Peters isn't Bills' only contract to track (photo source)
With the 2009 NFL Draft less than two weeks away, it has long been anticipated that the Buffalo Bills would draft players with the mindset to "win now". Coming off three consecutive 7-9 seasons, Buffalo's front office - and most specifically, head coach Dick Jauron - are under more pressure than ever to put a winning product on the field. The Bills will therefore likely target rookies that can help them on the field immediately, as opposed to players that will need to learn the ropes before seeing significant playing time.
Teams that draft well, however, also plan for the future. That means bringing other factors into the drafting equation. The Bills, in seasons past, have shown a penchant to stockpile picks at areas in which veteran contracts are coming to a close. Case in point: with CB Jabari Greer entering the final year of his deal a calendar year ago, the Bills chose Leodis McKelvin in the first round - and then drafted two more corners in later rounds. With that tendency in mind, let's take a look at the contract situations of eighteen key Bills players - and how those situations could effect Buffalo's draft strategy.
2010 free agents
RB Fred Jackson (RFA): He's currently looking for a lengthy extension, and the Bills very well could oblige in the near future. As it stands now, however, Jackson is playing on a one-year ERFA tender, and he's scheduled to become a restricted free agent after the 2009 season.
WR Terrell Owens (UFA): The downfall to a one-year deal is that it's a one-year deal. Owens has something to prove this season.
WR Josh Reed (UFA): The veteran slot receiver enters the final year of his deal as well. The Bills have planned ahead, however - they've got two young receivers on the roster (James Hardy, Steve Johnson) that they'll continue to work with.
TE Derek Schouman (RFA): The third-year tight end out of Boise State will be a restricted free agent after the season. Normally, this wouldn't even register on my radar, but Schouman is a young player at a very thin position.
DE Ryan Denney (UFA): Denney will be 32 years old this summer. Factoring in the Bills' lack of impact at the position, this very well may be Denney's last season in Buffalo.
LB Keith Ellison (UFA): The fourth-year linebacker signed a one-year RFA tender just a couple of weeks ago. He'll play that out and hit unrestricted free agency after the season.
CB Terrence McGee (UFA): Buffalo's top corner the past several seasons, McGee is still in his prime. Depending on the development of some of Buffalo's younger corners this coming season, McGee has a strong chance of finishing his career as a Bill.
CB Ashton Youboty (UFA): Entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Youboty once again has more to prove than just about every defensive player on the roster.
SS Bryan Scott (UFA): A former street free agent, Scott's steady play has likely earned him a full-time starting gig next season. That doesn't mean his long-term future in Buffalo is secure, however.
FS Ko Simpson (UFA): Arrested during the off-season and will not be a full-time starter next season. Simpson may actually have to battle for a roster spot this summer.
FS George Wilson (UFA): Signed a one-year RFA tender in March. He's in the same boat as Ellison - he'll play the year as a reserve and special teams ace, then hit unrestricted free agency after 2009.
2011 free agents
QB Trent Edwards (UFA): This is one impending free agency that isn't highly relevant because of the position he plays. Edwards has just as much riding on this season as the front office and coaching staff. If he can't deliver, his career as a Bill might be short-lived.
OT Jason Peters (UFA): This guy almost needs a category of his own. It's unlikely Peters ever gets to this point, as everyone is keenly aware that he's seeking a lengthy and lucrative contract extension. I don't need to tell you that Peters' contract situation is by far the most important development to take care of for future successes.
DE Chris Kelsay (UFA): He'll be 30 after this season and 31 by the time his contract runs up. Age, minimal impact and his close ties to the coaching staff might make 2009 his last season in Buffalo - he's a prime candidate for early release. Just not this year.
LB Paul Posluszny (UFA): Though he's only played one full NFL season, we already have to think about Posluszny's contract. He's going to be a solid contributor in this league for a long time.
CB Drayton Florence (UFA): Signed a two-year contract in March. Likely won't be anything more than a sub-package defender in Buffalo, though he certainly will see plenty of playing time.
FS Donte Whitner (UFA): His rookie contract will expire after the 2010 season. He is actually under contract through 2011, but as that's a voidable year, Donte will be looking for a new deal after 2010. Considering his recent arrest, Whitner has something to prove next season as well.
SS John Wendling (UFA): By the time his rookie contract runs out, he'll have four years in the league - making him a UFA. He'll likely never be more than a reserve safety and special teams centerpiece at the NFL level.
Note about the potentially uncapped 2010 season
Most of you are aware that the current CBA is set to expire soon, making 2010 an uncapped season. Should it come to that, free agency rules change - specifically, you'll need at least four years of NFL experience to reach RFA status, and six to become a UFA. Naturally, that would change the status of several of the players mentioned above. Should we reach the point where 2010 is uncapped, here's how the players' free agent status would shake out:
Unchanged: WR Owens, WR Reed, DE Denney, CB McGee, SS Scott
ERFA: RB Jackson, TE Schouman
RFA: LB Ellison, CB Youboty, FS Simpson, FS Wilson, QB Edwards, LB Posluszny, FS Whitner, SS Wendling
Points of interest: S, DE, TE
You may or may not have noticed that of the 18 players listed above, a whopping eight of them are defensive backs. Anyone broken out into a cold sweat yet? With three corners (McGee, Youboty, Florence) and all five of the team's current safeties reaching the ends of their deals over the next two seasons, the possibility absolutely exists that the team will look to further fortify their depth at the position - particularly at safety. The Bills could use an injection of playmaking ability there, anyway, so I'm of the belief that it's a virtual lock that Buffalo drafts a safety this year.
Other than the defensive backs, Peters and perhaps Jackson, there isn't a lot that will severely alter the Bills' draft plans. Two prominent wideouts are impending free agents, but again, the team already has two solid prospects to fall back on - and it certainly won't mandate that they take a receiver this year, particularly since they're already trying to trade one (Roscoe Parrish). Names like Schouman, Denney and Kelsay will undoubtedly strengthen the Bills' resolve to address already-weak positions.