ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo Bills have enjoyed elite quarterback play for the past three seasons. But the most they have to show for it in the playoffs is a lone AFC Championship appearance, a 14-point loss to the Chiefs in 2020.
The Bills’ Super Bowl window will remain open as long as Josh Allen remains one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. But next season, team building becomes much more difficult and the window begins to shrink.
The reason is because of the salary cap – and specifically, Allen’s cap hit.
Allen signed his massive contract extension in August 2021. The deal added six years onto his contract and was worth a quarter of a billion dollars, but was structured in a way that mitigated the salary cap implications in the short term.
That salary cap honeymoon ends in 2023. Allen’s cap hit more than doubles next season, rising from about $16.4 million in 2022 to $39.8 million, according to websites Spotrac and Over The Cap. Allen is scheduled to account for more than 17% of the Bills’ entire salary cap.
In layman’s terms, the Bills were team building on “easy” until Allen’s extension kicked in. Next season, the settings change to “difficult.”
The Bills have several needs to address this offseason, including offensive line, safety, linebacker and secondary receiving options. Some of the most prolific seasons in franchise history still weren’t good enough. The Bills aren’t more than the third-best team in the AFC until they prove otherwise. And they’re getting short on cap space to make improvements.
The Bills have one of the most top-heavy rosters in the league, with their five most-expensive players — Allen, Stefon Diggs, Von Miller, Tre’Davious White and Dion Dawkins – scheduled to account for nearly 50% of the salary cap next season. That’s fine for a team pushing for a Super Bowl, but it makes addressing needs harder to do.
Before the Bills can add from the outside, they’ll need to address some of the contacts already on the books. According to Spotrac, the Bills already project to be $5 million over the cap. Familiar faces will likely become cap casualties. General manager Brandon Beane will likely need to restructure some contracts, turning 2023 salaries into bonuses so the cap hit spreads out over a longer period. He could even try to restructure Allen’s deal this offseason, though raising his cap hit in future years could prove ill-advised: Allen’s cap hit is already scheduled to climb to $41.8 million in 2024 and $51.3 million in 2025. The only saving grace is the salary cap should continue to rise.
The bottom line is the Bills still need to get better, and getting better gets harder starting this offseason. The Bills need elite performance from their stars and they also will need inexpensive production from draft picks – an area with plenty of room for improvement.
The Bills’ Super Bowl window is still open, and winning it all will still be the goal for years to come. But the window starts getting smaller in 2023. And as their future salary cap constraints grow, missed opportunities in 2020, 2021 and 2022 will loom larger in hindsight.