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Bills must avoid Peters holdout at all costs

OT Peters will get money or be moved (

During the summer months leading up to the start of the 2008 NFL regular season, one Buffalo Bill created the most stressful pre-season environment seen in these parts in quite some time by, quite literally, doing nothing. During OT Jason Peters' prolonged holdout - which lasted until the Saturday before the team's season opener - Bills fans complained about Peters the player, while the Bills themselves scrambled to fill the massive hole his absence created in the starting lineup.

Peters' reason for holding out? Money, of course. Problem is, even after ending his holdout and "earning" another Pro Bowl bid (the second of his career) during the 2008 season, Peters still doesn't have his money. Entering by far their most critical off-season to date (particularly for front office executives and coaches looking for a better job security), Buffalo's front office and coaching staff must avoid a Peters holdout redux at all costs - they've simply got too many other areas to address.

It's important to note, however, that the team's options aren't limited to "sign him" or "prepare for a holdout".

Projecting Peters' potential demands
Bills head coach Dick Jauron has been a rather fervent supporter of Peters in his three-plus seasons on the job. It was Jauron and his staff that initially moved Peters to the left tackle spot in the first place, in the middle of the 2006 season. It's the current coaching staff that has vaulted Peters to elite left tackle status over the past three seasons. Given Jauron's support and the fact that the staff has developed and entrusted him one of the offense's most important tasks - protecting the quarterback - it's very likely that the Bills will make very serious attempts to placate Peters' contract demands.

The popular belief is that Peters' agent, Eugene Parker, will use two recently-signed contracts as launching points for the likely upcoming negotiations: Tennessee's Michael Roos (six years, $43 million, $15 million guaranteed) and Miami's Jake Long (five years, $57 million, $30 million guaranteed). Both contracts were signed in the spring months of 2008; a calendar year later, Peters and Parker can still use these two deals as reference points thanks to a depressed economy and Long's status as the top overall draft pick.

If we're playing on the safe side of things, we can assume that Peters' contract will be for at least five years, contain at least $45 million in salaries, and have at least $20 million in guaranteed money. That would put Peters' potential new deal on par with the contract WR Lee Evans received in October 2008 in terms of average salary ($9 million annually or slightly higher) and guaranteed money (Evans received $18.25 million guaranteed). Those are likely the baseline (read: bare minimum) terms that Parker may be willing to accept for his client. Again, that's playing it conservatively. Left tackles do make more money than any position besides quarterback, after all.

The "Other" Alternative
I mentioned Peters' support from Jauron and the staff. That's an important factor to consider in Peters' situation. However, that support doesn't erase the fact that Peters didn't make many friends during his holdout last season in Buffalo's front office. COO Russ Brandon in particular was pretty fussy during the holdout.

The net result of last year's actions on Peters' part might end up being a trade, should the Bills fail to come to terms with their best offensive lineman.

There have been whispers - and let me emphasize, they are, indeed, highly unofficial, preliminary and unconfirmed whispers - that the Bills have been mentioning Peters' name to league executives in other cities, gauging interest in a potential trade for the left tackle without saying he's on the block. At just 26 years of age, Peters is entering his prime and would certainly pique the interest of GMs around the NFL. The real question is whether or not trading Peters should be considered a viable option for Buffalo.

The "Sign or Trade" Ultimatum
Again, let me re-iterate: Buffalo's top priority with Peters is getting him signed to a new deal. Whether he's the most likable guy or not, Peters is an elite tackle in this game, and if he can stay healthy, he'll continue to get better. He's worth (almost) every penny of a potential new deal simply because he's a gifted talent at a critical position.

The difference between 2008 and 2009, however, is that beyond actually giving Peters a new deal, there can only be one alternative: trading him. Avoiding a holdout is a must, even if it means trading away an elite home-grown talent. A second holdout would be a devastating blow to what is already bound to be a strained relationship thanks to the first holdout. How likely is it that any self-respecting player will give his all to a franchise that has shafted him on two attempts at a new contract? Short answer: it's not likely at all.

That's why the ultimatum for the Bills is sign him or trade him. I'll re-iterate for the third time: signing him is the obvious preference. But if push comes to shove and the two sides can't come to an agreement, it is a far better idea to cut their losses and pick up draft picks for the two-time Pro Bowler as opposed to wallowing through another holdout like last season's and potentially letting him walk away without compensation in another year or so. A second holdout, quite simply, can't be an option, just as receiving no compensation if the worst comes of contract negoations.  What happens with Peters is likely to severely influence Buffalo's plan of attack heading into free agency and the draft, so the sooner negotiations begin, the better.