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Buffalo Bills could give Jerry Hughes a contract extension: market value, comparisons

The Buffalo Bills found a gem in Jerry Hughes when they traded for him with the Indianapolis Colts. Now crossing the threshold of 30, he’s played in 96 games over six years in Buffalo and is still playing at a very high level. Buffalo should explore a contract extension with Hughes this off-season as he enters the final year of his contract.

What would that contract look like? There is a lot of precedent for players entering their third contract at the age of 30 getting pretty hefty deals at defensive end. Frankly, the numbers will probably be eye-popping for many Bills fans, but Hughes has been underpaid over the last couple years making $9 million per season.

Contract website has market-value projections on two players at or near 30; Detroit Lions pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham. Here’s a quick statistical comparison. It’s arbitrary and without context, but worthwhile in valuation.

Games started over last five years
Hughes: 80
Ansah: 61
Graham: 58

Sacks over last five years
Hughes: 32
Ansah: 40
Graham: 31

Tackles over last five years
Hughes: 397
Ansah: 333
Graham: 421

Snap counts over last five years
Hughes: 4047
Ansah: 2478
Graham: 3542

It’s easy to say that Hughes has played more snaps and started more games, but his production (especially production per game) is below the other two. Graham has the same number of sacks and 25 more tackles in 22 fewer games and 500 fewer snaps. Ansah blows him away in per-game sacks: He averages 2/3 of a sack per game while Hughes is at just 40%.

Graham’s projected contract from Spotrac:
$15.8 million per year
Five years, $80 million

Ansah’s projected contract from Spotrac:
$13.2 million per year
Four years, $53 million

So it’s probably fair to assume Hughes won’t approach those numbers since the only thing he’s done better than them is stay on the field. (That’s valuable, don’t get me wrong.)

Hughes has a current contract for $9 million per season over five years, and while it’s fair to expect a raise from that contract, that’s not the way the wind blew last year. Last off-season, Buffalo signed Trent Murphy to a $7.5 million per-year deal, and defensive ends on the market made less than that unless they were franchise-tagged. That would likely drive down the price for Hughes, but there’s a surge brewing.

If Hughes and his agent are smart, they will wait until after all the huge deals get done at the start of free agency. With several big-name pass rushers expected to hit the market in March, per-year averages could soar.

Conversely, the Bills should try to lock up Hughes while they still can get him for a discount before five guys sign huge deals this off-season. They have the cap space and they should sign one of their best defensive players for another few years.

The time is right for both sides. Hughes can sign a lucrative deal before he turns 31 and hits free agency at nearly 32 before the 2020 season. The Bills get great production at a fair price for a few years.

Here’s my projection:

Three years, $33 million extension
Four years, $40.5 million total (including existing 2019)
Fully guaranteed: $15.35 million

Hughes and his camp can claim he received $11 million per year in new money, while the Bills can lock in Hughes at an average of $10 million per season. Both sides would probably agree to a sack-based incentive that could give him another $1 million each year as they did on his last contract.

Yearly Breakdown

2019 (Fully Guaranteed)
Age: 31
Salary: $6.35 million
Roster Bonus: $1 million
Workout Bonus: $150,000
Old Pro-Rated Money: $2.9 million
Signing Bonus: $2 million
Cap Hit: $12.4 million

Age: 32
Signing Bonus: $2 million
Roster Bonus: $1 million
Workout Bonus: $150,000
Salary: $6.55 million
Cap Hit: $9.7 million
(Dead cap number: $6 million)

Age: 33
Signing Bonus: $2 million
Roster Bonus: $1 million
Workout Bonus: $150,000
Salary: $7 million
Cap Hit: $10.15 million
(Dead Cap Number: $4 million)

Age: 34
Signing Bonus: $2 million
Roster Bonus: $1 million
Workout Bonus: $150,000
Salary: $8 million
Cap Hit: $11.15 million
(Dead Cap Number): $2 million