The Buffalo Bills took the first step towards retaining Nate Clements by designating the veteran cornerback as their franchise player today.
The move, which had been anticipated for weeks, essentially prevents Clements from becoming a free agent on March 3. As a franchise player, Clements will receive a one-year contract worth $5.89 million, which is the average of the top ten salaried cornerbacks in the NFL. Using the franchise tag also buys the Bills time to try and work out a long-term deal.
"We consider Nate a valuable member of our defense and believe he will play an important role in re-establishing our defense as one of the toughest units in the league," Bills General Manager Marv Levy said in a statement released by the team. "At the same time, we remain optimistic that we will be able to work out a long-term deal with Nate in the foreseeable future."
Clements is coming off a fifth season in which he had only two interceptions and was burned on several big pass plays. However, he finished third on the team with 127 tackles, and his 20 career interceptions and team-record six return touchdowns are proof of his playmaking ability.
Clements also has been remarkably durable, starting 72 consecutive games since moving into the lineup as a rookie in 2001. He would have been the most attractive free agent cornerback on the open market, so the Bills had no choice but to franchise him if they had any hope of retaining his services.
The Bills have some work to do to lock Clements up long term. He said during training camp last year that he wanted to be the highest paid cornerback in the NFL. That distinction belongs to Denver's Champ Bailey, who received an $18 million signing bonus as part of his seven-year, $63 million deal in 2004.