Top 5 Players The Bills Could Trade
Now that we are into March, you know what that means: NFL free agency. And you know what else that means… salary cap. This is the time of year where teams, like the Buffalo Bills, will have to shave off money from their rosters to make sure they have enough cap space for the new league year, which begins on March 15 at 4 pm ET.
The Buffalo Bills are currently $18.7 million over the cap, according to Spotrac. Clearly, they have a lot of work to do to get back under the cap within the next two weeks. Ideally, you want to get this business handled sooner rather than later, as the tampering period begins on Monday, March 13 at 12 pm ET. (This is when teams can begin negotiating with free agents.)
So how will GM Brandon Beane clear up almost $19 million to get back under the cap, and then create even more money to sign multiple players? There are four key ways: cap casualties (cuts), restructures, extensions, and trades. I will talk about the first three in next week’s article; for now, I want to focus on some players that the Bills could look to trade.
The point of potentially trading these players is to not only save money, but to also get some assets back. As you will see, there are some players on my list who I consider trade bait more for the assets they would garner in return than the money they would save the team.
Honorable Mention: C Mitch Morse
Mitch Morse is interesting for this. Morse has a cap hit of $11.4 million in 2023 and a dead cap of $6 million. So, if the Buffalo Bills were to trade him, they would save roughly $5.4 million.
However, Morse will turn 31 years old in April and has a history of concussions. Those two factors alone along with his large cap hit would make it hard to find a trade partner, decreasing the value in return. The Bills could release him as a cap casualty and still save the $5.4 million and then just slide OG Ryan Bates over to play center.
But I think that Morse is too important to this team and will neither be traded or released. He is one of the anchors of the offensive line, he is well-respected, and has built up a good rapport with QB Josh Allen. Besides, if you have a position group that needs to get built up (like the OL), it doesn’t make sense to subtract from that group. Morse should be safe going into the 2023 season, but the cap figures do make it intriguing.
5. RB Nyheim Hines
Nyheim Hines is another interesting one here. Hines has a $4.8 million cap hit next season but carries no dead cap. So, if the Bills were to trade or release him, they would save all $4.8 million. Hines only had 11 touches on offense last season, so he clearly wasn’t that big of a factor (on offense). The team could say that Hines is expendable because they have RB James Cook, who has a similar skillset, but then why did they trade for him in the first place?
Buffalo sent RB Zack Moss and a fifth-round pick to Indianapolis for Hines, so they clearly saw something in him. I doubt they would already want to move on and waste that fifth-round pick. Plus, there probably aren’t too many teams who would want to pay a backup running back close to $5 million. So if anything, Beane may restructure Hines’ contract, lowering his cap hit. Something will have to give because if he’s only playing 11% of the offensive snaps, there’s no way you can pay a third-string RB almost $5 million to play special teams.
4. WR Isaiah McKenzie
Someone who the Buffalo Bills could actually look to move on from is Isaiah McKenzie. McKenzie saw the majority of snaps from the slot for the first time in his career in 2022, but was underwhelming to say the least. He had 42 receptions on 65 targets for 423 yards and four TDs while adding 55 rushing yards and a TD on nine carries. He also dropped six passes, according to Pro Football Reference.
McKenzie took over for Cole Beasley, who had 693 yards and one TD on 82 receptions in 2021. The Bills wanted more out of that position, specifically in terms of YAC (yards after catch). However, the 27-year old had 40 less receptions and 270 less yards. He did have to split time with Jamison Crowder, Khalil Shakir and then (eventually) Beasley again. He also dealt with play calling that did not favor the slot receivers. But still, those numbers are not going to cut it.
If the Bills decide to move on from McKenzie, they would save approximately $2.2 million on their cap. That’s not too much, but every little bit helps. And if they can get a day three draft pick in return, that makes it more enticing.
The question is, what do the Bills plan on doing with the slot receiver position? They gave McKenzie a two-year contract last offseason, but I think they know that they need more production out of that position moving forward. Do they re-sign Crowder or Beasley? Do they sign and/or draft a slot receiver? Will they just outright cut McKenzie?
