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Bills ready for some shopping

The NFL's annual yard sale, also known as free agency, is ready to commence.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday, teams can hit the free agent market. Despite the tough economy, several players are expected to land huge contracts.

The Buffalo Bills will do some shopping of their own, and they have the money to do it. They're about $24 million under the league-wide cap figure of $123 million, according to Buffalo News estimates.

The Bills are in position to address some needs on both sides of the ball, particularly offensive line, outside linebacker, tight end, backup quarterback, defensive line, safety and receiver. Running back also is a consideration with 11-year veteran Fred Taylor visiting Tuesday.

A record 14 franchise players have thinned out the free agent field, but there are some good players available. Here's a look at some positions of need for the Bills and some possible targets:

*Center: Duke Preston and Melvin Fowler are free agents and aren't expected to return. Baltimore's Jason Brown would be an upgrade over both. He'll attract a lot of attention because he's young (25), talented, experienced (45 starts in four seasons) and just entering his prime. The ability to play guard adds to his value. To enter the bidding, the Bills could cut some salary, with left guard Derrick Dockery being a candidate.

*Offensive tackle: Depth could be an issue because Kirk Chambers is a free agent and Demetrius Bell may not be ready in his second year. The Bills could get one early in the draft, but Chambers' possible return would make this less of a priority. Cincinnati's Stacy Andrews, Jacksonville's Khalif Barnes and New Orleans' Jon Stinchcomb are among the top tackles who may re-sign with their teams.

*Outside linebacker: Angelo Crowell won't be back despite the Bills suggesting a return is possible. Keith Ellison may return but not as a starter. A possible target is Michael Boley, 26, a full-time starter in Atlanta for nearly four years before being replaced by former Bill Coy Wire on first and second downs late last season. Boley might be a better fit in the Bills' system because he plays the run well, is a good blitzer and can drop into coverage.

*Tight end: There isn't much available after Tennessee franchised Bo Scaife, who would have been the best on the market. L.J. Smith has a lot of ability and runs well enough to stretch the seams of a defense. But inconsistent play and a history of injuries in Philadelphia make him a risky pick. This may be a position the Bills address in the draft.

*Backup quarterback: The Bills want a veteran to replace the departed J.P. Losman. Byron Leftwich, who won a Super Bowl ring backing up Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, would be good, but he is looking for a place where he can start. Jeff Garcia is 38, but he's smart, competitive and would keep the offense afloat if Trent Edwards missed a few games with an injury. Chris Simms showed some promise before his spleen injury. He may be an option if he doesn't land elsewhere.

*Defensive end: The Bills' pass rush disappeared when end Aaron Schobel got hurt. Even with his return, the Bills need more pass-rushing depth. Chris Canty played in a 3-4 in Dallas, and the 26-year-old has upside. Antonio Smith, 27, has good quickness and played some tackle in Arizona.

*Defensive tackle: What the Bills do here may depend on whether they retain John McCargo, who never clicked with line coach Bill Kollar. With McCargo, their four-man rotation is set. But if the Bills release him, there are some good options in free agency. Albert Haynesworth is out of the Bills' price range, but Rocky Bernard or Jovan Haye would provide a good interior pass rush.

*Wide receiver: The Bills have six on the roster (Lee Evans, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, James Hardy, Steve Johnson and Justin Jenkins), but that doesn't mean Kelley Washington was a token visitor. He's a big target the Bills believe can have an impact in the passing game. Bryant Johnson, who was pursued by Buffalo last year, is available again.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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