AFC East: Buffalo Bills

PHOENIX -- Call it a calculated spending spree, call it reckless. Either way, the Buffalo Bills have spent more than any NFL team this offseason.

The Bills have given out $91.5 million in guaranteed money in new contracts and restructured deals this offseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which is more than $11 million more than the next highest-spending team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Overall, the New England Patriots' competitors in the AFC East -- the Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets -- have spent $245.1 million in guaranteed money in the last two and a half weeks, which accounts for 22 percent of overall NFL guaranteed money handed out since free agency started.

Here are the Bills' deals this offseason ranked by guaranteed money:

RB LeSean McCoy: $26.55 million
TE Charles Clay: $24.5 million
DE Jerry Hughes: $22.15 million
WR Percy Harvin: $5.9 million
DT Kyle Williams: $4.5 million
FB Jerome Felton: $4 million
WR Marcus Easley: $2.2 million
QB Tyrod Taylor: $1.15 million
G Kraig Urbik: $300,000
DE Jarius Wynn: $250,000

PHOENIX -- The Buffalo Bills will pick up the $11.082 million fifth-year option on cornerback Stephon Gilmore this spring, general manager Doug Whaley confirmed at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday.

The fifth-year option is built into the contracts of first-round picks and can be exercised by a team prior to May 3 of his fourth season. Since Gilmore was among the top 10 picks in the 2012 draft, the amount of the option is equal to the transition tag at his position this offseason.

Gilmore's $11.082 million salary in 2016 is not fully guaranteed until the start of the league year next March.

Exercising Gilmore's option will give the Bills over $140 million in 2016 cap commitments, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The New Orleans Saints currently have an NFL-high $132 million in 2016 cap commitments.

The Bills could negotiate an extension with Gilmore over the coming year that could lower his 2016 cap number and keep him in Buffalo long term.

PHOENIX -- With about $7 million in cap space remaining, according to NFLPA records updated Tuesday, the Buffalo Bills don't have much room to sign more free agents.

"We're at a point now that if we do anything, it's going to be just some minimum [salary] guys," general manager Doug Whaley said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. "We have to have room for our draft choices and we also have room for injury replacements during the season. So we're pretty much tapped out of the free-agent market."

But with a need for depth at linebacker, the Bills are keeping open the possibility of re-signing linebacker Brandon Spikes, who remains an unrestricted free agent.

"We're going to reach out to him and I'm going to call him when I get back," Whaley said. "Does it fit what we're offering and where he is in his career? We would love to have him back but again, it's got to be a fit on both parts."

Spikes played less than 50 percent of defensive snaps last season for the Bills and would undoubtedly remain in a part-time, run-stopping role if he returned to the Bills, who have Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown atop their depth chart at linebacker.

There has been little reported interest in Spikes, a former second-round pick in 2010, since he hit the free-agent market earlier this month.

PHOENIX -- Much of Rex Ryan's hour-long breakfast with reporters Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting was devoted to the trade that brought running back LeSean McCoy from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Bryce Brown -- another former Eagles running back who is now with the Buffalo Bills -- will have to earn respect from Ryan.

Asked twice about the depth of the Bills' backfield early in his gathering Tuesday, Ryan mentioned only Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon, raising questions about Brown's status with the new coaching staff after being limited to 36 carries last season by Doug Marrone's staff.

Ryan later dropped a not-so-subtle hint about why Brown's name wasn't mentioned.

"With us, when we made the LeSean McCoy trade, with Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon and, uh, the fast dude. Brown is it?" Ryan said, smiling. "I'm not gonna learn his name until he holds on to the football.

"And if he does, he'll have a chance to play. But until we feel comfortable with it, he won't."

Ouch.

The Bills acquired Brown last spring for a fourth-round pick in the upcoming draft, with general manager Doug Whaley later saying that he had been pursuing a trade for Brown for a year.

However, Brown didn't have a strong preseason and opened the regular season as a healthy scratch. He played in seven games when C.J. Spiller was on injured reserve, gaining a career-low 126 yards on 36 carries. His lone fumble of the season was costly; he coughed up the football while galloping towards the goal line in a 17-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Brown didn't fumble in 2013 but fumbled four times on 115 carries as a rookie in 2012.

PHOENIX -- On the heels of the FCC repealing its blackout policy last year, the NFL announced Monday that it would suspend its blackout policy for the 2015 season, meaning all games will be shown on local television regardless of ticket sales.

