The Buffalo Bills will be active in pursuing free agents this offseason, beginning with one of their own.
General Manager Marv Levy said keeping cornerback Nate Clements is a high priority, and the Bills are prepared to use the franchise tag on him to make sure that happens.
"We will make every effort to retain him," Levy said during an interview with the local media Monday. "We would like to have him back, and I know Dick Jauron has expressed the same and so have the coaches. I think he's a talented player who can get better.
"[The franchise tag] is an option and [Clements] is the likely person we'd use it on. I hope that we can do a contract that goes beyond that, but sometimes you have to put the franchise tag on and then work on the contract part of it. It is definitely an option."
The franchise tag represents the average of the top five salary cap figures for the position the previous season. The cost of using that designation on cornerbacks has dropped from $8.8 million last year to $5.89 million. Clements earned $2.5 million in base salary in the final year of his original five-year contract and carried a $3.4 million salary cap figure.
Clements has said he wanted to be paid like the best cornerback in the NFL. Leading that list is Denver's Champ Bailey, who signed a seven-year, $63 million contract with an $18 million signing bonus in 2004.
Clements isn't going to get that kind of money from the Bills, but he would attract a huge contract on the open market. Franchising him makes sense because it would essentially take him off the free agent market and buy the Bills time to work out a long-term deal. The deadline to designate franchise players is Feb. 23 at 4 p.m.
Neither Clements nor his agent, Todd France, could be reached for comment.
Jauron said top cornerbacks like Clements are vital to a defense. Terrence McGee has developed into a quality starter, while Jabari Greer and Eric King are solid backups. But none of them is in Clements' class.
"In our league recently you go to a football game and you see five wide receivers on the field, you see four, you see a lot of three. You see empty [backfield formations] in a lot of situations," Jauron said. "So if you don't have at least three really good [cornerbacks] it will be long Sundays."
On other topics discussed by Levy and Jauron during separate 30-minute sessions with the media:
* Levy indicated the Bills are in good shape as far as the salary cap, which would allow them to be a player in free agency. "We've got good cap money," he said. "We don't want to be stupid or foolish and just throw inordinate amounts out for something. But I foresee us being active in free agency."
* Levy and Jauron haven't spoken to Eric Moulds about the wide receiver's possible return, but Jauron plans to meet with Moulds in the next couple of weeks.
Moulds was unhappy with his role in the offense most of last season and was benched for one game by former head coach Mike Mularkey for publicly criticizing the game plan. With a 2006 cap figure of $10.8 million, Moulds may need to restructure his contract to remain with the team.
"I know Eric had an unsettling season last year, but he finished strong," Levy said. "Last season is behind and we hope that we can work something out that he's going to be here."
* Jauron added three coaches to his staff Monday, signing Turk Schonert (quarterbacks), Charlie Coiner (tight ends) and former Bills quarterback Alex Van Pelt (offensive quality control).
Schonert served as the Bills' quarterbacks coach from 1988-2000. He held the same position with the New Orleans Saints last season. The former NFL quarterback also had coaching stops with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Coiner was hired by Jauron in 2001 as Chicago's offensive quality control coach. He held that job before being promoted to assistant special teams coach in 2004. Coiner also spent 18 years as a college coach.
Van Pelt, who played for the Bills from 1995-2003, had recently been hired as the quarterbacks coach-passing game coordinator at the University at Buffalo. He coached quarterbacks and handled play-calling for the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe last year. He was an aide to the Bills' offensive coaching staff and worked as the game color analyst for the Bills' radio network the past two seasons.
* Jauron hasn't hired a linebackers coach, but reports in Los Angeles said Southern California secondary coach Rocky Seto has been offered the job. Seto, 29, has been on the USC staff since 1999. He had coached linebackers, but was switched to safeties when Trojans head coach Pete Carroll reorganized his defensive coaching staff last week.