With NFL free agency just about a month away, the Buffalo Bills have some serious thinking to do on how they would like their roster to look. Headlining the group of free agents is wide receiver Stevie Johnson, the only Bills player in franchise history to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Not only do the Bills have decisions to make on Johnson, but there are 13 upcoming free agents who general manager Buddy Nix must focus on retaining.
This article takes a look at the key players the brass at One Bills Drive must keep in order to get the franchise moving in the right direction.
LT Demetrius Bell
Despite suffering an injury that caused left tackle Demetrius Bell to appear in just six games this past season, he continues to improve in his pass-blocking with each snap. In those six games, he allowed just one sack. In the 2010 season, Bell played all 16 games at left tackle.
The Bills are loaded in the interior line, but are very thin at the bookends. Despite the fourth-round selection of Chris Hairston out of Clemson, who saw playing time in 2011, Bell provides experience and depth on the roster.
If the Bills can retain Bell at the right price, they must, regardless of if they opt to select a tackle early in the 2012 NFL Draft.
TE Scott Chandler
Scott Chandler emerged as a red-zone threat and was one of the bright spots for the Bills offense this past season. The franchise hasn't had a formidable threat at the tight end position in years, and Chandler brings both receiving and blocking skills to the offense. At 26 years old, the former Iowa product hauled in 36 passes for 389 yards and six touchdowns last year. Now those numbers aren't exactly eye-popping, but he probably won't generate a lot of interest in the free agency market and should be brought back if the price is reasonable.
Chandler is no Antonio Gates or Jermichael Finley, but he keeps opposing offenses honest—especially in red-zone situations—and should be near the top of the list of free agents to retain.
WR Stevie Johnson
Out of all of the pending free agents on the Buffalo Bills' roster, Stevie Johnson is the most important to re-sign. Johnson, a former seventh-round pick out of Kentucky, became the first Buffalo Bills wide receiver to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
It's unclear exactly how much it will take to retain him, but it appears to be in the seven-to-eight million per year area.
At just 25 years old, Stevie has a long career ahead of himself—especially if he ditches the excessive touchdown celebrations that have been more publicized than his play on the field. Johnson wants to be back with the Bills, and the Bills want him back, so it will all come down to salary.
S/LB Bryan Scott
Bryan Scott is one of the Bills' most versatile players, as he lines up at safety and both inside and outside linebacker. He had one of his best seasons last year, recording 66 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and six pass deflections.
With the Bills transitioning back to the 4-3 defense, Scott could easily switch from safety to an undersized outside linebacker in passing situations. His versatility is what earns him playing time, and he should receive a short-term contract until the Bills fill up the holes on the defensive side of the ball.