With training camp right around the corner, the Buffalo Bills need to start the process of trimming their roster.
Like all NFL clubs, the Bills have players that are set to make a lot of money this year—some deservedly so, and others not so much.
On the other hand, there are also players that have clearly out-performed their current contracts. In some cases, the bargains on these players are so glaring that it’s almost embarrassing to point them out.
This article focuses on four of the most overpaid and four of the most underpaid players on the Bills’ current roster. The determining factor is each player’s 2012 base salary, which does not include incentives or bonuses unless otherwise stated.
*Note: All contract information comes from spotrac.com.
In 2008, the Buffalo Bills signed defensive lineman Spencer Johnson, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, to a five-year, $17.5 million contract.
For a rotational player without a lot of proven success at the NFL level, that seemed like quite an investment.
Johnson is currently entering the final year of that deal, as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. The question is, do the 2012 Bills still feel they need the player the 2008 Bills brought in?
Things are much different this year for Buffalo on the personnel front, and because Johnson is set to make $3 million in base salary this season, his situation in training camp will be one to monitor.
Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings recently noted, “With the new 4-3 scheme relying heavily on the defensive line, expect a heavy amount of rotation throughout the season.”
Johnson is a dependable rotational player, to be sure, and it’s not illogical for Buffalo to keep him around for one more year. However, he’ll have to battle the new depth on the defensive line to ensure his spot on the final 53-man roster.
Bills Digest Associate Editor Mark Ludwiczak reported the following via Twitter earlier in the offseason: “Based on Wannstedt’s comments about not wanting ‘situational players,’ I’m expecting Dwan Edwards to be cut. Doesn’t fit 4-3 scheme.”
Buffalo brought Edwards in to bolster its then-new 3-4 defense in 2010, and based on his four-year, $18 million contract, the team evidently felt he could be an anchor in such a schematic transition.
However, that all flies out the window now that the Bills are moving back to the 4-3 and considering how much deeper they are at each defensive line position.
In 2012, Edwards is scheduled to make $3.8 million. He’s owed $3.65 million in 2013, as well.
With younger, cheaper options across the line (not to mention Spencer Johnson), and with Edwards being a better fit in the 3-4, he may be an unfortunate cap casualty due to the way things have unfolded for the team since he arrived in Buffalo.
On the other hand, the Bills have clearly revamped their defensive line, and they may bite the bullet on Edwards’ contract to ensure they have yet another proven veteran presence as they try to make a serious run in 2012.
When the Bills signed wide receiver/quarterback/returner Brad Smith to a four-year, $15 million contract last year, fans were torn.
On the one hand, the move indicated that the Bills had big plans for a dynamic weapon. With head coach Chan Gailey running the offense, it was easy to get excited about the potential.
On the other hand, $15 million over four years is a hefty price to pay for a situational offensive player.
To make matters worse, because Smith missed out on the entire offseason last year due to the lockout, the Bills could never really find a role for him. As a result, he never really found his niche, nor did he get a real opportunity to do so.
He attempted just one pass in 2011, which went for an interception. He ran the ball 20 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. And he caught 23 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.
Last year, he made $2 million.
In 2012, Smith is schedule to make a base salary of $2.25 million. Though Bills lead journalist Chris Brown reported on BuffaloBills.com that the team plans to expand Smith’s role in 2012 (and that there is, in fact, a plan), Bills fans will want to see it to believe it before they justify the big money Smith will make this year and beyond.
The Buffalo News’ Tim Graham tweeted in June that Smith will be the Bills’ third quarterback this year. That means his role will primarily be as a gadget player and a Wildcat weapon.
There’s no doubt that Smith is a versatile offensive player, and he very well could be an integral part of Gailey’s offense. But until he starts contributing consistently, this contract screams overpaid.
Everyone knew Shawne Merriman’s signing last year was a risk. The Bills desperately needed a pass-rusher at the time, but his health was a major, well-documented concern.
So, Buffalo signed him to a two-year, $10.5 million contract in January of 2011 in hopes that the once productive pass-rusher could overcome his recent history of injuries and be the player he once was with the San Diego Chargers.
Now, finally, Merriman appears to be fully healthy and ready to go, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.
If the Bills can get even part of the Merriman of old, he could become a valuable asset to the impressive defensive line rotation currently in place. But for a part-time player who may or may not be healthy, $4 million is a lot of money.
