The Buffalo Bills currently have 89 players on their roster. Of those 89 players, 28 are playing on contracts that are set to expire at season’s end. Eight of those players are in the final year of what was a multi-year contract, and most of them will probably play elsewhere in 2019.
Which of those eight players should the Bills consider signing to an extension before they’re eligible to hit the free agent market? The pickings are definitely slim in that regard.
LS Reid Ferguson
This has nothing to do with Ferguson’s performance and everything to do with NFL rules regarding his contract situation. Ferguson is set to become an exclusive-rights free agent (ERFA) after the season. As the title implies, this means that Buffalo will have the exclusive right to retain Ferguson’s services if they so choose. Given his contract situation, it simply makes no sense to extend him, as the Bills already hold his rights for next season.
You could...but why?
P Colton Schmidt
TE Khari Lee
LB Lorenzo Alexander
All three players appear in this group for different reasons. In Schmidt’s case, it makes little sense for the Bills to explore an extension for a punter, especially given that punter’s year-to-year inconsistency throughout his career. Unlike the San Francisco Giants, Schmidt’s odd-numbered years have been better than his even-numbered ones in terms of yardage, with his per-punt average nearly a full three yards per kick higher in 2015/2017 than in 2014/2016 (45.5 to 42.7). He managed 31 punts inside the 20 in 2014, but he has not matched that number since, coming closest with a 28-kick effort in that category last season. Extending a punter early makes little sense unless he’s among the league’s elite, and Schmidt is not at that level.
Lee is a little-used blocking tight end who is inactive on game days more often than not. He has been targeted a grand total of four times in his NFL career, and the Bills did not target him once in his 47 snaps last season. It’s more likely that Lee doesn’t make the final roster than it is that Buffalo inks him to any sort of contract extension.
As for the venerable Alexander, it’s difficult to imagine the team giving a 35-year old linebacker a mid-season contract extension. If Alexander decides that he wants to return in 2019 for a thirteenth NFL season, the Bills will probably do with him what they did with Kyle Williams, providing the veteran a chance to go home and contemplate things with his family before ultimately deciding on terms.
Wait and see
OG John Miller
C/OG Ryan Groy
T Jordan Mills
Each of these three players represents a unique case for and against an extension, as well. Miller was terrible as a rookie and solid as a second-year player. Last season, he lost his job to veteran Vladimir Ducasse after just four games, spending the majority of 2017 as a healthy scratch on the 53-man roster. With a return to a more power-heavy scheme, along with a refocused offseason effort, Miller looks like a favorite to return to a starting position. Giving him an extension before the end of the 2018 season may be a bit premature, but if he comes out and plays great to begin the season, it might be a wise overall decision.
Groy is another player firmly in “wait and see” mode, and in more ways than one. after filling in admirably for Eric Wood during the 2016 season, Groy spent the entirety of last season relegated to a backup role. He is in the midst of a competition with free-agent signee Russell Bodine for the center job, and he is also battling with Ducasse and Miller for the job at guard formerly held by Richie Incognito. Extending him early does not seem likely, as the team does not yet know what Groy’s role will be.
While Mills may seem to fall best into the “why bother” camp, he has been a starter at right tackle for the Bills for 37 of the team’s last 38 regular-season games (only missing the Week 17 victory over the New York Jets in 2015). that kind of durability is hard to find, and although it doesn’t fully counteract the fact that Mills’s play has ranged from bad to mediocre, it is at least a positive that the team can rely on him when the games start. Giving him a contract extension, however, would imply that the team has no better options at the position. Mills has been the weakest link on the offensive line ever since he became a starter, so the team should definitely seek an upgrade rather than extending him for next year.
WR Kelvin Benjamin
If any of these players is likely to be extended before he is allowed to test free agency, Benjamin is the one with the most earning potential on the open market. The gigantic wideout had a down year last season, but he battled injuries and a midseason trade that saw him learning a new playbook when the Bills acquired him from the Carolina Panthers. General manager Brandon Beane has yet to show that he is willing to invest heavily in the receiver position, instead relying on cheap veteran free agents, like Andre Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, or draft picks such as Zay Jones, Austin Proehl, and Ray-Ray McCloud to serve as pass-catching options.
With the Bills set to have a ton of cap space next season, and rookie quarterback Josh Allen waiting in the wings as a potential starter, the team may decide to spend big on a target for their young signal-caller. Spotrac calculates Benjamin’s value at three years and $41 million for next year. If the Bills deem Benjamin to be worthy of $13 million per season, they may want to try to sign him earlier at a “discounted” rate of $10-$12 million per year.
The receiver depth chart behind Benjamin is a huge leverage point for the receiver, as there is little in terms of proven talent behind him. If the Bills want to retain Benjamin’s services beyond the 2018 season, they may be wise to begin negotiations with his camp sooner rather than later.