In the past 12 months, the Buffalo Bills have re-signed several productive players, with Stevie Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson the headliners among multiple other players re-upping with the team over that span. If general manager Buddy Nix has his way, the team will add another three players to that list at some point, targeting offensive linemen Andy Levitre and Kraig Urbik, as well as safety Jairus Byrd, in the next wave.
"We definitely want those guys back," Nix told BuffaloBills.com this week. "I’ve told them. They know that. As far as us working on contracts, we’ve been kind of busy. I think they want to be back, and we want them back, and when the time comes we’ll get started on it."
The contracts for all three players expire at the end of the 2012 season. Byrd and Levitre were the Bills' pair of second round picks in the 2009 NFL Draft. They have started a combined 88 of a possible 96 games in their three seasons, with Levitre never missing a game. Byrd, who has only missed two games, has a Pro Bowl selection for his nine-interception rookie season.
Urbik was drafted in the third round of the same draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who waived him the following September. The Bills claimed him on waivers two days later, and he played in ten games in 2010. By the start of the 2011 season, he had emerged as the starting right guard, and by the time the season was over he'd made a few starts at center, as well.
A year ago, Nix made public comments that the team would take care of Jackson. In the long run, the team did just that, signing the running back to a three-year, $10.8 million contract in May. It's likely Nix wouldn't make these comments unless he was willing to pay and sign all three.
When calling him Buffalo's "Secret Superstar," Pro Football Focus said Levitre, "is ready to use the 2012 season to break into the NFL’s upper echelon of guards." With that lofty praise, he may eventually be looking for an upper echelon contract. The top interior lineman contract in the NFL is Tampa Bay's Carl Nicks, who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract in March. Levitre won't command that type of money, but the top ten guards in the NFL average $5.5 million per season, and the top 20 are all over $3.5 million.
The folks at PFF had similar praise for Byrd, calling him a prototype for the free safety position. Ed Reed is the top safety in the league at $7.2 million per season, and the top ten starts at $4 million annually. Buffalo's George Wilson is the 20th-highest-paid safety in the league, at $1.725 million a year. It's almost certain a young Pro Bowler like Byrd, who has rounded his game out nicely in his three seasons, will be getting pretty solid safety money.
Urbik's contract figures will be harder to pinpoint. He hasn't distinguished himself as a strong player in the league like his two counterparts in this conversation. He'll certainly make more than his current $1.26 million restricted free agent tender he signed for 2012.
According to Levitre, the team has already reached out to his agent to preliminarily discuss a contract extension. Neither of the other two players have publicly commented. It's heartening to know the Bills have begun these conversations. Hopefully they can keep their young core together and build off established young veterans.