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Which 2020 free agents might the Buffalo Bills try to extend before their contract expires?

Part of maintaining a team is paying your own guys. Are there any Buffalo Bills we should be keeping an eye on?

The Buffalo Bills are trying to create a perennial playoff contender. A major component of sustained success is managing the cap while retaining talent across the team. One common way to help this goal is to extend players already on the roster. Let’s take a peek at some players whose contracts will expire after this season and whom the Bills may want an early jump on.

In case you want to make your own list (you should) here’s a convenient link to Spotrac where you can see which Buffalo Bills will become free agents in 2020. We’ll focus on the unrestricted free agents (UFA) as the team’s only shot at leverage is negotiating before these players are allowed to talk to other clubs.

DE Shaq Lawson

The Buffalo Bills could have controlled Lawson’s contract for one more year by exercising his fifth-year option but declined. While this effectively sends the message that they don’t want him for that price, it does not send the message he’s not wanted. All appearances at this point suggest both sides are still willing to talk about keeping Lawson in Buffalo.

If Buffalo approaches Shaq Lawson with a fair contract, it’s not unthinkable he sticks around in Western New York. If the team shows signs of heading in the right direction it certainly wouldn’t hurt matters either.

Another thing to consider is that despite Lawson showing signs of improvement, even a breakout year in 2019 might not be enough to command top dollar on the open market. While someone would be bound to pay, it might not be the best contract for his long-term interests if the rest of the league is worried about a lone year of production. Sticking in Buffalo on a short second contract would place him in a known system that could help demonstrate consistency and thus set up a lucrative third contract.

CB Kevin Johnson

Buffalo is hoping a change of scenery will lead to a change of luck for Kevin Johnson. Despite showing some of the talent that got him drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, injuries have consistently derailed his career. The Bills have Johnson on a prove-it deal competing against E.J. Gaines and Levi Wallace among others.

Levi Wallace is an exclusive-rights free agent, which puts the Buffalo front office in complete control of his contract for the 2020 season. Wallace is only a free agent if the Bills don’t want him. This is unlikely unless he completely flames out in 2019. It’s hard to have enough good corners and if Kevin Johnson is the better option, Wallace is a bargain depth option who won’t prohibit the team from locking Johnson up.

E.J. Gaines is in a near identical position to Johnson. Both players are the same age and have had their careers defined by injuries. Gaines was in Buffalo in 2017 and could even have an advantage in that he knows the defense already. On the flip side, the Bills were willing to move on from Gaines before.

It won’t happen until the season starts, but Johnson is a contract to keep an eye on if he earns the top job.

LB/DT Lorenzo Alexander

Alright, so for this one it depends a lot on what Alexander wants to do. He’s hinted that 2019 could be his last hurrah, but how many times have we seen retirement plans change? Unless there’s a steep drop-off in play no one should be shocked if the Bills try to extend him.

Should we expect a drop-off? In the case of Lorenzo Alexander it shouldn’t be. A savvy player that wins with anticipation and football knowledge, his best skills are the ones least likely to decline. Alexander also offers versatility, playing along the line as well as linebacker. The Bills used Shaq Lawson as a defensive tackle on occasion last year, perhaps planning for the eventual loss of Alexander. The Bills added some new faces to the linebacker room presumably for the same reason. If Alexander still does both things at a high level, it’s not hard to see him being a priority to re-sign.

Anyone else?

There’s quite a few players who could remain in Buffalo next year and even a few who could be given extensions. No one else jumps out as a particularly likely candidate however. A solid year could push Stephen Hauschka up the list but right this second there’s no guarantee he’s fully recovered from last season’s injury. An offensive lineman could be in play for an extension. Until we know how these positions shake out, good luck predicting which players the Bills will try to keep longer term.

Who do you think the Bills will try to lock up early? Don’t be shy in the comments below.