The Buffalo Bills are entering a brand new regime, with a new quarterback, new head coach and new general manager.
As such, there could be a lot of turnover as they try to find the players to best fit the new direction of the team.
The Bills have $16 million in cap space to work with this season, so it wouldn't be a complete shock to see them get one or two deals done before or during the season. They could even roll over some of that money to the 2014 salary cap, where they have just $8.7 million in space, but they can't wait forever; there is a deadline looming for their most important pending free-agent, and 2013 franchise player Jairus Byrd.
While the Bills don't have too many free agents to address next offseason, they're all good players at key positions, so let's take a look at the most prominent ones on the list.
Jairus Byrd, safety
2013 cap hit: $6,916,000
This one could get ugly.
The Bills hit Byrd with the franchise tag, but he has yet to sign the tender, and it could get worse before it gets better. James Walker of ESPN's AFC East Blog reports that “all has been quiet on both sides” of the contract negotiation.
There's little doubt that Byrd is one of the best players at his position in the league, but this should not be rocket science anyway. Byrd is exactly the safety the Bills need to execute the defensive scheme of coordinator Mike Pettine. The Bills will run a lot of Cover 1 in the secondary, with Byrd's speed and ability to track the ball being of utmost importance.
Moreover, the Bills have the space to make it work right now. Here's how it works: add on an extra $2 million for this year, which makes Byrd's 2013 salary of $8.916 look awfully similar to Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson's $9 million for this season. No harm, no foul.
Eric Wood, center
2013 cap hit: $3,348,750
Eric Wood could be an interesting negotiation. On one hand, he's developed into a solid player and a key component for the Bills offensive line. On the other hand, he's never played a full 16-game season.
The Bills have already endured one big loss on the inside of the offensive line, with left guard Andy Levitre bolting for the Tennessee Titans this offseason. They probably don't want to also lose their starting center.
This season will be a big measure for the offensive line as a whole, particularly Wood, as they will be responsible for keeping up in an up-tempo offense.
"We're gonna put the defense in some compromising situations with our tempo and the different schemes we have," Wood told The Buffalo News in May. "It'll be a little bit of an adjustment. The no-huddle brings a level of toughness for us. We have to be in better shape, we have to communicate quicker. It's going to create its problems for us, but that's why we're out here practicing."
How Wood translates into that offense, with his ability to keep up physically and mentally in calling protections, will be determining factors in whether he's kept.
This season may not be the be-all, end-all for Wood in a Bills uniform, though. Depending on how much cap space the Bills roll over, they might be able to put the franchise tag on him. It would be close to $5 million to do so, which is a steep price to pay, but if the Bills are less than confident in his ability to stay healthy, it could be a prove-it situation in that regard for Wood.
Alan Branch, defensive tackle
2013 cap hit: $1,500,000
The Bills signed the 28-year-old Branch to a one-year deal this offseason in an attempt to bolster their depth on the interior of the defensive line. Starting defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are signed through the 2014 and 2016 seasons, respectively.
They will run a more scheme-versatile defense in 2013 under Mike Pettine, though, and Branch's experience in both the 3-4 (with the Cardinals) and the 4-3 (with the Seahawks) will serve him well as a rotational player capable of lining up at multiple spots along the line.
Branch has played at least 500 snaps in each of the past three seasons, so it's most likely we'll see him in that role. From there, it's up to Branch to put his size and strength on display in creating a push up the middle and plugging gaps in the trenches.
Scott Chandler, tight end
2013 cap hit: $2,975,000
Not including C.J. Spiller, few players were as important to the Bills offense as Scott Chandler in 2012. On the season, 37 of his 43 receptions (86 percent) went for either a first-down or a touchdown. His numbers in that regard put him among the best in the league.
Chandler is not considered a great blocker, but at 6'7 and 260 pounds, his size creates matchup problems, especially in the red zone. Despite that, Chandler was only targeted eight times inside the 20-yard line.
There's a bit of a myth around his production dropping off in the second half of seasons. In the first eight games of the past two seasons, Chandler has caught 40 passes for 442 yards (11.1 YPR) and 10 touchdowns without missing a single game. In the second half of the past two seasons, he's put up 41 catches for 518 yards but just two touchdowns while missing three games. Far fewer touchdowns, sure, but more receptions for more yards in fewer games does not indicate a dropoff to me.
That being said, Chandler missed the final game of the 2012 season because of a torn ACL. While current reports indicate his recovery is going just fine, he'll need to prove it on the field before he gets a big-time extension from the Bills brass.
Cap numbers via Spotrac.
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