On the surface, it's a move that affects the Buffalo Bills more than most teams -- they most recently had a game blacked out in 2013 -- but with a busy offseason providing a buzz around the team, the Bills were already on a strong pace to selling out their home slate.

"The way that ticket sales are going right now, right now we're on a record pace. We're excited about hosting eight sellouts this year at Ralph Wilson Stadium," president Russ Brandon said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. "Interest has been very high and our fans have certainly responded."

The NFL did not have any games blacked out last season but had two blackouts in 2013, including the Bills' Week 16 home finale against the Miami Dolphins.

"We've been very fortunate. I think the last 15 years we've sold out close to 83 or 84 percent of our games, so our fans have been incredible," Brandon said. "It certainly comes with a lot of work on all sides."

PHOENIX -- The Buffalo Bills are expected to discuss a contract extension with linebacker Nigel Bradham this week at the NFL owners meetings, a source said.

Bills vice president Jim Overdorf, the team's longtime contract negotiator, and Bradham's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are both attending the league's annual meetings at the Arizona Baltimore.

Bradham, 25, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He's set to count $1.7 million against the Bills' cap this season.

A fourth-round pick of the Bills in 2012, Bradham set career highs last season with 104 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.

He is expected to continue to have a major role within Rex Ryan's defense after the team traded Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Bradham is one of several Bills players scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next spring. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and starting left tackle Cordy Glenn are also entering the final season of their rookie deals.

PHOENIX -- The Buffalo Bills' inner circle -- including owner Terry Pegula, coach Rex Ryan, general manager Doug Whaley and president Russ Brandon -- arrived Sunday afternoon at the Arizona Biltmore for the NFL owners meetings.

It's the first time that Pegula, who took control of the team in October, will represent the Bills in the league's annual March meetings.

The NFL's release on the meetings does not list Terry Pegula on any ownership committees. His wife, Kim Pegula, is a member of the NFL Foundation board, and president Russ Brandon is on the business ventures committee.

Neither Terry nor Kim Pegula are scheduled to address reporters this week. Ryan will meet with reporters Tuesday as part of the AFC coaches' breakfast.

Owners will discuss several rule tweaks for the 2015 season, including significant changes to replay review.

The NFL could also announce its compensatory choices for next month's draft. The Bills, who gained more free agents than they lost in the 2014 offseason, are not expected to receive any extra picks.

Looking to save 2015 cap space, the Buffalo Bills gave wide receiver Percy Harvin a three-year deal that will most likely void to a one-year deal and put Harvin back on the market next spring.

Harvin's three-year, $24 million contract includes a $3 million signing bonus. If the Bills had given Harvin a strict one-year deal, that entire signing bonus would have counted against their 2015 cap, resulting in an unwieldy $6 million cap number this season.

Instead, the Bills got creative. They extended Harvin's contract to three seasons, which allows the $3 million signing bonus to count in equal parts ($1 million each season) in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The final two seasons -- which would pay Harvin a $9 million base salary each year -- are voidable, allowing the Bills to get out from the deal and only take a small "dead money" hit ($2 million in 2016 or $1 million in 2017) from Harvin's signing bonus amortization.

Here is how the deal is structured, from documents obtained by ESPN Stats & Information:

Signing bonus: $3,000,000

2015 season:
Base salary: $2.9 million (fully guaranteed)
Signing bonus proration: $1 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Cap number: $4 million

2016 season (voidable):
Base salary: $9 million
Signing bonus proration: $1 million
Cap number: $10 million

2017 season (voidable):
Base salary: $9 million
Signing bonus proration: $1 million
Cap number: $10 million

Among the numerous contracts the Buffalo Bills have executed this offseason, their deal with quarterback Tyrod Taylor might be the most complex.

As explained last week, Taylor signed a three-year deal that can void to a two-year deal and earn him up to $7 million if he becomes the Bills' starter.

That, of course, is the high end of the contract. The base value is much lower and gives the Bills a low-cost backup if Taylor does not become the starter.

Here are the full details of the contract, as obtained by ESPN Stats & Information:

Signing bonus: $400,000

2015 season:

Base salary: $750,000 (fully guaranteed)
Cap number: $883,333
Incentives: Up to $2 million based on playing time, playoffs and wins.

2016 season:

Base salary: $1 million (with additional $1 million escalator based on 2015 playing time)
Cap number: $1.133 million
Incentives: Up to $2 million based on playing time, playoffs and wins.

