Bills save $54 million in cap space by dumping Marcell Dareus' contract

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- On the surface, the 2018 sixth-round pick the Buffalo Bills received from the Jacksonville Jaguars in a trade Friday evening might not seem like much compensation for Marcell Dareus, a former No. 3 overall pick and two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle.

But compared to the second-round pick the Houston Texans had to give up in March to get rid of quarterback Brock Osweiler and his inflated contract, the Bills' deal for Dareus is a big win.

Consider the numbers. The Texans traded Osweiler, a 2018 second-round pick and a 2017 sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a 2017 fourth-round pick. In doing so, the Texans cleared $10 million off their 2017 salary cap and wiped $41 million in salary-cap hits off their books between 2018 and 2019.

In total, the Texans saved $51 million in cap space over three seasons by jettisoning Osweiler. The Browns owed Osweiler a guaranteed $16 million in 2017 but nothing after that.

The Bills traded Dareus for a 2018 sixth-round pick that can become a fifth-round pick based on Dareus' performance, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The move cleared about $5 million in 2017 salary-cap space and about $2 million in 2018 cap space, in addition to erasing about $47 million in cap hits from 2019-21.

In all, the Bills saved about $54 million over five seasons by trading Dareus. The Jaguars owe Dareus about $5 million in guaranteed salary for the remainder of this season as well as $7.35 million of his salary in 2018. There are no guarantees after 2018.

Essentially, the Bills and Texans saved roughly the same amount in salary-cap space by dealing Dareus and Osweiler. Both trades involved the acquiring team taking on roughly the same amount in guaranteed salary, although Jacksonville's commitment is spread over two years.

Through the lens of the Texans-Browns deal, the Bills' salary dump comes easy.

It is also an unexpected development for a team that might have released Dareus after this season at a higher cost to their salary cap. Had the Bills released Dareus in March, they would have been on the hook for the guaranteed $7.35 million of his 2018 salary, in addition to the $14.2 million in signing bonus proration they had to swallow with a trade. In this case, the Jaguars absorb that $7.35 million.

Of course, the Bills-Jaguars and Texans-Browns trades are not perfectly comparable. Dareus, if healthy and motivated, has the potential to return to Pro Bowl form. He brings potential long-term value to Jacksonville whereas Cleveland would take anything it got from Osweiler -- which ended up being nothing because he was released before this season.

Buffalo, like Houston and Cleveland with Osweiler, also saw limited value in keeping Dareus. He upset first-year coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane when he violated an unspecified team rule before a preseason game in Baltimore in August. His playing time dipped to 26 percent of defensive snaps in Week 2 before an injury kept him out during Week 3.

Dareus returned in Week 4 to lose his starting job, playing in only 31 percent of snaps. He did not start in Week 5, playing in 33 percent of snaps. After the Bills' bye week, Dareus practiced well enough to earn a starting role in Week 7 and play 57 percent of snaps in what became his final game in Buffalo.

McDermott praised Dareus for his improvement but Friday's trade made it clear the Bills were not keen on paying a potential part-time player the highest salary on the team for the next four seasons.

"Any time you pay a guy double-digit APY [average per-year salary], you have to make sure you know they fit you as a player, as a person, the culture, everything," Beane said Friday. "You always want to do that. Not everyone works out as planned. Obviously this didn’t work out as the Bills [and former general manager Doug Whaley] planned when he was signed to the extension [in 2015]."

Without Dareus, the Bills are expected to use a rotation of Adolphus Washington, Jerel Worthy and Cedric Thornton alongside longtime starter Kyle Williams at defensive tackle. Even with Dareus' limited contributions, the Bills' run defense ranks sixth in yards allowed per game (84.5) and fourth in opposing yards per carry (3.45).

"Obviously we wouldn’t have done [the trade] if we didn’t feel like we had depth at the D-tackle position," Beane said. "We kept five D-tackles [on the 53-man roster]. Those guys all had experience. They played the Denver game [in Week 3] when Marcell was injured. So we feel good about those guys going forward this year. So that’s why we felt compelled to go through with the move."

It is a different situation from Beane's trade of Sammy Watkins in August. Watkins was expected to be a major contributor for the Bills as their top wide receiver, and without him, the Bills' wide receivers rank last in the NFL in catches (34) and receiving yards (461).

Both the Dareus and Watkins deals help the Bills in the future, but the Dareus trade should have less impact on the present.

As for the Bills' future, Buffalo's extensive maneuvering since Beane replaced Whaley in May has left the club with a bounty of draft picks. They own their own selections in the first through fifth rounds in 2018, as well as extra picks in the first round (Chiefs), second round (Rams), third round (Eagles) and sixth round (Jaguars). They have their full allotment of 2019 selections plus an extra fourth-round pick (Chiefs, conditional) and two seventh-round picks (Chargers, conditional, and Panthers).

Since Beane was hired, the Bills have traded or released a first-round pick (Watkins), three second-round picks (Reggie Ragland, Cyrus Kouandjio and Ronald Darby), a fourth-round pick (Cardale Jones), a fifth-round pick (Jonathan Williams) and two sixth-round picks (Kolby Listenbee and Kevon Seymour) made by Whaley between 2014 and 2016. Dareus was a first-round pick of former general manager Buddy Nix in 2011.

“I said it before, Sean and I aren’t into just getting our guys on this team and getting rid of people who are not," Beane said Friday. "We’re honestly making every decision on what we think helps the Bills today and tomorrow."