When news broke Tuesday morning that Stefon Diggs agreed to restructure his contract with the Buffalo Bills, it did not take long for the speculation to begin. With trade rumors already circulating about Julio Jones and Zach Ertz, the news that Brandon Beane was able to clear up cap room sent Bills Twitter into a frenzy. I’m here to break down the move and the possible reasons why it happened.
Prior to the move, Stefon Diggs’ base salary for 2021 was $12.7 million. With Buffalo converting approximately $11.7 million, that means Diggs’ new base salary is the league veteran minimum of $990,000. The $11.7 million will change from base salary into a signing bonus. That means the $11.7 million will be prorated over the final three years of his contract – adding about $3.9 million to Diggs’ cap hit in 2022, 2023, and 2024.
Reason 1: Julio Jones trade
This is the possibility that has Bills fans salivating the most. While adding Julio Jones would instantly make the Bills one of the best “on paper” offenses, there is still a lot of money to move. If Atlanta does not retain any of his salary, he’d have a cap hit of $23 million. After Tuesday’s move, the Bills have about $11 million in cap space to work with. I do not believe Jones will end up in Buffalo. However, it is more plausible now than before the Diggs restructure. If Dion Dawkins also agrees to restructure, then I would sound the alarms for a possible Julio Jones trade.
Remember, Jones’ $23 million cap hit isn’t set in stone. He could agree to a similar restructure as Diggs, lowering his cap hit once he arrived in Buffalo. However, if the Bills continued to push salary off to future seasons, they would face a dire short-term cap situation. Something I don’t see Brandon Beane doing after four years of rebuilding the cap situation.
Reason 2: Zach Ertz trade
Long before Bills fans talked about Julio Jones, the hot name on their lips was Eagles TE Zach Ertz. Despite months of trade speculation, the Eagles have seemed content to wait it out with Ertz. However, I suspect that will change as June 1st has now officially passed. June 1st is an important day for NFL contracts. Teams can now cut players and receive a higher cap saving than before. If the Eagles cut or trade Ertz now, they would save $3.5 million more than they would’ve two days ago.
If the Bills make a move for Ertz, they would still need to do some salary-cap manipulation on their end; just not as much as for Jones. Ertz carries a cap hit of $12.7 million and the Bills have $11 million in space today. While trading for (or signing) Ertz is more realistic than Julio, I think the Bills are more confident in Dawson Knox than fans want to accept.
Reason 3: Josh Allen extension
Another possible reason why the Bills freed up cap space is to prepare for Josh Allen’s contract extension. That contract will be the largest ever given to a Bills QB and one of the biggest in league history. Earlier this offseason, I outlined what a possible Josh Allen extension might look like. While Brandon Beane has all but assured Allen an extension is coming, I don’t see a reason to rush it. Allen is going to be one of the league’s highest-paid players for a long time, so why rush it?
It also doesn’t make much sense to do it now financially. The Bills already have Allen in place for this year. Extending him will not put them over the top from a competitive standpoint. Adding a game-changing Tight End, Wide Receiver, or another playmaker, on the other hand, would. You’d have to think for this year, the money could be better spent on an outside addition to help the team push past Kansas City.
Reason 4: Freeing up money for FAs and other extensions
The final possible reason is that Brandon Beane wanted to clear cap space heading into training camp. Every summer, Beane watches the transactions made around the league during camp. The Bills have one of the deepest rosters in the league and, while I doubt a free agent signing in July or August could crack the starting lineup, there is certainly an opportunity for Beane to snag a depth player or two. It is not a bad thing to have some breathing room against the cap. Especially since there are other players on the roster that will require contract extensions beyond Josh Allen. It is possible that a little breathing room was all that Beane wanted.
Out of the four options outlined above, I think that Diggs was restructured just to free up cap space. I do not believe a trade for Jones or Ertz is imminent. However, if they were available, the Bills are in a better position to make a competitive offer now than just a few days ago. Brandon Beane is never unprepared for a situation. We know that he carefully considers every option on how to improve his football team. The methodical approach is what we have come to expect from him and Tuesday’s news was just another step in that process.