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The total value of all the contracts the Buffalo Bills have handed out puts them in the top 10 of the NFL this year, and the Bills will finish over the salary cap in actual cash spending for a second straight year.
There are numerous ways to track NFL spending. For the past four years, The News has obtained league documents to track the total value of all the players under contract for every team.
By that measure, the Bills have taken a big jump since last year at this time - no surprise given the deals the team has handed out to Mario Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson and Mark Anderson.
The total value of the contracts for all Bills players under contract just before the final NFL cuts was $617 million. That put Buffalo 10th in the league. The Bills were 29th last year, and 25th in both 2010 and 2009.
It's not an actual measure of a team's spending, because some big salaries in the final years of player contracts never get paid. The players get cut or have their deals restructured. Nevertheless, it's a wide-angle view of a how a team is re-signing its own players and competing for players in free agency.
Teams put more importance on actual cash spent out each season and base salaries and bonuses allotted to the players on this year's roster.
By that measure, the Bills stand seventh in the NFL this season, according to ESPN senior writer John Clayton.
The Bills' salary cap for 2012 is $133.9 million. Buffalo stands at $134.5 million in cash allotted for this year, according to News figures. The total will go up as players land on the injured reserve list.
How can a team be over the cap in cash spending? Williams got a $19 million signing bonus in March. All of that counts toward this season in calculating cash spending. Only $3.8 million counts toward this year for salary cap purposes, because the bonus gets amortized over the life of the contract.
By the News' count, the Bills finished roughly $10 million under the cap in actual cash spending in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They were a tad over in 2007. The Bills say they were exactly at the league average for cash spending for the period 2007 through 2010.
Last year, Buffalo finished about $15 million over the cap in cash spending. More than half the league was over the cap in cash spending last year. A big reason was the way first-round rookie contracts had to be structured in 2010. They all included big payments that rolled over into the spring of 2011 in order to get around rookie spending pool limitations. So last year teams had a big payment for the 2010 top draft pick and the 2011 top pick (in the Bills' case it was a $13 million bonus to Marcell Dareus).
Besides the Williams deal, the extension for Fitzpatrick was a reason the Bills moved up the salary ranking. Buffalo had been saving money at QB for years in comparison to the rest of the league because the Bills didn't have a player worthy of a contract extension. Fitzpatrick's average salary, $9.8 million a year, currently ranks 18th among NFL QBs.
In terms of actual cap space this year, the Bills stand $11.2 million under their $133.9 million total. They are in fine shape to weather injuries that will occur and sign a player or two to a contract extension, if they wish.
Philadelphia tops the league in total value of contracts, at $806 million. Atlanta, New Orleans, Oakland and Dallas were next in the top five. The bottom five were: 32, Indianapolis; 31, Cincinnati; 30, Miami; 29, St. Louis; 28, Houston. All those teams have a lot of players on their first contracts. Cincinnati is an example of a good young team that will have to make a big climb in the total contract values in the next several years if it wants to keep its core players together.
While the News' total value numbers account for rosters of almost 90 players, every team's salary costs essentially are the same from roughly the 35th to the 90th players on the roster. They're all young players on their first contracts. So the final cuts have a minimal affect on the ranking. The totals count base salaries and bonus money, including likely to be earned bonuses. It does not count money under the category of "not likely to be earned bonuses." The data was acquired largely through NFL Players Association sources.

RIP Modell

The NFL lost an influential figure with the death this week of Art Modell, who served as an owner for 43 years. He was chairman of the NFL's television committee for 32 years and had a big hand in starting the Monday Night Football franchise. The Browns' record during his tenure as owner was 278-233-7 (.544), and they made the playoffs 15 of 35 his seasons as owner.
Nevertheless, I have not yet been able to support him in voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore. City officials no doubt should have acted more quickly on a new stadium for the team. But from this view, Modell could have and should have worked out a deal. Years after the move to Baltimore, Modell acknowledged he was forced to relocate to avoid personal bankruptcy and to be able (he hoped) to hand down the team to his sons. The financial windfall of the shift to Baltimore wasn't enough. Modell's debt was a reported $185 million after the move, and Modell ultimately was forced to sell the Baltimore Ravens in 1999.
Ralph Wilson voted against the move to Baltimore, even though he was good friends with Modell, largely because he didn't think Modell had given Cleveland a fair final chance to keep the team. The deal with Baltimore was too good, and as we later learned, he needed the money. It's easy to understand why they got along, because both value a good sense of humor.
"He often times would break up a meeting when it was at its most intense moment with a quip or a joke," Bill Polian said on ESPN this week. "He had a Henny Youngman sense of humor. He could make you laugh in the tightest of moments."

Five to surprise

If you're predicting NFL playoff teams, you better not go with the status quo from last season. Five teams made the playoffs last year that hadn't made the postseason the year before. It marked the 16th straight year at least five new teams made the playoffs.
Who will be the surprises this year? Three of them in the NFC are logical picks. Dallas (8-8) and Philadelphia (8-8) will finish atop the NFC East and make the playoffs. Both are too talented to miss again. Chicago gets the third vote as a wild card from the NFC North. They get an easy schedule.
In the AFC, the picks for wild cards are Buffalo (6-10) and Kansas City (7-9), both last-place teams last season. The vote here is for the Chiefs over the Chargers (8-8), a popular pick.
Now here's a tougher forecast: A team has gone from worst in its division to the division title nine straight years. Kansas City is the likeliest choice. But this choice goes to Denver to repeat as champion in the AFC West.

On-side kicks

. The Pats have won eight straight season-opening games, longest streak in the league.
. The five rookie quarterbacks starting today (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and Brandon Weeden) make it the most on opening day of a season since at least 1950.
. Denver's Peyton Manning needs just one 300-yard passing day to break out of a tie with Dan Marino and have the most in history. They both have 63.
. Drew Brees needs to open the season with TD passes in five straight games to break Johnny Unitas' streak of 47 straight.
. San Diego will honor the memory of Junior Seau with a helmet decal this season.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com