If there’s one thing about this year’s Super Bowl worth savoring, assuming you’re no Seattle Seahawks fan is that the second the clock struck zero on Denver’s debacle (and sorry Peyton, but it was “embarrassing”), the NFL season officially concluded and there’s now 32 teams back to having a .500 record.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason around the league for many teams, and that list should include the Buffalo Bills. For starters and by far most prominently, the front office must decide not if they want to retain Jairus Byrd, but what lengths they’re willing to go in order to make that happen. I reported a few weeks ago Byrd had no interest in signing a deal for anything less than making him the highest paid safety in the league. Or of course, they can franchise tag him again.
The organization also has less nerve-racking decisions to make on a few other free agents of their own, including Scott Chandler, Alex Carrington and Dan Carpenter among others.
Then come March 11 there’s free agency. While the Bills won’t be voiceless during the open shopping period, I strongly suspect they’ll be dedicated to using the majority of their cap space into keeping key players that could become free agents in 2015—a list that may include Marcell Dareus, C.J. Spiller, Aaron Williams, Jerry Hughes and Fred Jackson.
It culminates with the NFL draft, set to begin on May 8. For a team trying to halt a 14-year playoff drought, nailing the ninth overall selection (among other picks) is as essential as ever.
But more on that another time.
Before more significant parts of the offseason begins, teams around the league will spend the next several weeks cutting some dead weight from their roster and/or cap salaries that simply don’t fit. The Bills are no exception.
Ranked by order of their likely departure, here’s a list of players the Bills could soon be giving pink slips to.
Erik Pears: Headed into the final year of his deal Pears is slated to earn $3.45 million. Cutting him would only send $550k to the dead money pool and save $2.9 million against the salary cap. Given his age (he’ll be 32 before the start of next season), shaky play last season and injuries in 2012 the Bills will move on. Chris Hairston, assuming he has a clean bill of health could move into a starting role or the team very well could look to upgrade in either free agency or the draft. Regardless, I’d consider it a shock if Pears is on the Bills much longer.
Kevin Kolb: Forget any financial ramifications at this point—it’s not even known if Kolb will play football again after spending 2013 on Injured Reserve with a concussion. He’s owed $1.1 million for next season and the team would save all but $100k of that against the cap by cutting him. Even if he were healthy I’m not sure the organization would value him over Thad Lewis at this point. Sooner or later Kolb’s a goner.
Lee Smith: Releasing him would only save moderately on the cap ($668K with no dead money space) so his release would be more personnel-related than financially driven. Whether Chandler returns or not the team has Chris Gragg and Tony Moeaki and the organization likes both. I’d be disappointed if Buffalo doesn’t look to further upgrade the position this offseason. Either way I think Smith’s days are numbered.
Doug Legursky: Kraig Urbik will return in 2014 and make no mistake about it—the Bills will find a new starting guard this offseason to pair him with. Antoine McClain, J.J. Unga and Mark Asper should all get training camp shots at providing depth, but I don’t see any being much more than that. Expect the Bills to sign a guard in free agency, and I’ve heard Kansas City’s Geoff Schwartz could be a target. Legursky was lousy last season and has little value going forward. Saving $1 million against the cap with his release doesn’t hurt either.
(Editor’s Note- Cutting these first four listed would save the team approximately $5.6 million against the cap.)
COULD GO EITHER WAY
Stevie Johnson: Let’s be crystal clear about this—cutting or finding a trade partner for Johnson will have nothing to do with money. Ridding themselves of his contract would save the Bills a mere $25k against the cap for 2014 while triggering $8.475 in dead money. In other words, it makes no financial sense to part with him at this time. With Johnson it comes down to how Doug Marrone sees him moving forward. There’s been at least speculation that Marrone and Johnson doesn’t see eye to eye philosophically. I also get a sense, without knowing specifics there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to how the end of the 2013 season played out. There’s a theory floating that the Bills will look to gain a big receiver early in the draft and with Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin similar in size already in the fold not to mention T.J. Graham, there’s at least the possibility the organization decides it’s time to move away from Johnson. For what it’s worth, I see that as unlikely. The feeling here is the Bills will stick with Johnson for 2014 and then make a tougher decision next offseason when the Bills could save $3.2 million against the cap and eat nearly $3 million less in dead money by making their move then. Plus, it affords the organization another year to see how the youngsters are progressing. Having said that, don’t underestimate the importance of the head coaching simply not wanting him around, should that (albeit unlikely) turn out to be the case.
POTENTIAL “SURPRISE” CUT
Da’Norris Searcy: If the Bills bring back Byrd and like Duke Williams to take a step forward in 2014, Searcy could find himself in trouble. Searcy made a few big plays last year, is a physical defender and is very well liked in the locker room, but he’s far from special in pass coverage and counting $1.4 million against the cap were he the fourth safety leaves the possibility he’ll be gone. Since the Bills aren’t close to cap-strapped it’s not a move I see happening soon, but if Byrd happens to sign a long-term deal I think it brings Searcy leaving at least into play.