The Bills at the NFL combine: Stefon Diggs rumors, Jordan Poyer’s future

INDIANAPOLIS — In past years at the NFL Combine, the Buffalo Bills have had to get their cap sheet in order before even considering free agent moves or re-signings for the annual start of the new league year in mid-March. But they’ve never had to do quite as much as they’ll have to in 2024 — even with an unexpectedly large jump in the cap to $255.4 million.

The Bills already began by pushing some cap dollars forward on starting left guard Connor McGovern and clearing over $3.7 million. However, there is still a long way to go. Every decision they make about players on their roster has a trickle-down effect on their 2024 chances and cap flexibility.

With those challenges in mind, head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane met with reporters ahead of an incredibly busy next month in sculpting their cap and roster to give themselves another shot at winning a Super Bowl in 2024. Here is what we learned about the Bills as the official start to free agency approaches on March 13 at 4 p.m.

Beane shuts down any Stefon Diggs situation

Despite making it pretty clear at the end of the season that the team still staunchly believes in Diggs as a No. 1 receiver in their system, there have continued to be auxiliary questions from national media outside of Buffalo about the team potentially moving on from him. It even got to a point where some things Diggs said in a lengthy media interview were cherry-picked, before he also included that he loves playing in Buffalo and wants to remain with the team. When asked at the NFL Combine, point blank, about whether they expected Diggs to be a part of the team in 2024, Beane didn’t leave much room for interpretation.

“Yeah, I expect him to be here,” the general manager said Tuesday.

The simple fact is moving on from Diggs via trade, when the team is as cap-strapped and in need of 53-man roster caliber players as it is, getting rid of a top-tier receiver who performed at a career-record pace in the first half of 2023 in the height of their Super Bowl window does not make much sense. They would lose the player without a high-end replacement, and it would cost them precious cap space either this year or next (in the event of a post-June 1 designation) to do so. A standard trade means Diggs carries nearly a $31 million cap charge — over $3 million more than what they would owe to have him on the team. If they did a post-June 1 designation, they’d get stuck with a $22 million cap charge in 2025 to not have him on the team despite the cap savings it would provide in 2024. Both ideas do not seem ideal. The Bills made it clear they want to continue to try and win with Josh Allen as their quarterback and want to add to what they have opposed to subtracting one of their best players.

Bills noncommittal on bringing Jordan Poyer back for 2024

With how things sounded at the NFL Combine, there is a distinct possibility the Bills enter the 2024 season with two new starting safeties and without one of Micah Hyde or Poyer for the first time in the McDermott and Beane era. Hyde is a free agent and openly mulled retirement, and the Bills still don’t have any clarity from the player on his career intentions. Poyer is signed through the 2024 season, but he turns 33 in April, took a legitimate step back in his production last season and the Bills could save $5.7 million by releasing him. They would have some of those savings cut into by the lesser contract that would enter into the Top 51 in its place, but regardless, it’s a good amount of savings. And most importantly, releasing Poyer leaves a managable dead cap hit of $2 million. Beane didn’t close the door on any scenario when asked what 2024 could hold at safety, which is notable for how committed they’ve been to those players since 2017.

“Whether that’s you have to replace it all at once, or whether you keep one or keep both, those are all decisions we’re still working through on our end,” Beane said.

Fueling the idea the Bills could move on from Poyer this offseason, McDermott was asked about the importance of having Poyer’s knowledge of the scheme in case they need to bring in a new starting safety this offseason. McDermott spoke in the past tense about what Poyer has meant to the organization over the years, without circling back to the original premise of the importance in having Poyer come back in 2024 to help a potential new starting safety. Although it’s not a certainty Poyer will be going, it’s worth noting that the team did just enough to distance themselves in case they do decide to move on.

Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer has been with the team for seven seasons. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

As the Bills continue to figure out their cap situation in 2024, a name some fans to move on from this offseason is cornerback White, who has suffered two season-ending injuries in the last three years. The Bills could save over $6 million to move on. But instead of distancing themselves immediately, they left it on a conditional after the season. That day, both Beane and McDermott said they want to get White healthy before making any decision on his future in Buffalo. That context is important to remember, because over one month later at the NFL Combine, the Bills still did not have a timetable for White getting healthy enough to where they’d be able to evaluate him.

Due to the $1.5 million roster bonus owed to White a few days after the new league year begins, that little piece of information about his health remains important. On top of that, both Beane and McDermott made it a point to say White has been in the building all the time rehabbing his injury, with Beane saying White’s non-stop approach to the torn Achilles has been the same as it was for his 2021 torn ACL. The Bills likely want to be very careful before giving up on White. He’d be a $10 million dead cap hit, and on top of that, they’d be losing one of their most influential players in the locker room in what could be a transitional year for the defensive side of the ball.

Two important traits to the Bills at WR

Wide receiver is a popular position already in the 2024 NFL pre-draft process, and for good reason. Gabe Davis is an unrestricted free agent, and of the Bills’ upcoming free agents, has one of the best cases to land the largest contract this offseason. If he does, that significantly decreases the odds the cap-strapped Bills re-sign him and would leave a big hole in their starting lineup. In a strong draft class at the position, that should pave the way for a receiver pick at some point meaning it’s important to know what the team may be looking for this offseason.

When speaking with reporters, there were two central themes. Both McDermott and Beane mentioned how prevalent the split-safety defense is in today’s NFL, which heightens the need for explosive plays. Those can come in two forms. Either it’s someone who is a deep threat that reduces the number of plays needed for a scoring drive by taking the top off the defense or a player who can turn a short-to-intermediate reception into a massive gain with yards after the catch due to their speed, acceleration and open-field ability. One who can do both would be the home run threat the Bills seem to be missing. The other theme is wanting a player who could play big to win in contested situations — not necessarily someone who has the size but plays smaller. Beane referenced the 5-foot-9 Steve Smith, who he said played like he was 6-foot-4. So if there’s a size-speed player who struggles at the catch point, perhaps like a Quentin Johnston in last year’s draft process, they may not use a draft choice on that player. Any player who pairs good ball skills with explosiveness, regardless of how big they are, likely is in play for the Bills this April.

The importance of the 2025 salary cap to their dealings

Even after the McGovern restructure on Tuesday, the Bills still sit at the bottom of the NFL in effective cap space, still $43.3 million over the $255.4 million limit according to Over The Cap. Whether it’s restructures, contract extensions or flat-out releases, there are multiple things the Bills have to do just to get cap compliant, let alone finding room to spend in free agency this offseason. Some things are non-negotiable to those efforts, one of which is pushing forward a bunch of cap space owed to Josh Allen into future seasons. That alone clears $22.6 million in cap space in 2024, over half of their remaining deficit. The Bills likely couldn’t get cap compliant this year without gutting their roster if the Allen restructure wasn’t a piece of the puzzle. Although it’s a necessary evil this year, Beane made it a point to mention that their approach this offseason will be to find enough space to have some spending room, but with some caution.

“Now that we know the cap we’re working through getting under,” the GM said when asked about the idea of re-signing Davis or defensive end A.J. Epenesa. “How much can we create without totally piling up a huge mess in ’25 or ’26, whatever year it is?”

Considering how in debt the Bills are on the cap this year, it would be fair to qualify it as the mess the Bills are talking about. And it’s certainly tempting to keep pushing everything forward regardless of how much more it puts a team in debt or beholden to a player past the current year. But Beane always disliked the notion of running up the credit card bill too much. That means the Bills likely will be prudent about how much they’re willing to spend in re-signing players or free agency, along with which contracts they’d be willing to restructure based on age and if they have a future in Buffalo beyond 2024. The Bills likely only clear cap space that they can justify adding on in future seasons, but also with the intention of putting their best foot forward to winning again in 2024 — within reason. That balance, to put them in a healthier position in 2025 and 2026 will be critical to the organization’s long-term vision.

(Top photo of Brandon Beane: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

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