Breaking down Bills’ cuts: What’s next for Buffalo after flurry of moves?

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Faced with a cap deficit of over $40 million, the Buffalo Bills made a bevy of roster cuts on Wednesday, including three long-standing members of the organization. The team released cornerback Tre’Davious White, safety Jordan Poyer, and center Mitch Morse, three staples of the starting lineup and locker room.

The Bills also released wide receiver Deonte Harty, special teams player Siran Neal and running back Nyheim Hines. The team used a simple restructure with cornerback Rasul Douglas’ contract to clear $2.625 million in 2024, according to Over The Cap.

On top of that, the Bills renegotiated Von Miller’s contract, decreasing the 2024 cap hit by $8.645 million, according to a person briefed on the matter.

In total, the Bills cleared roughly $46 million, bringing their Top 51, which now has only 48 players on it, right at the cap before the Taylor Rapp and Mitchell Trubisky deals were accounted for. But there is an important distinction with available funds as it pertains to the White release.

Including the important White note, let’s take a hard look at each situation, why the team made those moves, and what the Bills could do from here.

Important details on Tre’Davious White

When the Bills lost White in early October to a torn Achilles, it signaled the potential beginning of the end for Sean McDermott’s first draft pick in 2017. It brought on the need for the Bills to trade for a cornerback, which they did by acquiring Rasul Douglas, with Douglas signed through 2024. That, the injuries, White’s cap hit and the progress made by Christian Benford in the second half of the season ultimately made White expendable this offseason. White may choose to hook on somewhere else for 2024, and you can’t rule out retirement after two significant injuries in three seasons.

As for the Bills, White was released with a post June-1 designation, which means the Bills save more in 2024 than they would with a normal release. In total, they’ll save $10.21 million — but all of those funds are not immediately available to the team. Only the funds for a regular release can be used immediately. So in this case, the Bills get the immediate boost of $6.07 million in savings, and then on June 1, the remaining $4.14 million becomes available to the team. That $4.14 million then gets pushed to their 2025 salary cap sheet. As for their overall cap standing right now, observing the post-June 1 rules means the Bills sit at roughly $30K over the salary cap after all these moves, and without any draft pick allocation. That’s also before the Matt Haack contract, which will at least count for around $1 million.

What’s next at safety likely without Poyer and Hyde?

The Micah Hyde and Poyer pairing is no more. With the team’s release of Poyer to clear $5.72 million in cap space, combined with Hyde being out of contract and openly mulling retirement at the end of the season, the Bills likely have a brand new pair of starting safeties in 2024.

There were a few hints along the way to the Bills ultimately parting ways with Poyer. At their season-ending news conference, the team spoke in past tense when talking about how important Poyer and Hyde had been to their organization without any allusion to the future. Then again, at the NFL combine last week, the Bills were outright noncommittal to Poyer’s future with the organization.

McDermott was asked about the importance of Poyer being on the team in 2024 to train a new safety, considering his institutional knowledge of the defensive scheme. The coach answered by speaking in the past tense about what Poyer has meant to the organization without circling back to the original premise of having Poyer come back in 2024 to bridge the gap at safety. Without any affirmation toward Poyer’s future in Buffalo at any point this offseason, it left the door wide open to the Bills saying goodbye. And they did just that.

The Bills now enter the new league year with now three safeties under contract after they agreed to terms with Taylor Rapp on a three-year deal, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rapp spent last season in Buffalo, his first with the team, and now he’ll get a chance to be Poyer’s direct replacement. But that safety group also includes Damar Hamlin, who had only 30 snaps last season, and Kendall Williamson, a reserve/futures player. It would be a shock if either of Hamlin or Williamson were in consideration to start. There’s also a chance neither of those two are on the 53-man roster.

That means the Bills will be doing some work in both free agency and the draft. The first player to keep an eye on is Cam Lewis, just to get some more carryover from 2023 to 2024. Lewis is currently an unrestricted free agent. He turned into an extremely valuable backup at both safety and nickel corner, all while providing a lot of value on special teams. Especially after they moved on from Neal, and with Tyler Matakevich a free agent, bringing back Lewis on a smaller deal would help them in multiple areas. He could also be a stopgap solution at free safety should the free agent market not go their way.

