The Buffalo Bills' 2014 season is in the books, and while most of us are talking about who the quarterback will be next offseason or whether or not any changes will be made in the front office and in the coaching ranks, some of the biggest story lines of the offseason will transpire in free agency. Here's the list of Bills free agents this spring; it's a list that includes a few big names and more than a few major contributors.
DE Jerry Hughes: Easily Buffalo's most important free agent to retain. In two seasons with the Bills, he has not only accumulated 19.5 sacks, but proven that he can take on a bigger role and be an every-down defender. He'll only be 27 next August, and is on the cusp of stardom.
RG Erik Pears: A mainstay on the Bills' offensive line since late in 2010, most assume that Pears - who will be 33 in June - has played his last game in Buffalo. The team desperately needs to improve its offensive line, and not retaining Pears would be a logical part of that process.
LB Brandon Spikes: Brought in to help improve the Bills' run defense, that plan mostly worked, and Spikes brought some added toughness to a unit that needed it. Still, he's a one-dimensional player that will always play second fiddle to three-down linebackers, and the Bills might have three of those next season.
S Da'Norris Searcy: He was not a full-time starter following the free agent departure of Jairus Byrd, but Searcy enjoyed a rock-solid season as a nominal starter, continuing to make his customary handful of big plays in his early-down role. Buffalo has great secondary depth, but it'd still be great to keep Searcy around.
RB C.J. Spiller: With an opt-out clause in his rookie deal already triggered, it's widely expected that Spiller will hit the open market. The Bills have stated publicly on numerous occasions that they'd like to keep Spiller, but the runner may pursue greener pastures (and more creative offenses) as a free agent.
DE Jarius Wynn: A wave player at both end and tackle on Buffalo's deep defensive line, Wynn had a solid season that might have been better had he not missed several games with a knee injury.
TE Lee Smith: Buffalo desperately needs to get with the times at tight end. Smith is good at what he does, but is extremely limited in what he offers beyond his blocking prowess.
ST Marcus Easley: After playing nearly 70 percent of the Bills' special teams reps in 2013, Easley's 2014 campaign was derailed by a knee injury. He is still the best special teams player on the roster, and should be brought back.
ST Larry Dean: He was a nondescript depth signing early in the season, then nearly went out and led the Bills in special teams reps taken this season. If he's coming back, it's in that role.
LB Stevenson Sylvester: A training camp signing that spent the year on IR, Sylvester may not get a chance at returning with the Bills fairly settled atop the linebacker depth chart.
OT Chris Hairston: On the one hand, the Bills' swing tackle looked solid in spot duty at both tackle spots in 2011 and 2012. On the other hand, he didn't crack the Bills' struggling lineup in 2014...
KR Marcus Thigpen: The return specialist had an excellent stretch with the Bills, averaging 12.9 yards per punt return (plus a touchdown) and 27.5 on kicks in his five games with the team.
WR Deonte Thompson: A vertical threat signed to the 53-man roster late in the 2014 season, Thompson may be brought back to compete with Marquise Goodwin for a very limited role in the offense.
WR Chris Hogan: Became a special teams mainstay in 2013, then emerged as the No. 3 receiver in 2014. If there are no coaching changes, he'll enter 2015 camp as the slot receiver again.
DT Corbin Bryant: Not only is he a wave depth player inside, the Bills use Bryant as a lead blocker on kickoff returns, as well.
KS Jordan Gay: The least popular player on the roster ranked eighth in the NFL with 49 touchbacks on kickoffs in 2014.