We at Buffalo Rumblings are running through this offseason with the mindset of a general manager. We’re analyzing and projecting how the Buffalo Bills will act on a number of impending decisions, including figuring out which players who have only one year remaining on their contracts with the Bills are deserving of a contract extension.
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 does not deserve a contract extension? Here’s one writer’s thoughts on several players of note.
Lorenzo Alexander (LB)
One of the team’s captains, Alexander was a key member of the defense who also contributed significantly on special teams. Alexander appeared in all 16 games, making 11 starts. He finished fifth on the team in tackles (73) and made 58 solo stops. His three sacks ranked tied for third on the team, and he also forced three fumbles, but his overall play declined from last season, and Pro Football Focus gave him a below-average grade of 67.4. Alexander has expressed a strong desire to return to Buffalo, and he is under contract for next season, set to earn a salary of $2.45 million, with an additional $400,000 roster bonus. A valuable leader in the locker room, I expect Alexander to play for the Bills next year. But beyond that, Alexander is old (he’ll turn 35 when the 2018 season starts), and his play has fallen off, at least as a linebacker. It is doubtful that the Bills will offer a contract extension to an aging linebacker, even if it is on a team-friendly two-year deal. Alexander has been a valuable member of the Bills, and he has contributed greatly to the Western New York community through his charitable acts, but there are better options out there at linebacker than committing to a 35-year-old who is on the downturn of his career.
John Miller (G)
Miller appeared in and started four games at right guard before being replaced by Vladimir Ducasse. When he did play, the former third-round draft pick did not excel on the field, as Pro Football Focus ranked Miller near the bottom of the right guards in the league. Miller is set to earn a salary of $705,000, with $205,030 in additional bonuses, in 2018. While the cost might not be high to extend Miller beyond the terms of his current contract, it seems more and more likely that Miller has fallen short of expectations. His play merited replacement-level production in 2016, and he certainly disappointed on the field in limited time in 2017, receiving a poor grade (39.1) from Pro Football Focus. It would be wise to move on from Miller unless he suddenly develops into a more consistent contributor on the line this season, which, based on recent history, doesn’t appear too likely.
Jordan Mills (RT)
Appeared in and started all 16 games at right tackle, earning a grade of 65.8 from Pro Football Focus, tied for 43rd among tackles. While Mills was able to start all 16 games for the playoff-bound Bills, his play earned him a below average grade from Pro Football Focus. Mills is set to earn a salary of $1.5 million in 2018, with a cap hit of $2.15 million. Even if a team-friendly contract extension can be hammered out to keep Mills with Buffalo, it would be wise to move on and it appears the Bills could find someone better in free agency or the draft to replace Mills if they felt like it. He just hasn’t shown enough to warrant a second go-round with Buffalo.
Tyrod Taylor (QB)
Taylor is the player on this list who will generate the most discussion, and given how important it is to have a capable quarterback, the discussion is worth repeating: should Taylor be given one more opportunity to quarterback the Bills, or is a 23-21 career record in 44 games over three seasons as the starting quarterback a large enough sample size for the team to move on from the dual-threat quarterback? Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year. It’s a clause written into the contract by Taylor’s agent to force the Bills’ hand; release him so he can sign with another team early enough to make a difference and some cash or pay him $6 million to wait around. Buffalo won’t be afforded the luxury of seeing if they can find their next franchise quarterback in the draft while hanging onto Taylor as a bridge without spending that money on Taylor. On the field, Taylor ranked 25th in the league in passing yardage (2,799 passing yards). Using efficiency metrics like yards per attempt tell a similar story (6.7 y/a for 23rd place). Taylor will always have his supporters who rely on his lack of turnovers (1.0 interception percentage) and his ability to scramble (427 rushing yards while averaging 5.1 yards per rush). He finished 2017 ranking 13th in QBR, 16th in passer rating, 20th in adjusted net yards/passing attempt, etc. Not figures of an elite quarterback, as Pro Football Focus graded Taylor 14th with a grade of 83. Taylor is what he is, someone who can keep plays alive with his legs and who won’t throw a back-breaking interception, but he also has become worse on his deep throws, and too often couldn’t find the open receiver if it wasn’t his first read on a play. The end result? Taylor possesses some desirable strengths to go with some noticeable weaknesses. My prediction: even if Taylor somehow is the starter in 2018, the Bills will draft his replacement in April and start grooming either Nathan Peterman or whoever they draft to take over the QB duties once the team completely moves on from Taylor. But it is clear that Beane and the rest of the Bills brass’ has seen enough from Taylor that a contract extension will not be on the table.
I also wouldn’t bother with contract extensions for tight end Khari Lee and cornerback Lafayette Pitts. Lee is primarily a run-blocker who appeared in eight games in 2017, failing to make a catch with the Bills. With Charles Clay, Nick O’Leary, and Logan Thomas in the mix, and with only one career catch in 32 games, it doesn’t seem likely Lee will play a large role in the Bills offense.
Pitts appeared in 10 games, making eight total tackles (seven solo) as a rotational depth corner in 2017. He is another depth player to whom I would not offer a contract extension.