After that, do not be surprised if their most significant swing in free agency this offseason is at safety. Perhaps not a major signing, but a player along the same tier as the Bills paid to bring in guard Connor McGovern last March. That way, at worst, the Bills would have that player, Rapp and Lewis heading into the draft. Taking a safety this April, even if they were to sign a free safety, would still make sense to give the Bills a longterm option other than Rapp, who struggled in some of his appearances. Even if it’s just for developmental depth and not a pick in the first two rounds, they need some kind of infusion of youth. In an ideal world, they could have Lewis backup a free agent safety, and then have a rookie to come in and compete for the starting strong safety job in 2025. Either way, the Bills will see a major shift at the backend of their defense, and that began with Rapp.

The Morse move

Cutting Morse was the most shocking move of the six on Wednesday. The Bills had the best offensive line they’ve ever assembled in front of Allen, and Morse was a huge part of that. His play didn’t drop off from 2022 to 2023 either. He’s been the same, steady, above-average-to-good player his entire Bills career. But the Bills had a clear goal in mind to clear the cap space necessary without pushing too much of it to future years. And because of that, Morse was likely the cap casualty they never wanted to do. It was a very clean move, without Morse owed anything guaranteed this season and having only a $3 million cap hit. The savings of $8.5 million are substantial and could help prevent them from restructuring contracts like Von Miller, Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox and Tyler Bass — four deals they either will or may want to move on from next offseason.

For the long-term, it’s a good move. In the short-term winning window, this one likely hurts the Bills the most. The Bills’ current plan is to move left guard Connor McGovern to center, and have David Edwards be the new starting left guard. But in our season-long film review, McGovern was solid, but also the lowest-graded starter of the bunch. He also has little experience at center in the NFL, having only 100 snaps there in five total seasons. McGovern did play a lot of center at Penn State, but that was at the college level and now a long time ago. He might be able to do the job well, but it is a legitimate risk. Releasing Morse, the glue of their offensive line, could mean a drop-off in production along the entire starting five. A young center prospect in the draft could be an option should the value meet when the Bills are on the clock.

Neal, Harty and Hines quick thoughts

Siran Neal – With the league potentially moving away from kickoffs as we’ve always known them, that could lessen the need for special teams only assets like Neal in the Bills’ minds. That, combined with the $2.88 million in savings to move on likely made it pass the logic test for general manager Brandon Beane.

Deonte Harty – Beane has always liked Harty as a player, but the coaching staff actively decided against using him on offense when the receiver room was healthy. His price tag was too rich for a punt returner, even if that type of player is doubly important with the potential new kickoff rules. They can find a player like Harty in the draft and use the $4.3 million in savings elsewhere.

Nyheim Hines – A backup player rehabbing a torn ACL with low dead cap and a $5.16 million cap hit didn’t stand a chance with the Bills’ cap deficit. Don’t be surprised to see a reunion between these two sides closer to camp on close to a veteran minimum contract. Beane said Hines was in their 2024 plans.

What do all these moves mean?

Beane, when discussing the idea of bringing back some of their own free agents said an eyebrow raising quote. “How much can we create without totally piling up a huge mess in ’25 or ’26, whatever year it is?”

Being over $40 million in the red this offseason — even with a humongous cap increase from 2023 to 2024 — is likely a mess he never wants to duplicate again. Some teams solely exist in the land of pushing money forward, but Beane has always wanted to do that as little as possible. He had to break his rules due to Josh Allen’s new contract, sensing the moment to push for a Super Bowl and the decrease in cap due to COVID.

With all of these moves, the Bills possibly need to only restructure Allen’s contract from here on out for this year’s cap space. That move could clear as much as $23 million. They have breathing room this year, and most importantly, they observed their 2025 and 2026 cap health above all else. Wednesday was the signal of the mini-reset they likely needed all along while trying to remain competitive for this season, using short-term losses for long-term gains. As long as the rest of the offseason follows suit, they’ll keep the ability to get out of more contracts next offseason and set themselves up for bigger swings in 2025 and beyond.

(Photo: Bryan M. Bennett / Getty Images)

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