Buffalo Bills Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIMarch 1, 2012

Buffalo Bills Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

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    The Buffalo Bills finished the 2011 season with a 6-10 record, which was a disappointment when you consider that they started out the year at 5-2. No team in the NFL has been absent from the playoffs longer than the Bills, and that playoff appearance was ruined by the infamous Music City Miracle.

    The 2012 season will be the third year for the duo of general manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey, so this is a year that they should be held accountable for positive results in light of their franchise rebuilding efforts.

    We have created this presentation to serve as a one-stop location for all key information pertaining to the Bills 2012 offseason. For the next two months leading up to the NFL draft on April 26-28, we will be updating all Bills transactions (coming and going) on a daily basis.

    In addition, we will address the Bills' salary cap situation and discuss holes in the Bills team. We will list all the free agents and attempt to speculate as to what it would cost to sign them and how much cap space will the Bills have left to pursue other free agents that might be out there in the market. Then we will wrap this up by looking at the 2012 draft and projecting what rookies the Bills need to target.

    Thanks for checking this out, and feel free to check back as often as you wish to see what new moves have been made. Feel free to leave any comments in regards to moves you like the team made or things you would like the Bills to consider.

Tracking Every Offseason Signing/Re-Signing/Move

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    This slide will be constantly updated over the next two months to reflect every Bills transaction leading up to the NFL draft on April 26-28.

    April 23, 2012: Bills re-signed restricted free agents G/C Kraig Urbik and RG Chad Rinehart to one-year deals. Both were signed to a $1.26 million contract.

    April 15, 2012: Ex-Bills wide receiver Lee Evans signed a one-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, as per this tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    April 4, 2012: Via this tweet from Aaron Wilson of Scout.com, the Philadelphia Eagles appear to now be the leading contender to sign Buffalo free agent tackle Demetrius Bell.

    The Eagles wound up signing Bell to a five-year deal for $35 million. It is believed to be a heavily front-loaded contract. It is ironic that Bell could go to the Eagles to replace another ex-Bills left tackle, Jason Peters, who is expected to miss most of the 2012 season.

    April 3, 2012: According to this article from Pro Football Talk.com, the San Diego Chargers have signed ex-Buffalo Bills free agent wide receiver Roscoe Parrish to a one-year deal.

    March 24, 2012: It was announced on Buffalo Bills.com that the Bills have re-signed RB Tashard Choice to a contract. No financial terms were released.

    March 21, 2012: Jason La Canfora of NFL.com is reporting that the Bills have signed DE Mark Anderson to a 4 year contract. Anderson's deal is a four-year contract that pays him $27.5 million, of which $8 million is guaranteed.

    According to Aaron Wilson of Scout.com, the Bills have signed free agent safety Bryan Scott to a contract extension. No terms have been released yet.

    Finally, Jason LaCanfora of NFL.com tweets that teams are reaching out to ex-Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel, trying to coax him to come out of retirement. Schobel was flattered, but has no intentions of coming out of retirement.

    March 20, 2012: As per Chris Brown of Buffalo Bills.com, the Bills are bringing in New England defensive end Mark Anderson for a visit. Anderson will be at One Bills Drive on Wednesday. Anderson could wind up being the opposite book end to Mario Williams. Anderson was tied for the team last year with Andre Carter, as they both had 10 sacks.

    March 19, 2012: Bills re-signed WR Derek Hagan. No financial terms have been released yet.

    March 15, 2012: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that Mario Williams will be given a six-year deal from the Bills. He reports that the contract is worth up to $100 million dollars with $50 million guaranteed.

    Report: Chris Mortenson of ESPN is reporting that the Bills will have a press conference to announce the signing of star free agent, defensive end Mario Williams. More updates as they come.

    March 13, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that DE Mario Williams and WR Robert Meachem will visit the Bills tonight.

    March 12, 2012: According to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, the Bills have given qualifying tender offers to RFA offensive linemen Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik.

    March 9, 2012: Bills signed LB Kirk Morrison to a two-year, $3 million contract. Another $1 million is available through incentives.

    March 8, 2012: Bills signed TE Scott Chandler to a two-year deal. No financial terms released as of yet.

    March 7, 2012: Mark Ludwiczak CBSSports.com is reporting that the Bills have signed wide receiver Ruvell Martin to a one-year contract for $700,000.

