The coronavirus has affected everyone and everything. It will also have a ripple effect on what we’re about to see in free agency.
As of press time, the NFL had not released an official salary cap number for the 2021 season. We do know that it will decrease from $198.2 million in 2020 to somewhere between $180 and $185 million (with initial reports putting that projected number closer to $180 million). Under normal circumstances, the salary cap continues to rise as NFL revenue continues to rise — but revenue took a massive hit in 2020 due to coronavirus-related changes in attendance.
The Bills are fortunate to have restored order with the salary cap under Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott. At the moment, they would be right around that $180 million mark but could easily free up $30-40 million with a handful of veteran releases.
The Bills are also fortunate in that they don’t have many top players set to hit the open market — with tackle Daryl Williams, guard Jon Feliciano and linebacker Matt Milano topping the list — and most of their key performers are locked up on long-term deals.
It’s time again for our annual look at what’s in store for the Bills with their upcoming free agents.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
These are players with four or more years of experience whose contracts expire at the end of the season. The Bills either sign or lose them. Buffalo receives no compensation if a player signs with another team.
LB Matt Milano
Years with Bills: 4
Years in the NFL: 4
2020 salary-cap number: $2,198,378
Accomplishments: In his four years in Buffalo,
Milano has gone from a promising fifth-round pick to arguably the team’s best and most consistent line backer. Milano has terrific instincts and athleticism and excels at moving backwards in pass coverage. His best seasons came in 2018 (69 tackles, one sack, seven passes defensed and three interceptions) and 2019 (92 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine passes defensed). When healthy, Milano has proven himself to be an impact performer; when he’s been out of the lineup, that impact has clearly been felt.
Outlook: All signs point to Milano cashing in somewhere else. It’s not that the Bills wouldn’t like to keep him in an ideal world, but there are several factors leading up to his probable departure. First, Milano is in line to get a deal that pays him anywhere between $8-10 million per year; that seemed unlikely to happen in Buffalo even before this year’s salary cap changes. Availability has been Milano’s biggest concern; he’s struggled to stay on the field throughout his career and missed a good deal of time again in 2020. It’s hard to break out the wallet when availability is a question mark. And lastly, outside linebacker isn’t a priority position like quarterback, left tackle or defensive end — it’s often the right move to turn the page and move on with a younger, cheaper option. That’s the path we expect the Bills to take.
G Jon Feliciano
Years with Bills: 2
Years in the NFL: 6
2020 salary cap number: $4,400,000
Accomplishments: Feliciano was an instant hit
upon his arrival in Buffalo in 2019, becoming an immediate fan favorite with his physical, hard-nosed style of play. He made quite the impression in his first full-time starting role; Feliciano previously impressed with the Raiders but was stuck on the depth chart behind several top linemen. It may have actually taken his absence throughout the first half of 2020 to realize his true impact; with Feliciano out of the lineup, Buffalo’s offensive line really struggled. When he returned, things quickly fell back into place and there was a significant improvement.
Outlook: There are still some things the Bills need to figure out on the offensive line — Cody Ford’s future, for one, which may affect how the Bills approach free agency — but we’d be surprised if Feliciano didn’t return. It just makes too much sense for both sides. Feliciano loves playing in Buffalo, and the Bills love having him. A three-year deal at a similar cap number sounds right.
OT Daryl Williams
Years with Bills: 1
Years in the NFL: 6
2020 salary cap number: $2,500,000
Accomplishments: Williams completely rejuvenated his career with Buffalo in 2020 and is set to cash in after originally joining the Bills on a one-year, proveit deal. Williams was a standout in Carolina in 2016-17 before suffering a serious knee injury at training camp in 2018. He struggled to regain his form in 2019 before coming to Buffalo and bouncing back in a big way. Buffalo’s original plan heading into training camp was to try out several options at right tackle; Williams proved to be to good to bother trying with anyone else. Pro Football Focus ranked Williams eighth among 38 qualified right tackles in 2020.
Outlook: Like Feliciano, it will be a surprise if the Bills don’t find a way to bring Williams back given how well he played in 2020; Buffalo will have to go to the bank, however. Williams is in a position to potentially cash in big in free agency. A contract averaging around $8 million per year seems likely. Buffalo should find a way to pay it, because Williams proved in 2020 that he’s worth it.
CB Josh Norman
Years with Bills: 1
Years in the NFL: 9
2020 salary cap number: $5,812,500
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Hunter Henry, Chargers 6-5 • 250 pounds • 29 years old A very talented player, Henry has had issues staying healthy, unable to complete an NFL season, including missing the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL. But when healthy, he’s a terrific all-around tight end who really connected with Justin Herbert in 2020 with 60 catches. Henry is very good at finding holes in zone coverage.
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