2017 season:

Void condition: Season voids if Taylor plays at least 50 percent of snaps in either 2015 or 2016 and if he is on the roster five days after the 2016 league year Super Bowl.
Base salary: $1.2 million
Cap number: $1.333 million
Incentives: Up to $2 million based on playing time, playoffs and wins.

Are the Buffalo Bills on the cutting edge of NFL economics or are they just reckless spenders?

That's the question that comes to mind when considering the Bills' five-year, $38 million offer sheet extended to free-agent tight end Charles Clay, whom the Miami Dolphins assigned the transition tag.

Yes, the Bills can afford the deal under their 2015 salary cap and, yes, the Bills should benefit from the projected growth of the NFL's cap over the next several years, making the contract more palatable.

But Buffalo's approach in crafting this offer runs counter to how smart teams typically build their rosters. It harkens back to how the Bills made Mario Williams the NFL's highest-paid defender in 2012 and how they dealt two first-round picks to acquire Sammy Watkins this past May.

In both cases, the justification for the high price was that it was necessary to bring both players to Buffalo. And in both cases, the exorbitant cost created high expectations that haven't always been met.

The ideal in the NFL is to find the defensive end who is worth $5 million but costs only $3 million, or to draft the receiver in the second round who is worth a first-round pick. That doesn't mean bargain shopping is the only way to win, but general mangers who understand value are often successful.

It's hard to find the value in this deal. Clay is a good tight end whose 2013 season (69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns) is the closest he has come to justifying being the NFL's fourth-highest paid player at the position, which he would be if the Dolphins decline to match the Bills' offer.

But it's difficult to say Clay is worth $7.6 million per season, or that it's economical to pay him $20 million guaranteed. Regardless of whether that sort of money is necessary to lure him away from the Dolphins, it's overpaying for a player who must now meet inflated expectations.

Whether it's Williams or Watkins or Clay, the Bills aren't ill-intentioned in making these moves. Their goal is to make the playoffs as soon as possible, as it should be.

Yet what's lost in the shuffle is the concept of opportunity cost. By trading away their 2015 first-round pick to move up five spots for Watkins, the Bills lost their flexibility to trade that pick or use it on a player. By signing Clay for a richer deal than he's worth, the Bills are forgoing the chance to sign two players to deals for less than they are worth.

In the end, it might all work out for the Bills. Clay could be the missing piece they need to get to the playoffs, and he could be worth the cash the Bills are throwing his way. In that case, the Bills will have proven to be ahead of the curve.

But make no mistake about it, whether it's with Williams or Watkins or Clay, this isn't how smart teams typically do business.

Free-agency review: Bills

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
10:00
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Most significant signing: The team's most significant addition has been running back LeSean McCoy, who will become the cornerstone of the team's offense after arriving via trade. I'd consider Matt Cassel the Bills' second-most significant addition, because he could be their starting quarterback this season. But if we're going to narrow this down to a free-agent signing, it would have to be wide receiver Percy Harvin. If he can stay out of trouble in the locker room and stay healthy, Harvin has the upside to emerge as a valuable offensive weapon.

Most significant loss: This one has flown under the radar, but the Bills lost one of their better defensive starters last season in safety Da'Norris Searcy, who signed a four-year, $24 million deal with the Tennessee Titans that includes more than $10 million in guaranteed money. Pro Football Focus graded Searcy highly last season, his first as a full-time starter in the Bills' defense. As with the departure of Jairus Byrd last offseason, the Bills will need to find another player to step up. Duke Williams is the top option.

Biggest surprise: If we're to narrow this down to only the Bills' activity in free agency, their signing of Tyrod Taylor might qualify. He wasn't a name many connected to the Bills before this week, yet coach Rex Ryan appears to have every intention of making Taylor part of a three-way race at quarterback. Taylor could receive up to $7 million over two years if he emerges as the Bills' starter, according to a source, and he turned down a richer deal from the Denver Broncos to come to Buffalo. After trading for Cassel, I don't think many were expecting that sort of signing at quarterback.

What's next?: The Bills went into the offseason needing to address their tight ends and offensive line, and outside of their roll-the-dice signing of Richie Incognito, they haven't done that. In fact, the Bills have lost their top two tight ends from last season -- Scott Chandler and Lee Smith -- and missed out on signing top free-agent tackle Bryan Bulaga. Whether it's Charles Clay or a high draft pick, they're going to need to do something at tight end, given that position's importance in coordinator Greg Roman's offense.

