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Despite the hefty price, Peters deserves a new deal Trading Jason Peters would only create another void on a team that already has too many.

The Buffalo Bills have jumped into the free agent pool, though the signings of backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and new starting center Geoff Hangartner don't qualify as a huge splash.

The Bills will make more moves this offseason, but the biggest one should be a contract extension for left tackle Jason Peters.

The two sides have exchanged proposals, an encouraging sign that the lines of communication are open. As long as there is dialogue there is a chance something will get done.

The Bills' original stance was that Peters would have to play under the five-year contract that runs through 2010. But the Bills made assurances to him that they would discuss a new deal. Nothing has transpired yet, which leads me to this question: Why?

I know the Bills have other pressing issues, like filling in holes at guard, outside linebacker, wide receiver, cornerback and safety. But they can't afford to let this Peters issue drag on into the spring.

They don't want a repeat of last year when Peters held out from the start of offseason workouts until the first week of the regular season. His absence affected the offensive line's continuity and had a negative impact on his performance, which was a notch below the standard of excellence he set the previous year. He might deny it, but I believe his unsettled contract situation affected him.

Despite his uneven play, opponents thought enough of Peters to vote him into the Pro Bowl for the second straight year, which further states his case for a new contract.

Perhaps the reason the Bills haven't pulled the trigger is Peters' contract demands. He wants to be one of the highest-paid left tackles in the NFL, and that comes with a hefty price tag.

The Carolina Panthers recently signed Jordan Gross to a six-year contract for nearly $60 million. Last year, the Miami Dolphins gave No. 1 draft pick Jake Long a five-year deal worth $57.5 million with $30 million guaranteed.

But that is the going rate for quality left tackles. Gross and Long are very good players, but I can make a strong case that Peters is better than both of them.

The Bills could explore a trade if contract talks stall and Peters skips the offseason program again. There would be no shortage of suitors for a talented young left tackle who hasn't reached his physical peak.

But trading Peters would only create another void on a team that already has too many. Even if you got an offensive tackle in the draft what are the odds of him ever reaching Peters' level? And with all due respect to Langston Walker, I'm not as sure as the Bills are that he can be the blind-side protector Peters is.

In the NFL, you win with elite players. The Bills don't have enough of them, which helps explain why they haven't sniffed the playoffs in nine years. Peters is one of the few elite talents on the roster, if not the only one, so giving him away doesn't make much sense.

Cornerback Nate Clements was an elite player who was allowed to walk because of his high price tag. I'm not saying the Bills should have given him the record contract he got from San Francisco, but he has been missed. Why else would the Bills seek a replacement by drafting Leodis McKelvin last year?

The Bills cleared payroll earlier this week by releasing left guard Derrick Dockery and tight end Robert Royal. The signings of Fitzpatrick and Hangartner don't take up a lot of salary cap space.

The Bills have the financial wherewithal to give Peters a new contract. Doing so would send the message that all this talk about putting a winning product on the field isn't just lip service.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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