Can the Bills actually afford J.J. Watt?
My next salary cap piece for next week was going to outline some veteran players that the Bills consider releasing in order to clear up some cap space, and I still will do that, but when duty calls and there are questions on the salary cap, I answer that call. The Texans released 5-time 1st Team All-Pro J.J. Watt today, and almost instantly the other 31 fanbases began making the case for why the star defensive end should join their team. With the earlier report that the Bills have already shown interest in Watt, I thought it was appropriate for me to step in and address the biggest question that nobody wants to talk about: can the Bills actually afford J.J. Watt? The answer: Yes, but it will come at the expense of some players that might have been locks to be on the roster before this news broke.
If the salary cap is around the expected $180 million, the Bills will be about one million over the cap. J.J. Watt was incredibly consistent for the Texans when it came to his cap hit, as it was essentially $15 million for the past six years. This year it was set to rise to $17.5, and that was a price tag that the Texans considered too rich for them. With Watt being such a hot commodity, I expect him to get an offer similar to what he was supposed to get next year in Houston. I think a team with a lot of cap space will want to impress their fans and throw lots of money at him, but Watt is clearly at a point in his career where he will choose fit over cash. I could see the Bills offering somewhere in the $14-$15 million range for the defensive end.
That is also the number that many believe Matt Milano will attract on the open market, so you can see how things will get a little dicey for the Bills if they want to pull the trigger on J.J. Watt. Knowing that they would have to clear almost $30 million in cap space just for those two players alone makes it a long shot to happen, in my opinion. I think the Bills would rather have Milano over Watt, but who knows what is inside Brandon Beane’s head. Let’s take a look at how much space they could save by releasing some big-name players.
I think many Bills fans would not argue with much of this list, except for starting center Mitch Morse. I believe that if the Bills land Watt, Morse will be a cap causality this year. Personally, and I know this won’t be popular, but I am not sure if it is worth it. Morse’s concussion injuries did creep up again this year, and he was a healthy scratch at one point, but I would keep him around for continuity purposes for Josh Allen and the rest of the record-breaking offense. If Morse were to leave, they would be losing a starting center, and most likely a right guard and right tackle as well in John Feliciano and Daryl Williams.
So should the Bills do it? We saw in the Super Bowl the importance of getting pressure with just the front four, and in his season ending press conference Brandon Beane reiterated the need for the Bills to get bigger up front. From that perspective, it is hard to argue against adding Watt. But for all that it will take to get him, I wonder if it would be better for Beane to find defensive line talent elsewhere, possibly in the draft, where it doesn’t come with such a huge price tag. Adding J.J. Watt will come at a price beyond just a salary cap hit for the Bills, and Brandon Beane has to determine just how much of a price, and players, he is willing to sacrifice to get him in blue and red next season.