With 2012 NFL free agency set to begin on March 13, much of the conversation surrounding the Buffalo Bills will focus on the team's impending free agents. That group includes, among others, Stevie Johnson, Scott Chandler, Demetrius Bell, Bryan Scott, and Roscoe Parrish - as well as Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart, to a lesser extent - and those players (or perhaps just one) will be the primary point of discussion for the next month.
Before we let that process play itself out, however, we wanted to talk about five future Bills free agents that fans should take note of beyond this off-season. None of these five players are going to get contract extensions any time soon, because they're not high on the team's current list of priorities. Once everything settles down, however, these five names will headline a group of players entering their final year under contract in Buffalo.
Fred Jackson. Jackson, 31 in two weeks, wants a new deal. GM Buddy Nix has said his goal is to get him one by the time the 2012 season begins. You don't see 30-something running backs extended often; this may be one of the rare cases. Jackson is coming off of his best (albeit injury-shortened) season.
Jairus Byrd. Still one of the team's more undervalued performers, Byrd has evolved into an every-down safety capable of competently defending the run and the pass. He may never reach the popularity of his nine-pick rookie season, but he's an excellent football player. He'll turn 26 in October and is just now entering his prime.
Andy Levitre. Levitre gets a bit more credit than he's due because he's been a 48-game starter on an otherwise constantly in-flux offensive line, but don't let that undermine how good Levitre has become. If the Bills ever let the guy stay in his left guard spot for 16 games, the team could have one of the better young interior linemen in the league.
Brian Moorman. His two running mates - kicker Rian Lindell and long snapper Garrison Sanborn - both received long-term contract extensions well in advance of free agency this year. Now it is perhaps Moorman's turn; he just turned 36 years old and has been punting in Buffalo for well over a decade, but after a rebound year following a poor 2010 season, it's conceivable Moorman could get one last contract next year at age 37.
Shawne Merriman. Some have questioned whether or not Merriman will even be back this season, but with a dearth of pass-rushing talent and a lot of time and money invested, only another injury would prevent Merriman from making the team. He's entering the last of a two-year deal, and if he is finally able to resuscitate his career, he'll have a shot at sticking beyond 2012. He's still only 27, after all.