It was an anticlimactic day at One Bills Drive. Then again, Western New Yorkers will take anticlimactic.
For years, they've been conditioned to expect homegrown stars to leave. On the field, the Buffalo Bills traded disgruntled running backs (Travis Henry, Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch) one by one and let studs on defense walk. On the ice, the Sabres lost Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in one gut punch.
On Thursday, the Bills made sure this star wasn't going anywhere. The team signed defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to a contract extension that could pay him up to $108 million over the next seven seasons.
So, yes, fans will take anticlimactic.
Suspended in Week 1, Dareus wasn't made available to the media. General manager Doug Whaley released a statement. Head coach Rex Ryan spoke briefly. There was no parade, no celebratory news conference, only one giant sigh of relief that this 6-foot-3, 331-pound former third overall pick is entrenched in the middle of Buffalo’s defense for the long haul.
Now, expectations up front will rise even higher.
“I just wish I would have been a better player,” Ryan said. “When you go back and look at that contract, it’s like ‘Oh my goodness.’ Obviously having him here and you’re going to have a big D-tackle sitting there with me for a long time and that’s fantastic.
"I’ve been blessed to really coach some fantastic players and he certainly be on top of that list."
Mario Williams is in the fourth year of a six-year, $100 million contract. Kyle Williams is on a three-year, $23 million deal. Jerry Hughes inked a five-year, $45 million pact last off-season. The Bills made a conscience decision to load up its front four and, now, will be tested immediately in Andrew Luck, Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill. One reason they’re able to spend so much up front is that their starting quarterback has a $750,000 base salary.
Basically, it's the one benefit of whiffing repeatedly on the most important position in the game. So starting Sunday, the pressure's on.
“If we’re getting paid like the best,” inside linebacker Preston Brown said, “we have to play like the best. Those guys are getting a lot of money, but they played well to get it. All of those guys are playing hard.”
On Aug. 21, Dareus made his unhappiness very clear to The News in saying, “I feel like they don’t really want me here" and "I feel like they’re saying, ‘Whatever. You come a dime a dozen.”
So much for that. Dareus is scheduled to make $7.586 million this final year of his rookie contract and then will have an annual base salary of $15.85 million his next six years. With likely earned bonuses, this figure increases to $16.75 million per year, pushing his total new money to $100.35 million.
He’ll make $60 million guaranteed — fourth-most in the NFL and first among defensive players.
As Hughes said, the Bills' future is set. He realizes pressure to be great heightens, too.
“That’s why we put the work in, in the offseason," Hughes said. "You don’t put the work in, in February, to be mediocre. You put the work in, in February, to be great for once the season rolls around.
“We have high expectations for ourselves. But I feel like you’re supposed to have high goals so you can achieve them.”
Dareus is the starting point, the anchor, the one who can take on double-teams and still reach double-digit sacks. Last season, he finished with 49 tackles and 10 sacks. One personnel executive puts Dareus on the level of Ndamukong Suh. Whereas Suh takes plays off, he said, Dareus is "a big dude who can do everything.”
As a group, Buffalo may have the best front in the NFL. As Kyle Williams points out, this D-Line is no “one-trick pony.” They play off of each other. Someone, inevitably, will have an advantageous one-on-one match-up.
Said the vet, “We all do certain things well. We all command attention. And we can all take attention off of each other.”
Which is how the Bills dizzied both Aaron Rodgers (34.3 passer rating) and Peyton Manning (56.9) last season.
The Bills are gambling that Dareus has matured. This is a 25-year-old who was stopped for speeding in May 2014 and charged with two drug felonies, the one who said he wasn’t a “trouble” guy and then crashed his car on Milestrip Road in a street racing incident two days later.
Whaley could’ve let Dareus play out the season and then used the franchise tag on him in 2016. Even Dareus said he'd sign that tender if he needed to.
Instead, the Bills gave him a deal close to the six-year, $114-million contract Suh signed with the Miami Dolphins.
Maybe nobody on the team understands why quite like new guard Richie Incognito. The two butted heads regularly in one-on-one's during training camp at St. John Fisher College. So big, so strong, so quick, Incognito calls him a “nightmare” to block. He sheds blocks unlike anyone he's ever faced.
“He just does stuff where you look back and you’re like, ‘What the heck just happened? What did he do? I did everything right and he still beat me.’ He’s just one of those guys, man. He’s a special player. ... Then you combine him with playing with Kyle and Mario and Jerry, I mean, it’s a nightmare. It’s terrible trying to block those guys. They’re going to embarrass you.”
Added Brown, "Marcell, to me, is the best defensive tackle in the league."
During camp, Hughes spoke to Dareus about playing through a contract season. He did it himself in 2014. Such a looming free agency, Hughes admits, “can wear on you mentally.” Every snap, every rush, every move you make is under a microscope. One injury can cost you millions of dollars. So many players tense up.
There's no need for Dareus to stress now. It's just that the whole playoffs-or-bust battle cry will only grow louder.
The Bills will expect plenty on the field... and the restaurant.
“We all know who’s buying," Hughes said. "He said he’s taking us to Mulberry’s and Chophouse. We’re excited. We can’t wait for him to get back.”