Yes, there are (at least? we can hope!) six games remaining for the Buffalo Bills to play in the 2014 season. And, sure, even though the hope of ending a 14-year playoff drought is fading quickly, we can still forget about the long-term and focus on that playoff push - starting with Sunday's must-win game against the New York Jets.
But then, if you're on the other side of the coin, and starting to peek ahead to the 2015 offseason and beyond, then this list is for you: the Bills' free agents this offseason. These guys (well, all but one, anyway) have a lot to play for over the next six weeks, beyond just professional obligation and the ongoing playoff push. Several of them are even starters. Who among them would you like to see the team re-sign?
DE Jerry Hughes: Obviously, the Bills are going to try to lock this guy up long-term. In 26 career games with the Bills, he's registered 17.5 sacks despite playing roughly three out of every five snaps as a situational player. (He's less situational this year, for the record.) Mario Williams will be 30 this coming January. Hughes, 26, might be the future of this position in Buffalo.
RB C.J. Spiller: He's probably watching Bryce Brown with great interest right now. Though not technically a free agent, Spiller can opt out of the sixth year of his free agent deal and hit the open market this spring. With a new agent in hand and a role that had dwindled significantly in Buffalo, that might be precisely what happens, even though the Bills have said they'd like to re-sign their 2010 first-round pick.
S Da'Norris Searcy: The 2011 fourth-round pick continues to fly under the radar, but he's put together a solid four years in Buffalo and has emerged as a quality starter (even though the team does use Duke Williams in his place situationally). He's a bit of a positional 'tweener, but at a reasonable price, the rock-solid Searcy seems like a guy worth keeping around.
WR Chris Hogan: Because of the way he came into the league, Hogan will be an exclusive-rights free agent after the season. In the midst of a breakout campaign, Hogan is emerging as a quality slot receiver, and is also a core special teams player. He's probably earned an actual NFL contract at this point, and not just a low-end ERFA deal.
RG Erik Pears: Yes, he switched positions this season, but Pears has now been a starter in Buffalo for four years running now. He is the definition of replaceable at his current salary and age, and especially considering his level of play, but the Bills are thin on the interior line, so it's probably fair to expect Pears to return to the team this offseason - though, ideally, at a reduced pay rate.
DE Jarius Wynn: He felt almost like a throwaway free agent signing this spring, a sort of last-gasp attempt at adding veteran depth at end, but Wynn has put together some very solid stretches of play. He's currently injured, but prior to that, he'd cracked the 40-percent barrier in terms of snaps played. He has a strong chance of getting another deal in Buffalo this spring, especially if the Jim Schwartz scheme sticks around.
LB Brandon Spikes: Buffalo's most widely-known linebacker has fallen to a distinct third in the pecking order at linebacker, serving as the two-down complement behind three-down rookie Preston Brown and third-year pro Nigel Bradham. Plus, the one and only Kiko Alonso is coming back next season. Spikes has done nice things for the Bills' run defense, but he probably won't be back if all the Bills can guarantee is a backup role.
Others of note
- DT Corbin Bryant: Stefan Charles gets the ink as the top interior backup to the starters, but Bryant has played more snaps, and plays more on special teams, as well.
- TE Lee Smith: Chris Gragg's emergence as a quality blocker might make the one-dimensional Smith less necessary to keep moving forward.
- FB Frank Summers: His special teams role has dwindled, and the Bills are only using a fullback on one out of five plays offensively.
- ST Larry Dean: Signed early in the season, Dean has quickly emerged as a core specialist. In fact, he may end up playing more teams reps than any other Bill this season.
- ST Marcus Easley: Still arguably the team's best special teams player, Easley's 2014 campaign, like so many before it, has thus far been derailed by injury.
- KO Jordan Gay: Everyone's favorite armchair GM scratch, Gay has done his job rather well. It's just a very limited job.
- OT Chris Hairston: He isn't playing much, but he's filling a valuable role as the Bills' swing tackle (i.e. top reserve on both sides of the line).