The Buffalo Bills have some major impending free agents that they'll have to try to re-sign this off-season, and several of them put up huge performances in last night's 19-14 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Jairus Byrd had a stand-out performance as he continues to evolve into one of the top safeties in the NFL. He raked in a first quarter fumble recovery that set up a field goal, and he made an outstanding diving interception after the two minute warning that, in reality, should have put the game on ice for Buffalo. He also had another near-pick on a throw to the sideline and made several excellent open-field tackles.
"He has great football knowledge," said Chan Gailey of his free safety following the game. "He has instincts - that is probably another word for instincts, great football knowledge. He anticipates where the ball is going very well. He is around the ball a lot. He makes a lot of football plays."
Add in his huge two-interception performance in a win over Arizona, and Byrd is having a Pro Bowl caliber season. Through 56 games as a pro, Byrd now has 17 interceptions, nine forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and two touchdowns. It's becoming quite clear that Byrd will be priority No. 1 for the team this off-season.
But Byrd is far from the only impending free agent playing well of late. Leodis McKelvin, in the final year of his five-year rookie contract signed in 2008, has emerged as one of the most dangerous return men in the league. Since taking over punt return duties full-time when C.J. Spiller became the feature back in 2011, McKelvin has returned 24 punts for 507 yards and three lengthy touchdowns (80, 88 and 79 yards, respectively). His 21.1-yard average per return is an elite figure. Add in his capabilities as a quality reserve cornerback, and he's making a very strong case to be re-signed despite more than one benching in the past two seasons.
Another impending free agent: fourth-year defensive end Kyle Moore, who had another terrific performance as a pass rusher against the Dolphins. A sack credited to Shawne Merriman can be attributed to a Moore pressure, and he had a sack of his own nullified by an unfortunate inadvertent facemask penalty. What's more, he's shown improvement in defending the run, though that is still the clear weak area of his game. Since stepping into the lineup following several weeks on the inactive list to start the season, Moore has consistently been the team's most dynamic pass rusher - and while he doesn't have the stats to back that up, there's no question that he has tremendous upside as a wave player in Buffalo's 4-3.
Then, of course, there's starting guards Andy Levitre and Kraig Urbik, who form two-fifths of a young and very talented offensive line. Especially in the first half, the line was instrumental in paving the way for Spiller (12 carries for 60 yards at halftime) en route to his 130-yard night. Both Levitre and Urbik were 2009 draft picks (Levitre by Buffalo in the second round, and Urbik by Pittsburgh in the third), and both have become key figures along a rock-solid front that currently does not feature a starter over the age of 27 (its average age is 25). Buffalo finally has a strong offensive line in place after years of mediocrity and constant change up front, and they'll have to pay to keep that luxury intact.