    March 5, 2012: Bills signed WR Steve Johnson to a five-year contract for $36.25 million. The deal includes $19.5 million guaranteed, and will pay Johnson over $24 million from 2012-2014.

    1/5/12: Arizona Cardinals signed ex-Bills LB Antonio Coleman.

    1/6/12: Buffalo Bills signed seven future free agent signings. They were: LB Scott McKillop, DT Jay Ross, G Jake Vermiglio, LB Robert Eddins, CB Prince Miller, WR David Clowney and G Keith Williams.

    1/10/12: Denver Broncos signed ex-Bills WR Tim Toone to their practice squad.

    1/20/12: Pittsburgh Steelers signed ex-Bills WR David Gilreath.

    1/30/12: Bills signed LS Garrison Sanborn to a three-year contract extension.

    2/7/12: Bills signed K Rian Lindell to a four-year contract extension.

    2/8/12: Ex-Bills LB Brandon Hicks was signed by Pittsburgh Steelers.

    2/9/12: Bills released S Jon Corto.

Bills' Salary Cap Status

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    The NFL has finally set the final 2012 salary cap space figure, and it is set at $120,600.000.

    We wanted to call your attention to a web site called Spotrac.com, which appears to be quite up to speed on every NFL team's salary cap situation. They show that the Bills have only spent $92,379,909 coming into the 2012 offseason, and they show that the Bills have $27,995,091 left to spend on free agents and their draft picks. Here is a link to check them out. 

    Editor's Note  3/12/12- This article from Profootballtalk.com lists the amount of salary cap space that was carried over for every NFL team from the 2011 season, into 2012. The Bills carried over $19.3 million, which can be added to the numbers posted on Spotrac.

    Figure that the Bills will need to spend anywhere from $5-6 million to pay for their big draft class (right now sitting at nine picks, and the compensatory picks haven't been awarded yet), so that brings the available cap space down to the $22 million range. 

    So, based on that information, signing Steve Johnson to a contract in the $8-9 million range will limit what else the Bills can do in free agency, in addition to room they need to sign their own free agents. When the Bills do sign a free agent, the reality is that they might have to part ways with one or two guys from the current team to stay within salary cap guidelines. 

    UPDATE: 3/5/12: Bills signed WR Steve Johnson to a five-year contract for $36.25 million. The deal includes $19.5 million guaranteed, and will pay Johnson over $24 million from 2012-2014.

    Here are the top 10 most expensive 2012 contracts that are creating salary cap problems for the Bills, and this is the link on Spotrac to find the current 2012 salary cap hits for specific Bills players, listed in the millions: 

    Ryan Fitzpatrick ($6 million), Kyle Williams ($5,950), Shawne Merriman ($5,750), Chris Kelsay ($5,750) Drayton Florence ($4,916), Marcell Dareus ($4,638), Spencer Johnson ($4 million) Nick Barnett ($4 million), Dwan Edwards ($3,975) and Terrence McGee ($3,780). 

    As you can see from the above group, the two numbers that seem out of place are Spencer Johnson and Dwan Edwards. They just don't make enough plays to warrant that kind of money, so if they don't restructure their contract, they could be candidates to be released. 

    What Buddy Nix and his personnel staff need to figure out is how much more room they have to create to acquire some free-agent help at either defensive end or linebacker to help out the pass-rush, or an experienced veteran wide receiver that can stretch the field. 

    Editor's Note:  According to this article in Pro Football Talk, the NFL and the Players Association is scrambling to raise the salary cap ceiling for 2012. Stay on top of this story to see how it impacts the Bills and their 2012 offseason.

Positions That Are Top Priority to Address from 2011

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    For the 2012 season, the Buffalo Bills' primary areas of need are to improve the pass-rush, add a starting outside linebacker, find a wide receiver that can stretch the field vertically and upgrade the play at left tackle. A secondary priority is to improve the depth of the team across the board.

    In 2012, the Bills defense under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is switching to the 4-3 front. Hopefully, this will allow the Bills to generate a more consistent pass-rush, resulting in getting off of the field and creating more three-and-out drives for the opposition's offense. No other defense has been out on the field making more tackles than Buffalo, leading the NFL in 2009-2011 with 3,776 tackles. 

