First and foremost, I think Stevie Johnson deserves a ton of credit for sticking to his word and giving the Bills a discounted contract. If anything, I think the Bills under payed the man. I mean, look at some of the contracts that have been dished out to #1 WRs the past few seasons and compare them to the 5 year/ 36 million dollar contract Stevie signed...
Santonio Holmes was set to be an UFA last year before signing a 5 year/48 millions dollar deal to stay with the Jets. This was coming off a 52 rec 746 yd and 6 TD season... Stevie exceeded those numbers by at least 24 catches and 250 yards in two consecutive seasons.
Sydney Rice hit the market as a UFA last season and landed a 5 year 41 million dollar deal with Seattle after missing the majority of the season with a hip injury.
Miles Austin signed a contract extension that landed him 6 years/54 million dollars after a 69 catch, 1040 yard season with 7 TD's.
The more elite WR's to resign with their teams were Roddy White (2009) and Brandon Marshall (2011). Roddy White signed a 6 year/48 million dollar contract. Marshall signed the largest contract by a WR ever when Miami inked him to a 4 year/50 million dollar contract after last season.
Keep in mind that the salary cap increases each year and subsequently, contracts get bigger. I feel confident a team would have come after Stevie with a 5 year deal worth anywhere from 42-50 million. Props to the guy for settling for 36. Makes me nervous that he and the Bills were so far apart on numbers at a point if Stevie was willing to settle for this amount. Wasn't our strategy to use our money to resign our players who have produced, not to be cheap with it and try to underpay them when the time comes? I understand that contract negotiation is a process of meeting in the middle and you have to set your starting price low. I also get there is more to a contract than just the numbers, and maybe the guaranteed money was a bigger discrepancy. Just hard to believe that they wouldn't have been willing to pay the guy a bit more if need be.
Now that SJ is under contract, it's time to focus on Demetrius Bell next. Am I the only one terrified at the thought of Chris Hairston being the unchallenged starter at LT going into training camp? Even if he does the job well enough, what if he goes down? He have absolutely no depth. I would hate to see a 1st round pick used on a LT this year. I just don't see a guy who is worth the pick based on what we do offensively. The guys who will likely be around when we pick are more pass-blocking oriented. We don't need that- we need a mauler in the run game who can hold his own against the pass. Demetrius Bell is a good option- he is a strong run blocker and looked much better than Hairston in pass blocking. I haven't heard any information on how the negotiations are going, but if I were Buffalo I would offer the following: 3 year deal worth 2 million- 4.5 million in 2012, 6.5 million in 2013, and 9 million in 2014 with 8 million guaranteed. This works out well for both sides. Bell takes up minimal cap space this year, and gets an increased salary every season thereafter if he shows he can stay healthy and remain the starter. After this season, the Bills could release him and free up about 1.1 million in cap space (6.5 million base salary minus 5.4 million cap penalty). Releasing him prior to the 2014 season would free up 6.7 million in cap space (9 million minus 2.3 million cap penalty).
This deal bring back a starting quality LT for next season with the potential to develop into an elite tackle. If he doesn't show he can stay healthy or Hairston shows good progression, the cap penalty for releasing him is minimal. If he does develop, he will be payed accordingly. Most importantly, it keeps LT from becoming an immediate need that needs to be addressed in the draft.
I don't see the Bills signing a #2 WR in FA. Despite their interest, the financial numbers just don't add up. San Diego, Chicago, NYJ, Washington, Minnesota, Carolina, and possibly Baltimore will all be trying to sign a bigger WR in the same mold the Bills are looking for. The choices in FA are V. Jackson, Colston, Wayne, and Meachem. You could also throw Mario Manningham in the mix, but I don't think he fits the profile that Nix wants in a WR. That leaves a few teams on the outside of this mix. Jackson, Colston, and Wayne are all looking at about 9-12 million a year in my opinion. We won't pay that, with SJ's contract it's too much money to invest in the position when we have so many other needs. Meachem is the only one in the group who projects as a #2 WR, and will draw less money than the other 3. Last year KC landed Steve Breaston with a 5 year 22 million dollar contract, but Meachem is a much more talented player than Breaston. I believe the Bills will value Meachem at about 5.5 million/year. With the strong demand for WR's around the league, his price will likely be inflated to around 6-6.5 million a year. If the Bills are true to their word about spending money retaining there players, why would they give an unproven player a similar contract to SJ, who has double his stats the last two seasons? I wouldn't be upset if they did, just surprised.
The other issue I see in getting into bidding wars for some of the main WR's is that it takes the Bills out of the mix for landing Mario Williams if they do sign one. I know the majority of people here don't think the Bills have a legitimate chance on landing Williams, but I think we will at the least be serious contenders. Nix and Gailey both openly admit this is our biggest need. Nix has stated we will be aggressive in FA, and I think this is where the move is to be made. I think the Bills resign Bell before FA, and focus the first two days of negotiations solely on landing Mario. It's more of a hunch than anything, but I just don't see us fiddling around with trying to bid for offensive players that fall out of our price range when the pass rush is clearly a huge need. There is no harm in going after Williams if were willing to spend what we know it is going to take to land the guy. Julius Peppers signed a 6 year 84 million dollar deal with 42 million guaranteed. The previous year, Jared Allen signed a 6 year 72 million dollar deal with 31 million guaranteed Adjust for inflation, were probably looking at about 6 year 90 million. It would be by far the largest deals the Bills have ever handed out, but I think we can make it happen if were serious about be aggressive in FA.
If the Williams deal doesn't work out, I think it still leaves the Bills with a chance to grab some help at CB and/or TE. Players like Richard Marshall and Terrel Thomas are options at CB while Bennet, Carlson, or Chandler would be options at TE.
If the Bills don't sign a WR in FA as I suspect, I think Michael Floyd becomes the top runner for the #10 pick, assuming he is still available. This guy is exactly what we are looking for physically and I think compares very favorably to Julio Jones a year ago. Some character concerns may keep him out of the top 10, but if everything checks out OK on Buffalo's end this pick would give us a great prospect at a position of need.
If the Bills can't land Mario, it seems to be common thought we will wait until the 2nd or 3rd to take a pass rusher. This is probably true, but one player that I think will warrant serious consideration come draft day is Nick Perry. I see Perry as a player that will start to shoot up draft boards over the next month and make a case to be a legitimate top 10 pick. He has production to back up his physical skill set and would provide a much needed edge rush. I know Nix has talked down the pass rush prospects that will be available at #10, but don't rule it out just yet. It could be a smoke screen, but even so a lot can happen between now and the draft.
I know this is a ton of speculating and might seem pretty random, just trying to get some thoughts out of the head. Thanks for the read and lets we can take a step forward this off-season.