardly necessitates the release of any players being talked about like John Fina, let alone Jay Riemersma. If you add the additional emergency cushion space that Donahoe wants, somewhere in the $1 Million range, plus the possible signing of one or two low priced free agents the team can still get under the cap with a well placed pay cut or restructuring.

Here's a more detailed look at the Bills salary cap situation:

Only the top 51 cap values of players on the roster currently count against the total cap. I did a quick analysis of the Bills current roster, and right now, only 2nd year players and up comprise the top 51. All rookies (both draft choices and RFAs) as well as 1st year players (those who were with the Bills on the practice squad or were cut before earning a full year of service) have cap values equal to the rookie minimum salary tender of $225,000; too low to currently count against the cap as part of the top 51.

For 2002, the minimum salary for a 2nd year player is $300,000 and there are over 10 such players on the roster. Thus at a minimum, the salary cap values of the lowest 10 of the top 51 are at or greater than $300,000 per player, a total of $3 Million (actually, virtually all of them are at least marginally greater that $300,000 because nearly every pro contract includes some sort of signing bonus, however small it may be). As I am sure you are also aware, whenever a player (e.g. a draft choice) signs a contract and thereby acquires a cap impact that then exceeds at least the lowest of the top 51, to assess the incremental impact of the signing on the cap, one must subtract the cap value of the man being displaced (from the top 51) from the cap value of the newly signed player. It is only by this difference between the two cap values that the current total team cap number increases (or put another way, the available cap space decreases). For example, if one of the Bills current draft choice signs a contract which has a first year cap hit of $500,000, his contract will only increase the Bills' current team cap total by $200,000 (or put another way, will only decrease the total amount of available cap space by the same number). It also follows that the greater the cap value of the guy being displaced, the less the net impact on the team's cap as a result of the signing (because the difference between them decreases).

In looking at the Bills current situation, it becomes clear that based on past contracts, probably only the top 4 draft choices will even have cap numbers that will exceed the $3 Million plus cap number of those 2nd year players that make up the lowest ten salary cap values now counting against the cap. One could attempt to determine which of the draft choices will exceed $300,000 in cap value and by how much by looking at last year's contracts for similarly situated draft choices, adding some modest increase for the new year, and subtracting those numbers from the $300,000 cap numbers of those players the draft choices will displace. A simpler approach and one that yields the worst case impact on the cap is to simply determine the difference between the total worst case (i.e. maximum) cap impact from signing the draft choices (which presumes spending the entire rookie allocation of $5.139 Million and the worst case (i.e. minimum) cap value of the players that signing the draft choices would displace from the top 51 ($3 Million when ignoring the small bonus components that would otherwise add to the total displaced cap space).

Thus, the worst case impact on the Bills total cap value by signing the draft choices is simply $5.139 Million - $3 Million = $2.139 Million. This number represents that amount of NET cap value that will be added to the team's current cap number by signing the 10 draft choices. If the Bills do in fact have about $1.72 Million in space as recently purported, in the absolute worst case, the Bills will only need an additional $420,000 in cap space to sign all 10 draft picks!

While Donahoe has stated that he intends to have a $1 Million cushion entering the regular season, and while it is also true that the top 53 (i.e. the entire roster) counts against the cap going into the regular season, this only adds an additional $1.5 Million to the total space needed to sign draft picks and enter the regular season with the desired cushion. Most of this additional space does not have to be created prior to entering training camp.

$2 Million in cap space can be generated quite easily at this point without any need to release Fina or JR, or any other vet whom the Bills would like to keep. Certainly, the less than $420,000 in space needed to sign draft picks does not preclude the Bills from going to training camp with everyone on their current roster. $2.25 Million in space could be easily created through a simple pay cut accepted by Fina to the Vet minimum of $750,000! A similar amount of cap space could be easily generated by doing a simple restructure of the Bledsoe contract for this year that would hardly present any risk to the Bills' ability to manage their cap for the future.

Now it may be the case that the Bills do not see any value whatsoever in Fina, even at the vet minimum, but cutting him is simply not a necessity provided he accepts the pay cut and this would in fact be advantageous in that another year of bonus amortization would also occur while providing valuable veteran depth on the line. And while Riemersma may be pressured to take a pay cut, it is not because of the Bills' cap situation. It is because he is overpaid.

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