    To put that in proper perspective, the Bills defense has been on the field for an extra 925 tackles over the past three years compared to the most efficient defenses combined (2,845) in getting off of the field. And yet, people wonder why the Bills are hit with so many more injuries than other teams. There is your answer. 

    How do the Bills fix the problem areas?  By converting to the 4-3, the Bills will be able to use their two superior defensive tackles in All-Pro Kyle Williams and first-round draft pick from 2011 Marcell Dareus to neutralize the point of attack. Williams and Dareus will be asked to push the pocket back into the quarterback, forcing him to go directly into the ongoing rush of the defensive ends. One of those defensive ends figures to be Chris Kelsay. The second one right now is up in the air. 

    If he can stay healthy in 2012, which is a big if, the other defensive end could be Shawne Merriman. Merriman looked fine in the 2011 preseason, but when the regular season started, he seemed to have lost his power and ability to accelerate. His health and ability to put pressure on the quarterback is a key to the 2012 season. The Bills will employ Merriman as a situational pass-rusher, assuming that he doesn't get injured during training camp, which is always a possibility. 

    The Bills would be wise to add several strong defensive ends, whether through the draft or free agency. From the 2012 NFL draft perspective, first-round pass-rushing prospects include Melvin Ingram (South Carolina), Quinton Coples (North Carolina), Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), Nick Perry (USC), Andre Branch (Clemson) and Whitney Mercilus (Illinois). This includes defensive end/outside linebacker types.

    If the Bills decide to take advantage of somebody unexpectedly falling in their laps with the No. 10 overall pick and don't draft a pass-rusher, there are candidates in the second to third-round like Vinny Curry (Marshall), Chandler Jones (Syracuse) and Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma). 

    That addresses the pass rush. From the wide receiver issue, there are a number of potential free agents that could help out in addition to a deep draft class that offers a number of fast wide receivers that can stretch the field. 

    From the draft, we had the recent results of the NFL Scouting Combines from Indianapolis. Here are the top 10 wide receiver times in the 40, to give you a better idea of who can stretch the field: 

    Travis Benjamin, Miami: 4:36

    Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech: 4.36

    Chris Owusu, Stanford: 4.36

    A.J. Jenkins, Illinois: 4.39

    Devon Wylie, Fresno State: 4.39

    Tommy Streeter, Miami: 4.4

    Chris Givens, Wake Forest: 4.41

    T.J. Graham, N.C. State: 4.41

    Kashif Moore, Connecticut: 4.42

    Jarius Wright, Arkansas: 4.42.

    Then there is the issue of the Bills' own wideouts. Can the Bills sign Steve Johnson to a long-term deal prior to the start of free agency on March 13, or will the Bills let him leave like Paul Posluszny did last year? We can only hope that the Bills get Johnson signed, or at the very least, place a franchise tag on him.

    The other possible field-stretcher is 2009 draft pick Marcus Easley, who still hasn't been able to play in a game since the Bills drafted him. If he returns healthy in 2012, that could be a big plus.

    The final issue to address was left tackle. The Bills have to determine if they want to bring back Demetrius Bell, and if they do, how many years are they willing to sign him for? From 2011, Bell and rookie Chris Hairston took turns playing, and when both were out with injuries, Andy Levitre was forced to slide over to play. That kind of thing happens in the NFL, but Bell has a history of getting injured, so the Bills are forced to evaluate his health and ability to play on a weekly basis. 

    The free-agent market doesn't look very promising for left tackles, so the draft appears to be the best place to upgrade. If the Bills use their first-round pick on a pass-rusher as expected, the top three tackles should already be off of the board by the time the Bills select again at 42. They are Matt Kalil (USC), Riley Reiff (Iowa) and Jonathan Martin (Stanford). The next wave of tackles includes: Mike Adams (Ohio St.), Cordy Glenn (Georgia), James Brown (Troy) and Zebrie Sanders (Florida St.). 

    We also talked about improving the overall depth. In 2011, the Bills were able to surprisingly land free agents like Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison. The Bills are talking to Morrison to bring him back, but the 2011 free agents the Bills signed are a good indication that better free agents are willing to play in Buffalo. The guys they signed are also good recruiters, as is Shawne Merriman, so hopefully, that trend will continue and the Bills will sign a few other unexpected veterans to improve the overall depth. 

