As the Buffalo Bills management team is focused on making decisions about the 22 players who are classified as free agents in one capacity or another, it’s never too early to take a look at the players who have only one year remaining on their contracts with the Bills.
As of now, the Bills have 11 players who will be playing on the final year of their contract in 2018.That list consists of the 2017 starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, along with the team’s top wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s starting left guard, Richie Incognito, one of the defensive leaders, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and the punter, Colton Schmidt.
Also on the list: defensive end Ryan Davis, guard Ryan Groy, tight end Khari Lee, guard John Miller, right tackle Jordan Mills, and cornerback Lafayette Pitts.
Who among those players entering the final season of their contracts deserves a contract extension? Here’s one writer’s thoughts on players of note.
Kelvin Benjamin (WR)
Acquired on Oct. 31 at the NFL trade deadline, Benjamin had an underwhelming debut season in Buffalo, though much of that can be blamed on a knee injury he suffered on his first play of Buffalo’s Week 11 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Benjamin was not the receiving threat the Bills envisioned when they shipped a third- and seventh-round draft pick to the Carolina Panthers. He finished with 16 catches for 217 yards, averaging 13.6 yards per catch with one touchdown. In 2018, he carries a cap hit of $8.459 million. Benjamin should provide Taylor (or whoever is under center) with a big target who can win his one-on-one battles in 2018, but does he warrant a contract extension beyond that? Benjamin has proven to be a special receiving talent when healthy, but that’s the ultimate question surrounding talks of an extension. Following a successful rookie season where he caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns, Benjamin missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL, and his productivity has steadily declined ever since. He caught 63 passes for 941 yards and seven TDs in 2016, and only 48 passes for 692 yards and three TDs in 2017. Pro Football Focus assigned Benjamin a grade of 79.1 for his down year in 2017, ranking 28th among wide receivers. If Benjamin reverts back to his early-career form and returns to his days as a 1,000-plus yard receiver who can make game-changing catches in the red zone, it’s worth discussing an extension. But if that happens, Benjamin is also going to want to be paid like a top-flight receiver, at least in the neighborhood of the four-year, $52 million contract Alshon Jeffery signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in December, or the four-year, $45 million contract Keenan Allen signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in the summer of 2016. If Tavon Austin can receive a four-year, $42 million contract ($30 million guaranteed) from the Los Angeles Rams, a healthy Benjamin can certainly command more on the open market. With the uncertainty at the quarterback position, and with few talented in-house options under contract outside of Zay Jones and Deonte Thompson, I would pony up an extension for Benjamin.
Ryan Davis (DE)
Davis appeared in all 16 games along the defensive line, recording three sacks (tied for third-most on the team) to go with 26 tackles (17 solo) and one forced fumble. Davis emerged as a valuable rotational member of the defensive line, and he should contribute even more in 2018. Davis is set to earn a salary of $1.125 million, with $150,000 in roster bonuses in 2018. While there was rampant speculation that Davis would be cut by the Bills this past fall in an effort to recoup a compensatory draft pick, Buffalo’s brass showed its faith in Davis by relying on him more once Marcell Dareus was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Davis responded with solid production down the stretch and earned a 70.3 grade (average) from Pro Football Focus. Davis, who will turn 29 in February, could play his way into a modest contract extension, and with the need for reliable pass rushers, it could be beneficial to retain Davis’ services if he takes another step forward.
Ryan Groy (G)
The lineman appeared in all 16 games, making one start as Buffalo’s top swingman on the offensive line. Groy served as the primary backup at center to Eric Wood, and was the team’s top interior backup offensive lineman. Groy has proven he can play well at every spot along the line, and is set to earn a salary of $1.5 million, with an additional $1 million in a roster bonus. Given the uncertainty at the center position with the unexpected news that Wood was retiring, Groy is someone who can play his way into deserving a contract extension. Pro Football Focus gave Groy a below-average grade (61.3) in 2017. A small sample size could have contributed to that, as he only appeared on 53 snaps in the 2017 regular season. In 2016, Groy earned a 79.5 grade from Pro Football Focus, as he did not allow a sack in 291 snaps at center. Possessing a group of talented linemen is essential to winning in the NFL, and Groy, who provides plenty of versatility along the o-line, should be able to be signed to a somewhat affordable, team-friendly contract extension. Especially if he takes over for Wood and the o-line doesn’t miss a beat in 2018.
Richie Incognito (LG)
The talkative guard appeared in and started all 16 games, earning his fourth Pro Bowl nod (third straight with the Bills). Incognito has been a valuable member of the offensive line, paving the way for LeSean McCoy to run to daylight. Incognito has been embraced by the Bills locker room in the aftermath of the bullying allegations from his days with the Miami Dolphins, and while it was troubling to hear the allegations that Incognito used racial slurs against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue during the 10-3 Wild Card loss to Jacksonville, Incognito’s teammates, specifically Dion Dawkins, were quick to defend Incognito and dismiss Ngakoue’s claims. On the field, Incognito has certainly justified the bargain-basement, three-year, $15.75 million dollar deal he signed with the Bills on March 8, 2016. Will he accept a similar contract extension when his current deal is up? This will be the last big contract Incognito signs, and as long as his on-field play continues to be strong, I would favor a modest two-year contract extension to keep this talented lineman.
Colton Schmidt (P)
Schmidt enjoyed the second-best season of his Bills career in 2017, averaging 44.7 yards per punt on 79 punts. He did not have a punt blocked for the fourth straight year, and dropped 28 of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Schmidt is a valuable weapon for Buffalo, as he can help the team win the field position game. He had a net average of 40.5 yards per punt, and with his high hang time kicks, returners mustered only 210 return yards on 38 punts, an average of 5.52 yards per return. Schmidt will earn a base salary of $1.15 million in 2018 and after battling bouts of inconsistency earlier in his career, Schmidt has shown himself to be a tremendous resource for Buffalo’s special teams. Barring an unforeseen dip in productivity in 2018, Schmidt has earned himself a contract extension and should continue to boom accurate punts into the sometimes swirling Western New York winds for years to come.