Evans headlines list of unsigned impact Bills (Photo Source)
It's something that nearly every Buffalo Bills fan out there has fantasized about at least once (or, as in my case, multiple times daily): having a say in personnel decisions for our favorite team. I can't begin to list here every little thing I'd have done differently than Buffalo's various front office personnel over the years; it'd take months to get everything out on that front.
This evening (and we'll discuss it through lunch-ish tomorrow), however, our greatest dreams are being realized - in some twisted, hardly-based-in-reality way. Our task as Buffalo's fantasy front office is simple: prioritize the five big-name players seeking new (or inaugural) deals from the team.
Sure, it's all good that the team has signed half of its ten draft picks (CB Reggie Corner, TE Derek Fine, OT Demetrius Bell, WR Steve Johnson, CB Kennard Cox); it's also great that the team has taken measures to lock up young talent such as RG Brad Butler and DT Kyle Williams. But let's face it - there are five players that, as of fifteen days prior to the start of training camp, remain unsigned, are looking for long term deals, and/or are threatening to hold out. Which player is the highest priority? Hey, you're the boss - you tell me.
WR Lee Evans: Evans has been the biggest name on this list for quite some time; entering his fifth season in the league, Evans is set to opt out of his rookie contract at the close of the 2008 season. Rumors have circulated throughout the off-season that the Bills and Evans have been working on an extension; in all likelihood, if a deal is not consummated prior to the start of the regular season, Evans is as good as gone. If the Bills are serious about re-signing their top wideout, they'll need to do it relatively soon.
OT Jason Peters: With three years left on his current deal, Peters held out of off-season mini-camps in a clear message to the front office that he's seeking a new deal. Peters is currently ranks third in OL pay among Bills players (OG Derrick Dockery and OT Langston Walker), and the Bills have set a precedent of giving players new deals with three years left on their currents (see: Schobel, Aaron, circa August 2007). All indications, however, have pointed to the Bills avoiding negotiations with Peters; the Bills went out on a limb and signed Peters to a five-year extension before he developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle, and they're likely expecting Peters to honor that risk. If Peters stands pat, however, we could be staring an ugly holdout right in the face.
LB Angelo Crowell: The other pending 2009 free agent, Crowell is the most tenured Bills linebacker and has been a consistent - if relatively unspectacular - playmaker for the last three-plus seasons. He plays a position that is relatively replaceable - and the Bills actually have a potential strong-side replacement in Kawika Mitchell, who has played the position before - but at the same time, he may not command a huge contract should he hit the open market. It's certainly worth the Bills exploring a negotiation with Crowell, who will turn just 27 during the upcoming pre-season. He's got a lot of good football left in the tank.
CB Leodis McKelvin: As is always an issue at this time of the off-season, the Bills face the possibility of entering training camp without their top draft picks signed. Donte Whitner missed the first few practices of 2006 training camp in a contract holdout; the Bills were very fortunate in that both Marshawn Lynch and Paul Posluszny were in camp very early last season. McKelvin, who is expected to compete for serious playing time in Buffalo's deep defensive backfield, needs to be in camp as early as possible, but there's been very little movement in terms of fellow first-round draft picks signing rookie deals.
WR James Hardy: Just like McKelvin, Hardy is another young contract-less player expected to have a big impact in his rookie season. It's certainly feasible to argue that because he's a certain lock to be an offensive starter, his signing may actually be more important than McKelvin's to get done prior to training camp - he needs all the practice time with Trent Edwards as he can get. Clearly, signing a second-round pick is theoretically easier than signing a first-rounder, but one fact remains: the Bills need Hardy to be in camp as early as possible.
Vote, discuss and debate, GMs.