Now that the Buffalo Bills have officially been eliminated from the AFC playoff pool, fans are already starting to turn their attention to bettering the team this offseason - even though the Bills still have a regular season finale to play this weekend in New England. All of that perfectly sets the table for the theme of this article, which is: players that might be making their final appearance in Bills colors this Sunday.
QB Kyle Orton
True, Orton signed a two-year contract with the team this past August, but he can void the second year of the deal five days after the Super Bowl is played on February 1 - and he may just do that if it becomes apparent that he won't have an opportunity to start for the Bills in 2015. If he does elect to stay, and the Bills later decide to move on without him, they can still cut him at a cap saving of $5.5 million. You don't need me to tell you that the team needs to do better than Orton at this position going into 2015.
RB C.J. Spiller
Like Orton, Spiller has an option built into his contract wherein he can void the final year of his rookie contract (scheduled to pay him about $2.2 million) and become an unrestricted free agent. He'll be 28 in August, and his production has slipped dramatically in two seasons under Doug Marrone after an outstanding Pro Bowl campaign in 2012. If he spends any more time in Buffalo's moribund offense, he might have a hard time landing a lucrative deal as a free agent if he doesn't choose that route this spring. If I'm Spiller, I'm apologizing to Fred Jackson for bailing, and hightailing it on out of here.
OG Erik Pears
OG Kraig Urbik
Buffalo has serious work to do along the offensive line, and their current starting guards are the clear beginning point for any rebuilding efforts likely to take place this spring. Pears, who turns 33 next summer, is a pending unrestricted free agent, and it's far more likely than not that the Bills will let him walk. He has been terrible all season at right guard. Urbik wasn't even a starter to begin the season, but the team is still paying him like one. If he's not in the team's long-term plans as a starter, they could cut him and save $2.275 million against their 2015 salary cap. His performance in 2014 as a part-time starter does not warrant keeping him around in that capacity, and he'd be overpaid as a reserve.
DE Jerry Hughes
DE Manny Lawson
DE Jarius Wynn
Hughes won't turn 27 until training camp next summer, and as an in-his-prime, productive player at a premium position, he's going to demand top dollar if he hits the open market. (The Bills could also use the franchise tag on him; last year's one-year figure of $13.116 million would put him in Mario Williams territory for the 2015 season, so a long-term deal would obviously be preferable.) Signing Hughes is of the utmost importance, so the team could cut bait with the veteran Lawson (at $1.6 million in cap savings), let the pending unrestricted free agent Wynn walk, lock up Hughes, and then re-tool their depth behind their Pro Bowl caliber starters.
LB Brandon Spikes
LB Keith Rivers
Kiko Alonso will be back in the lineup for the Bills next season, and he'll be joined by Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham - who have both had excellent 2014 campaigns - in the starting lineup. Buffalo has the makings of a very formidable and young linebacker group for 2015, and the two veterans listed above aren't a part of that picture. Spikes is going to be an unrestricted free agent, and he's not going to return to Buffalo if he's not a nominal starter (Brown will likely take his spot inside). Rivers has already completely fallen out of the team's plans both defensively and on special teams, and releasing him after the season will save $1.7 million against the cap.
S Da'Norris Searcy
In the first year post-Jairus Byrd, despite concerns about his athletic limitations, Searcy maintained a big role in Buffalo's defense and had a solid season. He is not a full-time starter, as the team likes to rotate in Duke Williams and even Corey Graham at safety on obvious passing downs, but Searcy's a good football player, and the Bills still need as many of those as they can get. But will Searcy accept a part-time role when it's possible he could land a full-time gig elsewhere? Searcy is one of the more underrated names on Buffalo's free agent to-do list this offseason.
Two other names worth pointing out for this list: special teams ace Marcus Easley and blocking tight end Lee Smith are both scheduled for unrestricted free agency this spring, as well.