    One final thought, and I will use a Buddy Nix axiom here, is that when in doubt, draft a cornerback. An improved pass-rush would make the entire Bills secondary better, but they still give up too many big plays. Players like Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence too often lose track of where the football is, and since they have their back turned to the pass, they have no chance of deflecting the pass. The Bills would be wise to bring in another corner or two, from either the draft or free agency. 

Bills Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents in 2012

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    When it comes to offering contracts to the Bills' own restricted free agent players, keep the following new rules of the CBA in mind (dollar figures quoted are approximations):

    A tender of $2.61 million to a restricted free agent would result in the right of first refusal and first-round compensation back to the Bills if they lose the free agent. A tender of $1.84 million would receive second-round compensation. A tender of $1.26 million would result in matching the restricted free agent's original draft pick (if the player was drafted in the third round, Bills would get a third-round pick). Some of the big-name RFA's in 2012 include Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh) and Arian Foster (Houston). 

    In every case for restricted free agents, the Bills have the right of first refusal, as long as they have made a qualifying tender offer. In addition, the new CBA signed in 2011 has made it more difficult for other NFL teams to throw poison pills into an offer sheet to a restricted free agent, as per this article from Pro Football Talk. 


    Here are the Bills unrestricted free agents for 2012

    Tackle Demetrius Bell, tight end Scott Chandler, wide receiver Steve Johnson, running back Tashard Choice, corner Reggie Corner, linebacker Andra Davis, wide receiver Derek Hagan, wide receiver Ruvell Martin, linebacker Kirk Morrison, safety Bryan Scott and linebacker Reggie Torbor. 

    Update: Bills signed LB Kirk Morrison to a two-year, $3 million contract. Another $1 million is available through incentives.

    Update: Bills signed TE Scott Chandler to a two-year deal. No financial terms released as of yet.

    Update:  Mark Ludwiczak CBSSports.com is reporting that the Bills have signed wide receiver Ruvell Martin to a contract extension. More details to come when they are made public.

    Update:  Bills signed WR Steve Johnson to a five-year contract for $36.25 million. The deal includes $19.5 million guaranteed, and will pay Johnson over $24 million from 2012-2014.

    Dave Raynor is also an unrestricted free agent, but since the Bills already signed Rian Lindell to a new contract, it is difficult to imagine the Bills would bring Raynor back. 

    Here are the Bills remaining restricted free agents for 2012

    Guards Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik. 

    Update: According to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, the Bills have given qualifying tender offers to RFA offensive linemen Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik.

    Analysis: From the two groups of free agents, the main priorities are signing Johnson, Chandler, Bell, Scott, Urbik and Rinehart. The Bills are also talking to Morrison, so there is a chance he could be brought back. Everyone else is probably a candidate to look elsewhere for 2012. 

Projected Contracts for Bills Free Agents

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    Projecting contract prices for free agents is not always the easiest thing to do based on market supply and demand issues and the nature of the Bills philosophies on keeping their own free agents, which is a spotty track record at best. Who could have predicted what Paul Posluszny would be offered in free agency last year, as an example?

    As we discussed on the second slide, the Bills have roughly $22 million left in salary cap space to sign free agents (including their own). Let's see who the Bills have room for by plugging in some ball-park figures to the free agents we think the team wants to sign. 

    Update: Mark Ludwiczak CBSSports.com is reporting that the Bills have signed wide receiver Ruvell Martin to a contract extension. More details to come when they are made public.

    Steve Johnson: Update: Bills signed WR Steve Johnson to a five-year contract for $36.25 million. The deal includes $19.5 million guaranteed, and will pay Johnson over $24 million from 2012-2014.

    Scott Chandler: Update: Bills signed TE Scott Chandler to a two-year deal. No financial terms released as of yet.

    Demetrius Bell: His injury history might work to the Bills' advantage. Since the Bills signed Erik Pears for $1.6 million, we will give Bell a bump up to $1.9 million. That leaves a balance of $9.9 million. 

    Bryan Scott: Offers the Bills versatility at both linebacker and the secondary, which is worth its weight in gold. This might be too low, but I hope Scott agrees to a contract for $1.2 million, leaving $8.7 million. 

    Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart: Both these restricted free agent guards were originally drafted in the third round, so the Bills give each a tender offer of $1.26 million, meaning that Bills get a third-round draft pick if they lose either one to free agency. That leaves a balance of $6.2 million if both sign with Buffalo. 

    Update: According to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, the Bills have given qualifying tender offers to RFA offensive linemen Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik.

    Kirk Morrison: Update: Bills signed LB Kirk Morrison to a two-year, $3 million contract. Another $1 million is available through incentives.

    This is obviously some guesstimates, so feel free to play with the numbers we plugged in to see what final balance you come up with. Can the Bills still improve their pass-rush and still afford to sign Steve Johnson? Are there free agents we listed above that you don't think will be worth the money? How would you like to have Buddy Nix's job now? My brain hurts from trying to figure all of those moves out. 

What Is the Bills' Available Cap Space After Free Agents Are Signed?

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    Now that we have played general manager in the previous slide, we left ourselves with only $4.7 million to fix the other holes on the team. 

    That sure doesn't sound like it will buy much in 2012, but there will always be some players that unexpectedly don't get a deal and they remain unsigned for much longer than people expected. A prime example of that was the Bills signing of Kirk Morrison in 2011. So, it does happen. 

    The other area we didn't address yet is Buddy Nix's promise to re-work the contract for Fred Jackson. Jackson is currently set to earn a salary of $1.830 million in 2012. How much more does Nix need to sweeten Jackson's contract to make him happy? Keep in mind that for running backs like Ray Rice and Matt Forte, who are very likely to receive a franchise tag, the going rate for running backs with a tag is $7.7 million. 

    The Bills could give the entire salary cap balance we have left of $4.7 million to Jackson, and the new combined sum of $6.5 million still wouldn't put him on the same pay grade as Rice or Forte.

    Do Bills fans think that Jackson is as good as either guy? You know the answer is yes, and I think that Jackson is actually as good or even better than both, since he is such a solid blocker in picking up the blitz for Ryan Fitzpatrick. 

    Obviously, we have a dilemma on our hands. We can't sign everybody and still make Fred Jackson happy. As it stands right now, we don't have any money left to bring in outside free agents to help with the pass-rush or at wide receiver.

    So, this brings me back to the question: Can the Bills afford to pay Steve Johnson a contract in the $8-9 million range and continue their plans to rebuild the team? 

    3/5/12: Bills signed WR Steve Johnson to a five-year contract for $36.25 million. The deal includes $19.5 million guaranteed, and will pay Johnson over $24 million from 2012-2014.

    Either the front office will have to re-work some other veteran contracts to create more salary cap space, or the Bills will have to let some veterans go. Players like Spencer Johnson and Dwan Edwards may need to go, and if push comes to shove, possibly Drayton Florence. What do Bills fans think is the solution? 

After Free Agents Are Signed, What Team Holes Remain?

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    Through our earlier exercises, we have determined that we can't do everything that we want to accomplish. We had $4.7 million left to work with, but haven't made Fred Jackson happy. We haven't added any other free agents to improve the pass rush or a veteran wide receiver that can stretch the field. 

    So, what can we conclude from this tangled web that we have created? Here are the top five thoughts that offer a possible solution to the problems we discovered; some of them obviously are more drastic than others. 

    1. Do not sign Steve Johnson to a contract that makes him the highest paid player on the Bills. This will free up $8-9 million to allow the Bills to address other areas of need.  

    2. Trade Fred Jackson. If the $4-5 million we have left over, isn't enough to keep him happy, then the Bills should consider the possibility of trading Jackson for draft picks, or for a pass-rusher or wide receiver. After all, the Bills could plug C.J. Spiller in, as he proved last year that he is ready to take over as starter. 

    3. If Ryan Tannehill is available at No. 10 draft slot, draft him with the thought of making him your starting QB, dump Ryan Fitzpatrick and save a huge amount of salary cap space. 

    4. Just be content to sign our own free agents, improve the team through the draft and don't worry about signing any outside free agents, unless somebody slips through the cracks very cheap. 

    5. Offer an incentive-laden deal to Randy Moss next week, making it low on the base salary side and focus the remaining money or keeping Fred Jackson happy and improving the pass rush. 

    There are my five ideas, which were painful to write. The conservative Bills fans will not like choices 1-3, but something drastic might need to occur to accomplish all of the Bills' goals. 

