Here's what we know:
- We don't know when free agency will begin. It is believed that free agency will begin with a week or so of the finalization of the new CBA. The theory is that teams will need at least a week to figure out the rules of the new CBA so decisions can be made without undue haste. I suspect that, due to the proximity to the preseason, that teams will have only a day or two to figure out the new CBA before free agency begins. All we know at this point is that there will be a period of free agency and that it won't start until the I's are dotted and T's are crossed.
- Free agency will be a wild, wild affair. The NFL will basically have two years worth of free agents due to the free agent class being made artifically made smaller in 2010.
The salary cap is almost certain to be a part of the new CBA and the minimum amount teams are allowed to spend also looks to be a foregone conclusion. While a small number of teams may already be bumping up against the cap a greater number of teams will need to spend in order to get above the salary floor.
- Buddy Nix has talked about the value of keeping players versus signing big name free agents.
Here are some assumptions:
- Buddy Nix was being truthful when he said that he placed greater importance on re-signing players than acquiring outside talent. This doesn't mean that he'll dole out Kelsay-esque contracts to just anyone. (Those who don't have photographic evidence of him doing something inappropriate will have to earn a new deal.) It also doesn't mean that the Bills won't add a player or two. Think Andra Davis; a known commodity who can contribute but who also won't break the bank.
- Buffalo will likely be beneath the salary floor, perhaps dramatically so. The Bills should have the money to lure in a marquee free agent or two, re-sign players, or both. There was an interesting item on PFT which suggested that the league will divide into two camps: teams with bad front offices will go nuts early and often while teams with good front offices will be patient and pick up great value after the initial frenzy.
- The players will insist on, and get, terms that allow for freedom of movement in this particular free agency period. Perhaps the owners will in turn get a concession on future free agency rules but the impending free agents (particularly those who got screwed out of free agency last year) feel that they are due a bone. I'd be very surprised if the restricted free agent tags (at least for 2011) survive the CBA negotiations.
What could this mean for Buffalo?
- Paul Posluszny, Donte Whitner and George Wilson are all likely to become unrestricted free agents when the new CBA is signed. Each of those men saw the kind of crazy deal that Chris Kelsay got. (Kind of makes you see where Whitner was coming from with his salary demands...) I believe that Nix will be as good as his word and offer at least Poz and Wilson very good deals. I suspect that Whitner will also be offered a deal but not quite as much as he wants. Of the three I think he's the most likely to want to test free agency while I think Poz is the most likely to attract significant attention from other teams. Nix may also make a run at Drayton Florence in order to give Williams a chance to get his legs underneath him.
- With 2-4 home grown free agents to sign, I anticipate Nix locking up several players like Stevie Johnson with deals that could see them into their 30s. I can also see a 2-3 year extension for Fitz in the works. Maybe Fred Jackson finally gets a good deal.
- Because I can't consider the Bills as having one of the good front offices in the league until it is finally proven to be true via the product on the field, I believe that the Bills will spend a chunk of money on exactly one impact free agent. Said free agent will be at a position of dire need. Can you think of a position on the roster more devoid of talent than tight end? With the removal of the RFA tags, I can see Nix lunging after TE Zach Miller. As a possible fallback position (once Miller signs with another team, and assuming Florence leaves) I can see Nix targeting DB Champ Bailey. Nix's Chargers faced him often and he could help bring Williams and McKelvin along. OT Jared Gaither may be another player Nix considers given the issues at RT and his experience playing LT for Baltimore.
- Rounding out the free agency signings, I foresee the Bills picking up 2-3 players who won't be highly sought after and who might represent really good value at positions of need. Tyler Thigpen may or may not represent good value but Buffalo badly needs a backup QB and Thigpen (a) played for Gailey in KC and (b) has a fair amount of experience. LB Stephen Cooper is familiar to Nix and might be considered as well. If the Bills don't get Miller, TE Matt Spaeth (big, from a winning team) might be an option the Bills explore.
Buffalo will have money to spend. I think we'll have a better idea as to what kind of front office the team has at the conclusion of what figures to be a wild, wild free agency period. I'd like to see the Bills resign Poz and at least one of Wilson/Whitner. I'd also like to see the team lock up some young players to ensure that the Bills don't continue to be a developmental squad for the good teams in the league. I won't be holding my breath for splashy signings a la Terrell Owens.
What are your thoughts?