Plenty of attention has been given to the Buffalo Bills' 22 pending unrestricted free agents.
But the team also has four restricted free agents they need to make a decision on soon, including three who had significant roles in 2016. The deadline to tender offers to offensive lineman Ryan Groy, running back Mike Gillislee, punter Colton Schmidt and defensive end IK Enemkpali is 4 p.m. Thursday, when the NFL's new league year begins.
The cost to do that was reported Monday by ESPN's Field Yates.
Official restricted free agent tender values for 2017:
1st round: $3.91M
2nd round: $2.746M
Low/original round: $1.797M
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 6, 2017
Those numbers are important for the Bills, who lost restricted free agent Chris Hogan to the rival New England Patriots last season. Hogan was tendered the lowest amount, and because he was undrafted, the Patriots structured a contract the tight-to-the-salary cap Bills were unable to match.
One year later, the Bills are again up against the cap, with just $18.267 million in space as of Monday morning, according to overthecap.com, more than just eight other teams. The decision to release five players – kicker Dan Carpenter, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, long snapper Garrison Sanborn, tight end Gerald Christian and safety Phillip Thomas – on Monday afternoon freed up an additional $6.08 million in space, giving the team about $24.3 million to take into free agency.
Groy and Schmidt were undrafted coming out of college, while Enemkpali was a sixth-round pick and Gillislee was chosen in the fifth. That means that if the Bills were to give the lowest tender amount to any of the four, they wouldn't be entitled to compensation if Groy or Schmidt signed elsewhere and the team elected not to match. If Gillislee or Enemkpali signed elsewhere and the Bills chose not to match, they'd receive a draft pick in the round those players were originally taken.
It would be a shock if Enemkpali were to get a tender offer. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL and was basically Rex Ryan's pet project. Now that Ryan is gone, Enemkpali is likely to soon follow.
The other three players are interesting. Schmidt had a down year in 2016, finishing 29th in net average (38.1 yards) and 26th in punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line (20). The Bills could try to re-sign him for less than what the lowest tender amount would be once he gets to free agency.
Groy, 26, got good reviews for the job he did stepping into the starting lineup for the final seven games after center Eric Wood got hurt. He solidified himself as the team's top reserve interior offensive lineman.
Gillislee, 26, gained 577 yards and scored eight touchdowns on just 101 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per rush that was the best in the NFL. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Bills placed an original-round tender on Gillislee on Monday night.
The question now becomes whether that will be enough for the Bills to retain him, or if another team views him as being worthy of the fifth-round pick it would have to give up to acquire him?
By using the original-round tender on Gillislee, and doing the same on Groy, it would cost $3.594 million, leaving the Bills with just under $21 million in cap space to deal with their own 22 unrestricted free agents, as well as any players from outside the organization they would be interested in (plus their draft picks).
Because of that, the best course of action for both Gillislee and Groy, as well as possibly Schmidt, is to work out a long-term contract that lowers their cap hit, but gives them more guaranteed money in the form of a signing bonus. According to Rapoport, that remains the plan in regards to Gillislee.