The Buffalo Bills practically stole Jerry Hughes from the Indianapolis Colts six years ago in a lopsided trade for the ages. The former first-round pick had underperformed in Indy as a 3-4 linebacker and was swapped for middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Since then, he’s brought a ferocious pass rush and great all-around play to Buffalo, but his career is at a crossroads.
Hughes is going to be 31 before the season starts and he’s entering the final year of a five-year, $45 million deal which will make him the second-highest cap hit on the roster in 2019. Which begs the question, should the Bills look to move on from Hughes, keep him for the final year of his contract, or sign him to an extension?
We dove into all aspects of the decision and now you get to vote.
(Read the entire article with GIFs by Jeff Kantrowski)
There’s not much suspense here so I’ll cut to the chase. The Bills would be incredibly foolish to let Hughes find a new city. It’s true that his sack totals haven’t placed him in the best territory (seven in 2018). As a result, there’s a steady murmur of Hughes being washed up. Don’t buy into that narrative. Hughes is coming off one of his best seasons, even from a statistics standpoint.
I think we all know the conclusion I came to about Jerry Hughes. Statistically, the only season he’s ever been more productive in was 2014. Defensive end impact players are a premium position and the Bills have a good one on the right side. Hughes is still a dynamic playmaker who makes his presence known. With the occasional hothead moment from Hughes being his biggest drawback, there’s no reason to let him walk.
Salary Cap Implications
(Read the entire article by Dylan Zadonowicz)
If the Bills do surprisingly release Hughes, they would save quite a bit of money for the 2019 season. The team would have to turn to free agency and the NFL Draft to try and replace his production.
Salary cap ramifications of cutting Hughes, numbers via Spotrac:
2019 cap hit: $10.4 million
Salary due: $6.35 million
Roster bonus: $1 million
Workout bonus: $150,000
Annual sack incentives: $1 million
Dead money if cut: $2.9 million
Cap savings if cut: $7.5 million if released before roster bonus
In-house Replacement Options
(Read the entire article by John Boccacino)
The most logical in-house replacement is another former first-round pick: Shaq Lawson. Lawson struggled to make an impact in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme during his rookie season, and didn’t get much better in 2017—the first season with Sean McDermott as head coach and Frazier as defensive coordinator. But in 2018, Lawson turned a corner and showed why Buffalo selected him with the 19th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Clemson.
After appearing in 14 games (six starts) and finishing with four sacks, 12 QB hits, 30 total tackles (five for a loss), five passes defended, and two forced fumbles, Pro Football Focus graded Lawson as the league’s 20th-best edge rusher. The 24-year-old Lawson carries a $3,270,586 million cap hit that is fully-guaranteed in 2019, but one season removed from an even timeshare with veteran defensive end Trent Murphy on the left side of the defensive line, Lawson should be in line for even more action this year. Lawson displayed the same athleticism that made him a standout at Clemson, leading the defensive line in balls batted down at the line of scrimmage, and when he wasn’t sacking the quarterback he was causing chaos in the opposing backfield.
When it comes to Lawson’s role with the Bills, the biggest issue isn’t whether he will have a place on Frazier’s defense in 2019—he has proven himself to be a valuable contributor—it’s what the Bills will do about the fifth-year option on Lawson’s rookie contract.
With young depth, the Bills could take their chances moving on from Hughes with just the players on their roster now if they wanted.
Free-Agent Replacement Options
(Read the entire article by Sean Murphy)
If Buffalo does decide to go the free-agent route, it’s a strong free-agent class to do so. The only problem, of course, is money. If Buffalo wants to land a big-name pass rusher, they will have to shell out big-time dollars at the expense, literally and figuratively, of other positions with more pressing needs.
The golden goose of this year’s free agent class is the young, dominant pass rusher. Coming off his second straight season of at least ten sacks, Lawrence turns 27 in April, and he should command a contract of at least $100 million. Over the last two seasons, he has 25 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, and 49 quarterback hits.
The veteran former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions is coming off an injury-plagued down year—one where he was only able to play in seven games total. However, he still managed four sacks, three tackles for loss, and seven quarterback hits in those seven games. For comparison’s sake, Hughes suited up in all of Buffalo’s games this year, and he totaled seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 18 quarterback hits.
There may be some East Coast Bias here, but Clark is far more under-the-radar than the previous names on the list. Playing for a stellar Seattle Seahawks defense, Clark has amassed 35 sacks, 35 tackles for loss, and 72 quarterback hits over his four-year career. Last year, he totaled 13 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and one interception.
The Bills could kill two birds with one stone with this signing, simultaneously strengthening their team and weakening a divisional opponent, the New England Patriots, in the process. Flowers is an excellent all-around player who had seven-and-a-half sacks, nine tackles for loss, and 20 quarterback hits last season. In his career, he has 21 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, and 59 quarterback hits.
Insert obligatory mention of connections to Carolina Panthers via head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane here. The 39-year-old future Hall of Fame player still has some value as a situational pass rusher. He was with the Chicago Bears when McDermott was in Carolina, so their paths did not cross. It’s an unlikely signing.
NFL Draft Replacement Options
(Read the entire article with mini scouting reports by Andrew Griffin)
If the Bills do move on from the long-time starter at defensive end, the team might best be served procuring some young, hungry talent in the draft. Currently, the 2019 Draft is loaded with talented pass rushers and defensive ends. Knowing the value teams place at the position, as many as five of the players listed below could end up as first-round picks.
Nick Bosa (Ohio State)
Josh Allen (Kentucky)
Clelin Ferrell (Clemson)
Nick Bosa is more athletic that his brother Joey, something he’ll prove at the combine in March. Importantly, he’s just as polished as Joey was when he came out for the draft. Allen appears to be athletic enough to handle multiple defensive roles, but he’s proven so effective as a pass rusher that coaches would be crazy to try to deploy him anywhere else. Although he isn’t as much of a natural bender as the names listed before him, Ferrell is big enough and good enough with his hands to the point where that lack of flexibility doesn’t matter too much.
Jachai Polite (Florida)
Brian Burns (Florida State)
Montez Sweat (Mississippi State)
Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion)
Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech)
Scouting reports available in the full article here.
Charles Omenihu (Texas)
Joe Jackson (Miami-Florida)
Zach Allen (Boston College)
Ben Banogu (TCU)
Scouting reports available in the full article here.
Contract Extension Projection
(Read the entire article by Matt Warren)
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 offseason, 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.
Read the full projection with comparable contracts and a yearly breakdown in the original article.
What do you think the Bills should do with Hughes this offseason?
What should the Bills do with Jerry Hughes this offseason?
This poll is closed
Keep him on his current one-year contract
Extend him for another 2-3 years
Bye Hughes, let Lawson & the in-house gang step up
Bye Hughes, sign a big-name free agent replacement
Bye Hughes, use a high draft pick to replace him