With the new league year starting on the afternoon of March 2nd (at 4:00 PM eastern to be exact), the Buffalo Bills and free agent defensive end Jerry Hughes are going to have quite the decision to make.
The 26-year old free agent defensive end is going to be a hot commodity at a premium position on the opening market, especially when coming off a two-season stretch that saw him register 19.5 sacks.
There are two keys deadlines that are on the horizon for both sides.
Tuesday, March 2nd, at 4:00 PM is the deadline for teams to use the franchise or transition tag on their free agent players.
On Saturday, March 7th at 4:00 PM teams can begin contacting the representation for free agents from other clubs and negotiate contracts prior to the start of free agency, although deals can’t be officially until start of the new year.
It will be a telling sign on whether or not the Bills use the franchise tag on Hughes.
The tag for defensive ends this seasons is believed to be around $14.5 million (if not slightly higher), which is about half of the Bills estimated $30 million in open cap space.
If the Bills don’t use the tag, I expect that the team has a lot of confidence that they are going to be able to retain the services of Hughes with a long-term deal.
Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley said on an appearance on WGR550 AM in Buffalo a little over a week ago that he was “highly optimistic” that the team will be able to retain the services of Hughes.
“That’s our goal, and we’ve talked to his representatives, and we’ve exchanged proposals. We’re going to continue to try to get this done sooner rather than later.”
When asked to clarify, Whaley went on to say, “Just the way the talks have been going, and talking to Jim Overdorf and Russ Brandon, and their conversations they’ve had with their representatives, and the relationship we’ve had with their representatives on some deals we’ve done in the past, makes me feel pretty good that this thing should be able to come to a conclusion in our favor.”
“Every indication we got when we talked to him in our exit interviews are that he likes the Buffalo Bills, he likes his situation, and he likes the defense,” Whaley also added. “And he likes who he’s playing with. He thinks his other line mates elevate his game.”
Even if they are forced to use the tag, the Bills would still have until July 15th to reach a long-term contract extension.
These next coming days are going to show how the Bills and Hughes feel about the situation.
If the tag is not used, the Bills are sure to be pretty confident that they can work out a long-term deal. While the tag is expensive, it isn’t much for a team with so much cap space to ensure they get one of their biggest contributors back on the defensive side of the ball.
The feel is that the team isn’t going to let Hughes walk without making him a significant offer. If they are so sure they can retain his services without the one year guarantee of him sticking around, it would show that both sides are pretty interested about maintaining their relationships.
Personally, I think the Bills have the best chance of signing him. I’m not entirely sure if Hughes has the type of productive season if he isn’t playing on the Bills stacked defensive line and I think he knows that.
It isn’t a knock on him as a player, as he is still very talented and entering the prime of his career. It’s just that offensive lines tend to double on of the other stars on the line (Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams or Mario Williams), leaving Hughes one-on-one match ups that he has been constantly winning.
It just makes too much sense not to pay the man.
The Bills really are building something special already on the defensive side of the ball, and while there could be cheaper options avaiable, the skill-set that Hughes brings isn’t just out there for a team to pick up.
It clear that the Bills are not trying to break up one of, if not the best, lines in football. There is a reason why the Bills have the most sacks in the league (111) over the last two seasons.
“We can afford to invest in that defensive line because we don’t have a large part of our salary cap eaten up by a marquee quarterback,” said Whaley. “So that affords us the ability to be able to try to keep a Jerry Hughes and pay him what he’s worth. The way we have to play we’re going to have to have a strong defense and get after the quarterback and run the ball.”
The Bills are also looking at the franchise tag as a possible last resort.
“We’re trying to avoid that because we’re trying to get him long term for sure,”
“We want to keep everybody on the same page so they feel like, ‘Hey I got a good deal.’ And as the Buffalo Bills we say we got a good deal.”
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