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Jerry Hughes, Stephen Hauschka only Buffalo Bills worthy of early contract extensions

It’s really Hughes and then everyone else, but Hauschka has been solid in his Buffalo tenure

The Buffalo Bills have a ton of cap space heading into the 2019 NFL season. According to Spotrac, the team has $80,880,760 to work with in order to improve the roster. With a limited number of in-house free agents to re-sign, the team will look to the draft and free agency to fill holes and improve a roster that won six games in 2018.

A huge part of success in the NFL is retaining the talent on your own roster. The Bills could look to extend worthy players whose contracts are not yet expired. In many years, there are plenty of options for early contract extensions; however, the current Buffalo roster does not have many. The team has a plethora of players who either are under team control via restricted or exclusive-rights free agency (Isaiah McKenzie, Robert Foster, Levi Wallace), still on their rookie contract (Matt Milano, Dion Dawkins, Josh Allen), or more likely to be released and/or allowed to walk at the end of their current deal (Vladimir Ducasse, LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay). In short, there are very few players worthy of a contract extension who need a contract extension on the Bills’ current roster.

Which players deserve a contract extension? As a general rule, I don’t believe in extending a player’s contract when it has more than one year remaining. I also don’t see a reason to give players under team control (read: restricted free agents and exclusive-rights free agents) a deal unnecessarily.

With that criteria in mind, I see two players whose performance plus their contract situation equals a possible extension for beyond the 2019 season.

DE Jerry Hughes

The veteran defensive end should be a priority for the Bills, as his play has been excellent throughout his time in Buffalo. While his lack of sacks would be seen as a dark mark against him in some circles, his overall production has been fantastic. Hughes had 20 sacks in 2013 and 2014, his first two seasons in Buffalo. He signed a five-year, $45 million contract extension, and has totaled 22 sacks in the four years since. Part of that is due to a change in the roster—in 2013 and 2014, teams had Mario Williams to game plan for, but since then, it’s been Hughes as Buffalo’s top-dog on the edge—and part of that has been a result of multiple scheme changes.

In Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme, Hughes is asked to set the edge and play contain far more often than he was while playing under defensive coordinators Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz, who asked their edge guys to attack early and often. While head coach Rex Ryan favored an attacking defense, as well, Hughes was used more often as a stand-up rusher, and he also was used in coverage at times.

Hughes has done everything well over the last few years as a Buffalo Bill. He has improved dramatically as a run defender, he has decreased the number of penalties assessed against him (especially of the personal foul variety), and he has been a valuable emotional leader on a young defense. This is the kind of player you reward with a contract extension rather than allowing him to test the market, especially at a time when the team has plenty of salary cap space.

Hughes is by no means broke, as his $10.4 million salary cap hit in 2019 is the second-highest number on the team. Although it isn’t necessary, the Bills could also seek some relief on the upcoming season’s salary cap by extending Hughes, pushing some of his 2019 bonus money into future years in order to add cap space this season.

If Hughes is interested in staying in Buffalo, the Bills should open a conversation with his representation about keeping him here. Hughes is still highly productive, and he is relatively young for his position, as he does not turn 31 until August. A contract of three to four years that averages right around what he makes now would be more than fair for a productive pass rusher, and it would not cripple the Bills in future years given their cap flexibility.

K Stephen Hauschka

Yes, Hausch-money had a poor end to the season, missing five of his final 11 field goals. In fact, his misses against the Miami Dolphins when the Bills traveled to South Beach were the difference in the game—Buffalo lost 21-17, and Hauschka missed a field goal and an extra point in the contest.

Much of his problem, of course, came as a result of a dirty block thrown by Henry Anderson of the New York Jets during Buffalo’s loss against New York in Week 14. Overall, Hauschka made 22-of-28 field goals, hitting on a long of 54 yards. He also made 25-of-26 extra points on the season.

Hauschka turns 34 in June, but kickers can last a whole lot longer than anyone else due to the lack of contact at the position (well, except for when 300-pound defensive linemen decide to level them). A fair extension for Hauschka would be worth exploring, as his leg strength and accuracy when healthy are both huge bonuses for a team that should be on its way up in 2019 and beyond. Signing him for two to three years would make sense for both sides.

Honorable Mention: Shaq Lawson

His is an interesting case—Lawson is technically under team control, but via the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would pay him a sum that is probably more than he’s worth. Should general manager Brandon Beane try to extend him anyway, bypassing the option? Would Lawson prefer to test the market if Buffalo won’t exercise the option? This situation is worth monitoring throughout the off-season.