What Outside Free Agents Should the Bills Target?

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    Depending on what steps Buddy Nix finally decides to employ to free up as much salary cap space as is needed to sign free agents that are deemed to be a necessity to shore up the Bills' major weaknesses, there is a wide array of free agents on the 2012 landscape to consider.

    March 15, 2012: Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that Mario Williams will be given a six-year deal from the Bills. He reports that the contract is worth up to $100 million dollars with $50 million guaranteed.

    March 14, 2012: ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting via his Twitter that the Jaguars have signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million deal.

    March 13, 2012: ProFootballTalk is reporting that DE Mario Williams and WR Robert Meachem will visit the Bills tonight.

    When it comes to beefing up the pass rush, here are some free-agent options to consider, starting with defensive ends. The top free agent would be DE/OLB Mario Williams (HOU). Other defensive end free agents include Robert Mathis (Indy), John Abraham (Atlanta) and Cliff Avril (Detroit), and then there is a less expensive group of free agents, including Mark Anderson (N.E.), Marcus Benard (Cleveland) and Luis Castillo (S.D.), who the Chargers are expected to release next month. 

    Update: Both Robert Mathis and Cliff Avril have been franchised by their respective teams.

    The Bills would have a better chance at addressing the pass-rush for a defensive end in free agency, as the 2012 free agent class for a pass-rusher from the outside linebacker spot appears to drop dramatically after you get past Mario Williams. That is why he will be so expensive to sign for any team. 

    Word out of Oakland is that the Raiders are prepared to release their best pass rusher in OLB Kam Wimbley if he refuses to take a pay cut before March 13, as per this story from Jason LaCanfora of NFL Network. Wimbley wouldn't be cheap, but he will be far less expensive than Mario Williams. 

    As for wide receiver free agents, the 2012 free agent class is very deep. We are waiting word to see how many of these free agents sign a new deal or receive the franchise tag with the deadline coming on March 5. The leading free agents are: Wes Welker (N.E.), Vincent Jackson (S.D.), DeSean Jackson (Phil), Marques Colston (N.O.), Dwayne Bowe (K.C.), Brandon Lloyd (St. Louis), Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne (Indy), Mario Manningham (N.Y. Giants), Robert Meachem (N.O.) and Laurent Robinson (Dallas). 

    Update: Wes Welker, DeSean Jackson and Dwayne Bowe have all been franchised.

    This looks like a great year to have about $20-30 million of extra salary cap space to play with. Sigh.

Predicting Potential Contract Offers the Bills Can Extend to Free Agents

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    March 15, 2012:

    Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports via his Twitter that Mario Williams will be given a six-year deal from the Bills. He reports that the contract is worth up to $100 million dollars with $50 million guaranteed.

    This slide was originally intended to serve as my predictions for the contracts that the Bills can afford to extend to outside free agents. After assessing all of the various scenarios we covered in the earlier slides, my recommendation is that the Bills try to sign their own free agents for the amounts we suggested, which includes signing Steve Johnson for $8.4 million and using the extra $4.7 million we had remaining to make Fred Jackson feel appreciated. 

    Once we have done that, the Bills would need to terminate the contracts of Drayton Florence, Spencer Johnson and Dwan Edwards. Those three salaries combined would equal a salary cap figure of $12,891,000. If it is clear that Shawne Merriman is not back to full health and is released, the Bills have a salary cap figure of $5.750 million for Merriman.

    Merriman does have some guaranteed money coming, so please understand that when we quote the above numbers, these aren't final numbers, as there are portions that the Bills would still have to take on as a salary cap hit for this year. I don't personally know what those percentages would be, but know that they exist. 

    In making predictions on free-agent contracts, you can see that there are moves that the Bills could make to free up some money for help at rushing the passer or adding a wide receiver. Given the current landscape, I can see the Bills making offers to the second-tier free agents for both positions of need. 

    At wide receiver, we are talking about people like Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem or Laurent Robinson. They would cost the Bills in the $3-4 million range. Then there are cheaper free agents like Eddie Royal, who projects around $2.5 million a year.

    As for the pass-rush, we are probably looking at OLB Kam Wimbley as the most expensive option or defensive ends like Mark Anderson, Marcus Benard and Luis Castillo. Wimbley was guaranteed $6.5 million by the Raiders in 2012, as an example. Castillo was due $4.9 million by the Chargers in 2012. Anderson is in the $3 million range, and Benard would be the cheapest at about $700,000.

