Bills CB McGee enters final year of deal in '09 (photo source)
Over the past three seasons, the Buffalo Bills have worked diligently to re-sign some of their young talent long-term in an effort to preserve the team's roster viability for future seasons. In just those three seasons alone - all three have been orchestrated by the current regime at one Bills drive, figure-headed by head coach Dick Jauron - the Bills have extended young players prior to their deals running out left and right. The most recent example came with yesterday's four-year extension given to RB Fred Jackson; WR Lee Evans, OT Brad Butler, DE Aaron Schobel, DT Marcus Stroud and DT Kyle Williams have all been handed new deals as well. (And if you're counting further, add names like OT Jason Peters, WR Roscoe Parrish and CB Terrence McGee to the list - all got similar extensions from previous regimes.)
Now that the team's most pressing extensions entering the off-season (Jackson, Peters) have been handled in one form or another, the question to ask now is this: who's next?
Like every other team in the league, the Bills have many players that will become free agents over the next year or two, and there are several more players that are locked up a bit longer, but could be in for a pay raise. Of the most pressing contract situations, however - and we should note now that none of these are particularly urgent at the moment - it's the veteran cornerback McGee that is likely the next target for the Bills.
CB Terrence McGee (age 28)
Throughout his six-year career, McGee has established himself as a solid professional. His days as a league-renowned kick returner appear to be over; however, as the team's top cornerback for the past two seasons, McGee has acquitted himself rather well. He is one of the team's best tacklers, accruing roughly 70 per year as a full-time defensive contributor, and he's nabbed 16 career interceptions as well. Don't forget that on a defense starved for playmakers, McGee's two defensive touchdowns are something for him to hang his hat on.
McGee will turn 29 this coming October - he's hardly a spring chicken, and though he's missed at least one game in each of the past four seasons, he's relatively durable as well. He's about as solid as they come, and he likely wouldn't cost an arm and a leg to bring back for one final lengthy deal in Buffalo. McGee is in the final year of a 4-year, $18 million extension he signed during the 2005 season. On Buffalo's list of 2010 unrestricted free agents, outside of a certain Mr. Owens, McGee's name carries the most weight.
The "Wait a year and see" crowd
The following four players are facing different circumstances (read: not as urgent) as McGee, but all could also be in line for extensions sooner rather than later. It's not at all necessary for the Bills to address any of these players' deals in the foreseeable future, but if they impress throughout the 2009 season, any of these guys could see new offers on the table before the '09 season closes:
WR Terrell Owens (age 35): Signed to a one-year deal in March, a situation doesn't get much more "wait and see" than Owens' stay in Buffalo. The T.O. Experiment remains just that - an experiment. But if his arrival in Buffalo comes with tolerable side effects, a glut of points and more wins, you can bet that the Bills will talk about extending the experiment beyond one season.
QB Trent Edwards (age 25): No single player on the roster has more pressure to deal with than Buffalo's third-year signal caller - and that's exactly as it should be. Edwards is 12-11 in two seasons as a starter, and as he's had his ups and downs, there's plenty to be excited about with Edwards - as well as plenty to be skeptical about. One thing is certain: this coaching staff and this fan base desperately wants Edwards to be the franchise quarterback the team has lacked for over a decade. If he shows enough signs early next season that he's that guy, don't be shocked to see an extension - even if "the question" (you all know what I refer to) hasn't really been answered.
SS Donte Whitner (age 23): Though he hasn't quite lived up to the billing that's associated with being the No. 8 overall pick in any draft, Whitner has developed into a solid player with upside and leadership qualities. There's no question that he needs to get better - and, more importantly, make more plays. But he's a defensive captain for a reason - he's respected by his coaches and his teammates. He's not a free agent until after the 2010 season, but with a big year in '09, he'll get a new deal long before his rookie deal runs out.
MLB Paul Posluszny (age 25): "Poz" is two years into a four-year rookie deal as the Bills' second-round pick in the 2007 Draft. With only one season of playing time under his belt, Posluszny immediately inserted himself as the team's leading tackler. No one's really sure how much upside there is with Posluszny, but he's got a great deal of football intelligence and a bit of untapped playmaking ability. Again, he's a young player that needs to improve. If he does, he won't get a chance to test the unrestricted free agent market.
Other veterans to keep an eye on
These two guys are in the final year of their respective deals. Their situations, unlike the four names above, are a bit more urgent - from their end, that is; the team is in a good position to let these players walk.
WR Josh Reed (age 29): He's in the final year of a 4-year, $10 million deal he signed in the spring of 2006 as an unrestricted free agent. He has a clearly defined rapport with Edwards and is one of Trent's most valued receiving targets, and he's still a quality player. But with young depth at the position in the form of second-year players Steve Johnson and James Hardy, it's not completely essential for the Bills to re-sign Reed. That's not to say they won't, however - his chances of finishing his career as a Bill seem solid for the moment.
CB Ashton Youboty (age 24): The third-year corner's biggest problem is clearly not ability; winner of the nickel corner job last season, Youboty enjoyed an excellent start to his season before succumbing to yet another injury. This young man simply can't stay healthy - but every time he's been on the field, he's flashed very solid skills. He's got a year to prove his worth and, more importantly, his durability. Ironically, his fate may be closely tied to McGee's fate, as well.
Young guns: Each of these players is only entering his second season in the league, but with strong sophomore campaigns, WR Steve Johnson, TE Derek Fine and OT Demetrius Bell are exactly the type of young, potential-riddled player that the Bills have extended in the past.
The rest of Buffalo's free agents in 2010 and 2011(*): RB Dominic Rhodes*, OG Seth McKinney, DE Ryan Denney, DT John McCargo*, LB Keith Ellison, SS Bryan Scott*, FS Ko Simpson, FS George Wilson, CB Drayton Florence*, SS John Wendling*