There was a time in the NFL when plenty of teams had plenty of problems when it came to complying with the salary cap. Since the 2011 labor deal was done, the number of teams in cap purgatory has diminished dramatically.
This year, the Bills find themselves in a somewhat unique position. According to the Buffalo News, the Bills have $53.9 million in cap space devoted to players no longer on the team. That translates to 30.4 percent of the $177.2 million available per team.
The bulk of that comes from former Bills defensive tackle Marcel Dareus, who still counts for $13.56 million in 2018.
But there’s no sense that this will be a season in salary-cap hell for the Bills, for various reasons. Perhaps the biggest is the rookie wage scale, which allowed the Bills to acquire a potential franchise quarterback without the kind of cap-squeezing contract that top-10 picks used to carry with them.
Beyond the first round, the draft and the inexpensive players it brings allows teams to build a nucleus of young, cheap talent, making it easy to field a competitive team even if nearly a third of the available cap dollars apply to former players. Which is why few teams now have to tiptoe through a salary-cap minefield. And which is why plenty of them are spending under the cap in plain sight, transferring labor costs into raw profit by squirreling away up to 11 cents per dollar.
Based on a $177.2 million cap, $19.42 million that otherwise would go to players can be retained as raw earnings. Thanks to the wage scale and the franchise tag and players reluctant to hold out because fans instantly align with the billionaires in their periodic fights with millionaires, teams like the Bills can carry $50 million or more in dead cap space — and plenty of other teams can quietly field a competitive team while adding millions to the bottom line by not spending every penny that they can.