For comparison's sake, newly signed defensive end Mark Anderson will make $1.9 million in base salary this year. Long-time veteran and career Buffalo Bill Chris Kelsay will make $3.5 million. Kyle Williams will make $3 million, and Marcell Dareus will make under $1.4 million.
With Mario Williams the only other defensive lineman making more money than him in base salary this year, Shawne Merriman has a lot of work to do.
And Bills fans hope he can do it.
Safety Jairus Byrd has only played three NFL seasons, but already he’s shown a knack for making plays on defense. According to BuffaloBills.com’s Chris Brown, Bills secondary coach George Catavolos pointed out Byrd’s ability to force fumbles, and Brown himself expects the young defensive back to have a breakout season in 2012.
Brown is not alone in that regard.
Respected Bills beat writer Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo described Byrd as “the most important unrestricted free agent for the 2013 market,” “a complete NFL safety” and “the best defensive player for the Bills throughout last season.”
Many expect Byrd to have a big season in 2012. And when he does, he’ll expect a payday.
Byrd is only scheduled to make a base salary of $615,000 next year. For a starter who has a solid chance at making the Pro Bowl on Buffalo’s much-improved defense, that’s what folks around these here parts call a bargain.
Chris Brown reported that Bills GM Buddy Nix wants to re-sign Byrd. Doing so would keep a cornerstone playmaker on the defense to build around for the foreseeable future.
Much like Jairus Byrd, Levitre is still playing out his rookie contract from the 2009 season. Also like Byrd, Buffalo is trying to ink him to a long-term extension, according to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo.
Levitre is set to make just $615,000 in base salary in 2012, and for a starting left guard, that’s a steal.
Moreover, Levitre is quietly establishing himself as one of the top interior offensive linemen in the NFL. Last season, he was forced to move out of position due to injuries along the offensive line, including center and left tackle.
His stint at center was nightmarish, but the Bills learned from that and now know to keep him away from snapping the ball.
At left guard, it’s an entirely different story. The third-year player has been terrific.
As an offensive lineman for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade, it’s easy to go overlooked. However, if he and his linemates can stay healthy in 2012, Levitre could very well make the Pro Bowl.
For that reason, Buffalo’s success in the standings would go a long way toward making Levitre a household name. And there are many reasons to believe that could happen this season.
Noticing a trend here?
The Bills nailed three consecutive draft picks in 2009, and it all started with trading back into the first round to select center Eric Wood.
Wood is probably the Bills’ best offensive lineman. Not only does he play the always important position of center, but he offers leadership and tenacity and is an all-around quality blocker.
Wood's problem is he’s battled injuries the past few years.
Set to make just $800,000 in base salary in 2012, he’s one guy the Bills would love to have around for the long haul—that is, if he can prove to be more durable.
NFL.com’s Around the League writer Brian McIntyre released an interesting tidbit about Wood on July 6, detailing how the center has lost a lot of money by failing to meet rather reachable playing-time incentives.
In a detailed interview with the young center, Bills lead journalist Chris Brown reported via BuffaloBills.com that Wood is expected to be fully healthy by training camp. That's good news all around for Buffalo.
If all goes according to plan, Wood could be a key cog snapping to Fitz for the next several years.
Even though Fred Jackson just received a much-deserved and long-overdue contract extension, he’s still underpaid in comparison to some of the other well-known running backs around the league. Consider some of the following names and their 2012 base salaries:
|Player||2012 base salary|
|Adrian Peterson||$8 million|
|Chris Johnson||$8 million|
|DeAngelo Williams||$5.25 million|
|Michael Turner||$5 million|
|Reggie Bush||$4.5 million|
|Maurice Jones-Drew||$4.45 million|
|Marshawn Lynch||$4 million|
|Jamaal Charles||$3.25 million|
|Ahmad Bradshaw||$3 million|
Meanwhile, Fred Jackson is set to make a base salary of $2.205 million this year, which is less than every player on that list.
It’s simply unfortunate that Jackson has had such a long and difficult journey to get to where he is today. Now 31 years old, teams realistically can’t invest top dollar in a running back of his age. But if there’s anyone who could be an anomaly, it’s FredEx.
He’s a complete back who has less tread on his tires than it would seem, and he’s an integral part to the Bills’ offensive success.
While $2.205 million is nothing to sneeze at, it’s a steal compared to what the Bills could be paying a player of his caliber in a different scenario.