The Buffalo Bills have a total of 18 unrestricted free agents heading into the 2018 NFL offseason. While most of those players are depth pieces and otherwise replaceable members of the 2017 team, there are a few free agents that general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott would like to have back in Buffalo next season.
In attempting to retain those players, however, there should be no discussion of using the franchise tag. Teams can begin using it on February 20th, but the Bills just don’t have a player worthy of the tag hitting the free agent market. Looking at Buffalo’s list of free agents, there are far more role players than star players, and there are none who would be worth the cost associated with the franchise tag.
Cornerback E.J. Gaines should be Buffalo’s top free agent priority in terms of player to re-sign, but with an estimated price tag of $15.2 million for cornerbacks in 2018, using the franchise tag to retain Gaines would be gross salary cap mismanagement. The Bills are currently projected to have just under $30 million in salary cap space, so spending half of their allotment on one player is not advisable. Spotrac projects Gaines’s market value to be $9.3 million annually, which could also be difficult to fit under Buffalo’s current budget. If they are to cut ties with a high-priced veteran, like quarterback Tyrod Taylor, then they will have more money to spend, but they’ll also have another hole to fill.
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews spent an injury-plagued season with the Bills, but his production doesn’t warrant a franchise designation. The tag for receivers is expected to be $16.2 million, and Matthews is coming off a season where he set career lows in games played (7), catches (25), yards, (282), and touchdowns (1). He may be able to be signed for a one-year deal, but it certainly won’t be a franchise deal. It’s much more likely that he finds an incentive-laden multi-year deal somewhere else in 2018.
Kyle Williams is most definitely Buffalo’s “franchise” player at the moment, but that doesn’t mean the Bills should use the franchise tag to retain him. The 34 year-old defensive tackle may have played his final NFL season, but if he hasn’t, the Bills could bring him back on a one-year contract for 2018. The contract definitely won’t touch the defensive tackle franchise tag value of $14.2 million, however. Williams’ cap hit was $8.3 million last season, so expect the Bills to offer him something in that neighborhood if he decides to come back for another season.
The Bills have only used the franchise tag five times since its inception in 1993, with John Fina, Peerless Price, Nate Clements, Jairus Byrd, and Cordy Glenn being the recipients of the designation. I don’t expect that there will be a sixth when the deadline passes this season.