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Marcell Dareus, not Jerry Hughes, is Buffalo Bills' biggest priority on defense

While Jerry Hughes may be a more immediate concern, it's the Marcell Dareus contract that will have a bigger impact on the Buffalo Bills - which is why his extension should take priority.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

No one’s pretending the quarterback position isn’t the top concern with the Buffalo Bills, but now that the team can confidently say they sport one of the best defenses in the NFL, they need to keep it that way and maintain it for long term success. That begins with locking up their top talent for the future. To do so requires looking beyond just this upcoming season, and seeing how the pieces can fit together for years to come.

Pass rusher Jerry Hughes will be the first name to come up in contract talks until his expiring deal is resolved, one way or another. But if the Bills think Hughes is worth the money he's asking for, they have to factor in the contract values of other players who will be in Hughes' seat sooner than they realize.

With more big names coming off the books a year from now, the team should seek extensions right now with the likes of Marcell Dareus, Stephon Gilmore, and Cordy Glenn, all of whom will require new deals in 2016. Granted, the team could exercise a one-year option on Gilmore, but he's still a concern, and in the same age group as Dareus.

If the team decides Hughes is more valuable than one or all of these, then by all means, sign him first. But let's be honest: if it's down to Hughes or Dareus, it's no choice at all. Players like Hughes depend much more on guys like Dareus than the other way around, and that's especially true on this team.

Chris Brown pretty much ruled out an extension for Dareus, per the team's website, but he cites Buffalo’s history in such matters. The Bills don't normally extend their players in advance, but isn't this a new day at One Bills Drive? The Pegulas own the team now, and Rex Ryan is here getting everyone pumped. Doesn't that mean it's time for a new approach, at least in a few meaningful ways?

As one of the anchors along arguably the best defensive line in football, Dareus led defensive tackles in the NFL with 10 sacks in 2014. He trails only Geno Atkins by a half-sack for most by a defensive tackle since his arrival in the league, which means Dareus will likely command Atkins money or better. Atkins signed a five-year, $53 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, and his cap hit will fluctuate between $9 million and $10.6 million for the remaining four years on that deal. If the Bills can sign Dareus to a deal much like Atkins', that would be a solid, cap-friendly contract.

If they get caught giving Dareus an extension like the one Tampa Bay gave to Gerald McCoy - six years, $95 million, with $51 million guaranteed - that might not be as well-received, but it still might be a worthwhile deal, given Dareus' age and his place on the team. Whatever the Bills end up paying Dareus in an extension, it will be easier for them to plan the rest of their roster when they know that figure. They can then decide if they can afford to pay Hughes, as well.

With Kyle Williams and Mario Williams 31 and 30 years old, respectively, Dareus is the future of the Bills' defensive line, which is the team's biggest strength right now. Instead of working from the outside with lesser players, uncertain of what this crucial piece will cost, GM Doug Whaley should approach the puzzle from a different direction.

Talk to Dareus now, sign him to a big extension, then see how much the team has left for Hughes. It leaves out the guesswork, and it keeps the team's priorities in line.

We've been hearing a lot about a bright future in Buffalo, but if this team is serious about its future, they need to find a way to lock up their best players and stop letting them leave via free agency. Just like Hughes depends on Dareus and Kyle Williams to make it easier for him to rush the passer, so will the team need to rely on Dareus' deal to give them a barometer of how much more they can afford to spend on the front four and elsewhere.