If it were up to me, I would make Shakir the full-time slot receiver and have McKenzie as his backup, primarily using him in motion in the gadget role. I would sign a veteran outside receiver and then draft one as well to give Allen more downfield weapons. And to prepare for not being able to re-sign Gabe Davis next offseason.
3. DE Boogie Basham
And now for the defense, specifically the defensive line. Boogie Basham was drafted in the second round of the 2021 Draft, but has yet to live up to the hype. Through two seasons (23 games), Basham has recorded 37 total tackles, 17 QB pressures, five TFLs, and just 4.5 sacks. He had a 62.2 PFF grade as a rookie and a 66.4 in 2022.
If the Buffalo Bills don’t think that Basham is developing the way they would like and have other plans at the position, they could probably get a day three pick for him. Basham has a cap hit of $1,534,075 and a dead cap of $725,434. So, if the Bills were to trade the Wake Forest product, they would save a little over $800,000.
I’m sure there are teams who see a lot of upside in the 25-year old, but that’s the thing. Basham is still young and has a lot of room to grow. And, after seeing what happened after trading away OG Wyatt Teller prematurely, I think Beane has cold feet now when it comes to trading young players.
2. DE A.J. Epenesa
A.J. Epenesa is another DE who was drafted in the second round and has not panned out. The difference between Epenesa and Basham is that Epenesa has been in Buffalo for three years, not two. So perhaps Beane wouldn’t be as reluctant to ship him out. Besides, the 24-year old will be a free agent next year, and has his play really garnered a second contract? This may be the time to try and get something back for him while also saving some money.
Moving on from Epenesa would save the Bills a little over $1.4 million. The Bills could probably get a day three pick for him as well. Or, looking at it from the other side, say there’s a wide receiver that the Bills really like in the first round. They could use Epenesa as leverage and package him and the 27th overall pick to move up a few spots in round one.
In his three years in the NFL (43 games), Epenesa has a combined 44 tackles, 35 QB pressures, 12 TFLs, and nine sacks. He has recorded PFF grades of 64.7, 63.3, and 56.7, respectively.
1. DT Ed Oliver
And last but not least, Ed Oliver. The thing that sticks out with Oliver is his $10.8 million cap hit. Based on that figure and his limited production, a lot of fans want to see him traded to save money and to get some big assets in return. Oliver has a dead cap of $10.8 million, so the Bills would save $0 if they were to cut him as a cap casualty. However, he has a $0 dead cap if he’s traded before June 1, meaning the Bills would save $10.8 million if they decide to trade him.
Trading Oliver may be one of the best solutions for the Bills this offseason, considering how much money they would save and what they would get in return. Buffalo would definitely get a day three pick for him, if not a day two pick. They could potentially even get two picks for the former ninth overall pick. Oliver, who is in a contract year, is the Bills’ most valuable asset.
In his four years, the most tackles he’s had in a season were 44 (2019); the most pressures were 18 (2021); and the most sacks were 5.0 (2019). This year, he only had 2.5 sacks in 13 games. As for his PFF grades, Oliver recorded a 65.6 as a rookie before dipping way down to a 48.5 in 2020. He climbed back up and finished with a 70.9 in 2021 before falling back a bit to a 68.5 in 2022.
Those grades sum up Oliver perfectly — he’s just too inconsistent. Sometimes he looks like an All-Pro who can wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines. Other times, you don’t even know he’s on the field. Personally, I don’t think he is worth more than $10 million per year. The Buffalo Bills could sign him to an extension to lower his cap hit this year. But I just don’t know if it’s worth it considering how inconsistent he’s been. Trading him really might be their best option.
The Buffalo Bills will definitely make a ton of moves over these next two weeks to make sure they are cap compliant. I think they should really consider trading some of these players; not only will they save money, they will also presumably get draft picks in return.
Buffalo only has six draft picks this year, and it would’ve been five if Beane didn’t get a fifth-round pick for OG Cody Ford. Considering the Bills have over 20 free agents of their own, they might need as many draft picks as possible to replace these players and to help build their team for the 2023 season and beyond.
Featured Image: Mark J. Terrill/AP