The Buffalo Bills are in the process of wrapping up a busy, but productive week as they continue to assemble a team that they believe will be ready to compete for a 2012 playoff berth.
During the past week, the Bills signed four of their own free agents from the 2011 team: wide receiver Steve Johnson, tight end Scott Chandler, special teams player/wide receiver Ruvell Martin and linebacker Kirk Morrison.
After the flurry of moves was wrapped up, I visited the web site Spotrac.com to find out what their updated numbers showed for the current Bills salary cap. The latest update reveals that the Bills now have $12,235,252 in salary cap space available. With free agency beginning in just three days on March 13 at 4:00 p.m., that really doesn't give the Bills much room to make a splash in free agency.
While I don't claim to be a salary cap expert, there is the potential that more salary cap room exists due to salary cap available money that the Bills rolled over from the 2011 season into 2012. Finding out exactly what that true cap figure is, has been difficult to uncover so far.
When I looked at the Bills expenses that were broken down into offensive cap and defensive cap on Spotrac.com, there were some oddities that warranted further attention. The Bills right now have spent $39,121,795 of their payroll on the offensive side of the ball. That sum might not mean much to you, but the Bills are currently in the bottom 10 of the NFL in salaries invested on their offensive unit personnel.
The bottom 10 as of March 10, 2012 are as follows: Denver ($25.4 million), Indy and Cincinnati ($27.1 million), St. Louis ($30.9 million), Oakland ($31.3 million), San Francisco ($37.7 million), Kansas City ($38.3 million), Buffalo ($39.1 million), Pittsburgh ($39.7 million) and Minnesota ($41.2 million).
Obviously, these numbers will be changing daily when teams start signing free agents left and right next week. While the Bills only have $12.2 million left to spend right now, that figure pales in comparison to five of the teams that were in the bottom 10 list we just mentioned. They are Pittsburgh ($27.4 million), Denver ($35.8 million), Indy ($42.3 million), St. Louis ($44.9 million) and Cincinnati ($52.7 million).
The Bills offense still have some free agents that need to be signed, which will push up the offense expenses. Namely, we are looking at the three offensive linemen: Demetrius Bell, Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart. It is up in the air if the Bills will bring back veteran free-agent wide receiver Roscoe Parrish.
The Bills offense, which costs much less than the defensive unit, was ranked No. 14 overall last year, so this illustrates how good of an offensive guru Chan Gailey is, in that he can produce more offense working with less. Of course, the Bills offense has been populated by undrafted free agents out of college and seventh-round draft picks who have made an impact, which keeps the costs down.
Clearly, the Bills can impact their available salary cap space by trimming some veterans from the payroll that don't offer a good return value, or are deemed to not be good fits for the new 4-3 defensive scheme that will be installed by new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt.
We detailed which players might be salary cap casualties in an article we ran last week, which you can find right here. The players in question we discussed from the front seven were Spencer Johnson and Dwan Edwards, while potential bubble guys in the secondary are Leodis McKelvin or Drayton Florence.
Speaking of the defense, now let's turn our attention to how much money the Bills are spending on their defensive personnel. According to the breakdown at Spotrac.com, the Bills defensive unit currently has amassed $65,442,953 towards the 2012 salary cap. It isn't double the amount the Bills have spent on offense, but you can see the difference between the amounts spent on the two units.
From an overall NFL perspective, the Bills are one of only four teams that have spent more than $60 million on their defense, as of March 10, 2012. Oakland has spent the most ($66.6 million), followed by Buffalo ($65.4 million), New York Giants ($62.6 million) and the New York Jets ($61.8 million). It's funny that all three New York teams—Bills, Jets and Giants—are in this little quartet.
It is interesting how different the results have turned out for these expensive defenses. The Jets were ranked No. 5 overall in 2011, while the Bills were No. 26 overall, followed by the Giants (No. 27) and Raiders (No. 29). So spending more doesn't automatically result in positive results. In fact, the results are almost the exact opposite of what you would expect.
Regarding the Bills free agents on defense, the only two remaining Bills that would seem to warrant varying degrees of interest in being brought back for 2012 are defensive backs Bryan Scott and Reggie Corner.
In case you were wondering, if you happen to check out the current Buffalo Bills roster on ESPN.com, you will note that there are 32 players on offense (with assigned numbers) and 33 players on defense, so it is basically a 50/50 split in terms of personnel, despite the big difference in money spent.
As we plunge into free agency next week, it will be interesting to see what moves Buddy Nix and company do to free up salary cap space, and if they ultimately decide to invest more in the offense or the defense. Stay tuned Bills fans.