Tyrod Taylor wasn't kidding when he said Thursday that the Bills intend on making him part of a three-way competition at quarterback this summer with EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel.


Taylor signed a three-year deal that could void to a two-year deal and earn Taylor as much as $7 million over those two years if he emerges as the Bills' starter, a source said.

The Denver Broncos offered Taylor a richer deal, the source said, but he decided to sign with the Bills instead. Taylor's contract with the Bills includes $1.2 million in guaranteed money.

Taylor, who backed up Joe Flacco for the past four seasons in Baltimore, relayed the message from by the Bills' coaching staff about his role in a quarterback competition.

"That there is going to be a competition," Taylor said. "No one is really ahead of the other guy right now. They’re looking forward to us coming in and pushing each other to make this team better."

Bills coach Rex Ryan has been pursuing Taylor since he was coaching the New York Jets.

"I actually tried to trade for [Taylor] when I was with the Jets," Ryan told SportsNet 590 in Toronto. "If he’s not the fastest quarterback in the league, he’s certainly up there with them. He’s got great run skills. I’m not gonna say he’s Russell Wilson, but he’s got a little of that in him, where he’s able to run zone-reads and pull the ball down and be effective."
Leaning back in his office chair Thursday morning with one foot against his desk, Rex Ryan gave a thumbs-up to the Buffalo Bills' aggressive moves during the first week of free agency and was unafraid to add his unfiltered take on Buffalo's division rival, the New England Patriots.

Ryan
“I feel pretty good about what we’ve added," Ryan told Toronto's SportsNet 590. "So we'll see. ... I think the conference really got stronger. If anything, it currently doesn’t look – if you can say winners and losers in free agency – obviously New England had to cut quite a few players.

"So obviously they don’t look as strong as they did. I certainly hope they’re not. They just got through winning the Super Bowl. But I believe the rest of the division really has got stronger. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I truly believe that we got stronger.”

The Bills have been one of the NFL's most active teams this offseason, trading for running back LeSean McCoy and Matt Cassel while signing wide receiver Percy Harvin, fullback Jerome Felton and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They also brought back defensive end Jerry Hughes and special-teams ace Marcus Easley on long-term deals.

Yet the Bills' aggression has been matched by their opponents in the AFC East: The Miami Dolphins splurged on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the New York Jets made cornerback Darrelle Revis the centerpiece of an overhauled secondary.

Revis, of course, is the Patriots' most significant departure this offseason, but he hasn't been alone: New England did not pick up 2015 options on defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and cornerback Brandon Browner, making them both free agents. They did, however, re-sign top safety Devin McCourty.
The Buffalo Bills were reportedly pursuing tackle Bryan Bulaga when he hit the free-agent market earlier this week.

Bulaga quickly re-signed with the Green Bay Packers, but according to ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt, the former first-round pick turned down more money from the Bills.

"Bryan Bulaga, more money in Buffalo. He stayed," Brandt said Wednesday on ESPN's Football Today podcast. "... They buy into this culture of a draft and develop a team that is always going to be good."

Brandt, who worked in the Packers' front office from 1999 to 2009, said receiver Randall Cobb also turned down better deals elsewhere to return to Green Bay.

"Randall Cobb is a prime example. I know for a fact -- I'm pretty tied in with his situation -- he left a lot of money on the table," Brandt said. "And I knew it was going to be hard to pry him away from Green Bay. It's a system he liked; he knows he's playing with the best quarterback."

Rookie Seantrel Henderson started all 16 games at right tackle for the Bills last season, with Pro Football Focus grading him 82nd among 84 offensive tackles in the NFL.
The Buffalo Bills are "working toward striking [a] deal" with free-agent wide receiver Percy Harvin, according to a report Friday afternoon from Fox Sports.

Harvin visited with the Bills earlier this week after being released by the New York Jets.

A source told ESPN's Josina Anderson that Harvin is "very comfortable with [the Bills]" but could make visits to other teams.

Harvin played for current Bills coach Rex Ryan and wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal for the Jets last season after being traded from the Seattle Seahawks.

While a contract with Harvin would deplete the Bills' cap space at a time when they could offer free-agent tight end Charles Clay a contract, Harvin would be an upgrade as a third receiver over Chris Hogan, who played that role last season, and could push Robert Woods for a starting job.

There would also be an element of risk in adding Harvin to the Bills' locker room, which already added controversial guard Richie Incognito this season. Harvin has dealt with confrontations with teammates and anger issues during career.

Harvin will be playing for his fourth team in four seasons.

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