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On Mike Gillislee, the weird NFL trade market, and landing in the middle

Extensive thoughts on the Gillislee situation.

Mike Gillislee is — almost assuredly — a goner, just a few days away from joining the Patriots.

New England’s offer is for two years and $6.4 million, with $4 million in the first year. The Bills are unlikely to match because, as MRW mentioned yesterday, if Buffalo didn’t value him at the second-round tender value of $2.7 million for 2017 before, why would they pay him that now?

Chris Hogan was signed to a 3-year, $12 million offer sheet by New England in 2016. Buffalo decided not to match. While his enormous AFC title game performance — nine catches, 180 yards, and two touchdowns -- made many suddenly believe the Bills made an enormous mistake, outside of a few big plays, Hogan was marginally better with Tom Brady as his quarterback than he was with Tyrod Taylor as his quarterback the regular season before.

The Bills front office handled the Gillislee situation strangely. If they gave Gillislee a second-round tender, it would’ve cost $2.7 million in 2017, and any team extending an offer sheet his way would’ve had to surrender a second-round pick if the Bills didn’t match. Instead, they saved $900k by giving the veteran runner an original (fifth-round) tender which is worth $1.8 million.

Buffalo didn’t have gobs of money to throw around, but that extra $900k was essentially the price it’d have to pay to be sure what it’d have at backup running back in 2017. Likely, in a few days, they’ll have saved the $900k but will have Jonathan Williams as RB2 for the time being, and extra fifth-round pick from the Patriots.

The trade market in the NFL is so volatile. This is essentially a trade. Gillislee for a fifth-round pick.

Brandon Marshall was acquired for a fifth-round pick in 2015. The same compensation was required for the Jets to add Santonio Holmes in 2010. Buffalo got a fifth rounder for... Matt Cassel just two years ago. Other players who netted their team a Round 2 draft choice: Brice Butler, Kelcie McCray, Brandon Boykin, Jeremy Zuttah, and Darren Sproles.

Randy Moss, Martellus Bennett, and Santonio Holmes were moved for fourth rounders.

Now, the Patriots (essentially) trade a fifth-rounder for Gillislee, offer a deal to make him the 22nd-highest paid running back in the NFL on the same day they extend James White to a three-year extension, during the same offseason they spent $3.1 million on free-agent running back Rex Burkhead.

Sooo what is a fifth rounder really worth? The NFL trade market is all over the place.

Could the Bills have loosened their pockets to pay Gillislee $2.7 million to (likely) ensure he’d be in Buffalo in 2017? Absolutely. When it’s viewed as simply as that, it’s a clear financial blunder for the organization. Add that $2.7 million to LeSean McCoy’s $8.875 million cap hit, and the Bills would’ve been allocating $11.5 million — 6.9% of their salary cap — to their top two ball-carriers.

But the other side must be considered too, and as is the case with most disagreements, the answer to this argument lies somewhere in the middle.

It shouldn’t be driving Bills fans into a frenzy. Gillislee has a strong argument as the NFL’s best backup runner. No doubt about it, Buffalo will be losing a quality player —I’ve been one of Gillislee’s biggest advocates — and (likely) could have kept him for that extra $900k.

Yet this isn’t a seismic development. He’s not the foundation of the offense. Gillislee plays the most devalued, replaceable position in the NFL. During his ultra-efficient 2016, he appeared on 35% of Buffalo’s offensive snaps, received 26% of the handoffs, and 20.5% of the team’s total carries.

Remember, Whaley signed Gillislee as a street free-agent in December of 2015. Nice find. Instead of giving him the tender worth $2.7 million, he’ll be off the Bills books completely, and they’ll get a Round 5 pick. Even if you’ve already written off Jonathan Williams — which would be foolish — the running back class in this draft is the most impressive group in a long time. Not the worst scenario for the Bills.

Do I think the Bills should have given Gillislee that extra $900k? Yeah. Do I think losing him is a fireable offense for members of the front office or that his departure means Buffalo’s run game will crumble? No.