    These guys don't come cheap. 

Analysis of Bills' Predicted 2012 Draft Strategy

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    What strategy the Bills have in the 2012 NFL draft will be directly impacted by what happens to the team, both good things as well as bad things, in free agency leading up to the draft. 

    By the time the Bills get set to draft with the No. 10-overall draft pick on April 26, they will know if they have Steve Johnson signed to a long-term deal or not. They will know if they had any luck in picking up any veterans that can help with the pass-rush from a defensive end or outside linebacker perspective. They will also know if they were able to retain the trio of offensive line free agents in Demetrius Bell, Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart. 

    When it comes to the No. 10 pick, it would be a blessing if the Bills had made some headway on their main areas of need via free agency, so that would free them up to take the top player available on the board. Although Nix surprised almost everybody by drafting C.J. Spiller in 2010, it would really be a surprise if he didn't draft a top pass-rusher, a defensive end or an outside linebacker. We already detailed the top draft prospect pass-rushers in the draft in an earlier slide, so won't duplicate them here. 

    We listed the fastest 10 wide receivers at the combine. There are plenty of other talented wide receivers that aren't running the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4, but would be an asset to any NFL offense. They are: Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State), Alshon Jeffery (So. Carolina)  Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Kendall Wright (Baylor), Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers), Rueben Randle (LSU), Dwight Jones (North Carolina) and Marvin McNutt (Iowa). For a preview of these players, check this link.  

    Since the Bills will have anywhere from nine or 10 draft picks (based on what happens with compensatory picks in Round 7), I see them looking to add depth up and down the roster. You should expect to see the Bills draft a QB, OT, WR, DE, OLB, CB, TE and S. That accounts for eight draft picks, and they can still have a pick or two to use on someone they think is too good to pass up. 

    If you want to do some studying and conduct some research on available college players between now and the draft, let me give you some links that you can use as a resource. First up, here is the link for NFL Network Mike Mayock's latest updated top-five list of players listed per position.

    Another fine resource is an article by our NFL Draft guru, Matt Miller from Bleacher Report, previewing the top 100 college players heading into the combines.  Those should keep you busy for a while. 


Players the Bills Should Be Targeting for Draft

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    I am still preparing my annual edition of a seven-round Buffalo Bills mock draft, complete with best-case, worst-case and most realistic option scenarios, which will be ready in the near future.

    In the interim, here are two seven-round mock drafts you can look at to learn how the 2012 NFL draft can impact the Bills. 

    First mock up is from Draftek.com, where they specialize in computer simulated mock drafts. There latest version from 2/29/12, is version No. 4. Here is the link and here is the end product: 

    Round 1, Overall Pick 10: Alabama LB/DE Courtney Upshaw                                          

    Round 2, Overall Pick 42: South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery                                            

    Round 3, Overall Pick 74: Syracuse DE Chandler Jones                                                  

    Round 4a), Overall Pick 105: No. Carolina State OLB Terrell Manning                                

    Round 4b), Overall Pick 124: Boise State Tackle Nate Potter                                             

    Round 5a), Overall Pick 139: California DE Trevor Guyton                                                 

    Round 6, Overall Pick 169: Miami (FLA) QB Jacory Harris                                                

    Round 7, Overall Pick 199: Alabama WR Marquis Maze

    Here is the results for another seven-round mock draft, this one from Bleacher Report's lead NFL writer, Matt Miller. Here is the link to Matt's mock. No need to reset the overall draft pick numbers again. 

    1. USC DE Nick Perry

    2. Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill  

    3. California DT Mitchell Schwartz

    4a. Wake Forest WR Chris Givens  

    4b. North Carolina State OLB Terrell Manning  

    5a. Missouri TE Michael Egnew

    5b. BYU Nose Tackle Hebron Fangupo  

    6. Penn State DE Jack Crawford  

    7. Arizona St. CB Omar Bolden

    There you go, Bills fans. Hope this will give you enough information to whet your appetite for the near term. Feel free to run with any area we addressed in the comments section. Thanks for reading the presentation, and be sure to come back to check this out to stay on top of the Bills transactions from now until the draft.