Free agency has begun. So, first, here’s the good news.
The Buffalo Bills were able to retain both left tackle Cordy Glenn and left guard Richie Incognito. A strength on the 2015 Bills remains a strength for the 2016 Bills — they’re doubling down as a run-first, run-often smashmouth operation.
Now, the bad news.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler inked a four-year, $72 million contract ($37M guaranteed) with the Houston Texans. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins inked a five-year, $62.5 million contract ($29M guaranteed) with the New York Giants. A bar has now been set for two Bills starters entering contract years.
Tyrod Taylor and Stephon Gilmore were undoubtedly two of the biggest winners on the first day of free agency without earning a penny. Both can now make the very valid case that they deserve, at minimum, such salaries. Osweiler started a grand total of seven games to earn his deal, while Jenkins has averaged 2.5 interceptions and 12.25 passes defensed over his four pro seasons. Wherever G.M. Doug Whaley is scouting players at the moment — he was at Samford's pro day Tuesday — his jaw probably dropped when he read just how much Osweiler and Jenkins will make.
After re-signing Incognito, the Bills now have approximately $4.5 million in salary-cap space, money they'll need to sign their draft picks.
One way to clear up immediate room would be to extend Gilmore's contract. He’s set to make $11 million this season. A long-term deal that reworks that figure could be a win for all parties involved. Cornerbacks capable of playing on an island are rare and, before dislocating his shoulder, Gilmore proved he can handle one-on-one duties in Rex Ryan’s defense.
Think Ryan fought hard for Incognito's return? He'll be fighting for Gilmore, too.
With Taylor, it’s more complicated.
Right now, the dual-threat is one of the best bargains in the NFL. Taylor will make $1 million this contract year — $8.34 million less than Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, $15 million less than Jay Cutler. In a sign of wise patience, Whaley is prepared to let Taylor play into his contract year before making a franchise-altering decision.
Surely, Whaley and his closest confidants know their own futures are tied to what they do at quarterback. On Wednesday, the stakes just got higher. You can bet Taylor’s agent, Adisa Bakari, will be using Osweiler’s deal — as rash as it may seem to many — as a reference point in any negotiations.
His case today would be simple.
In his eight games (seven starts), Osweiler completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards with 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and an 86.4 passer rating. He’s no threat as a runner at 6 foot 7, 240 pounds.
In Taylor’s 14 starts, he completed 63.7 of his passes for 3,035 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions and a 99.4 passer rating. While he did suffer knee and shoulder injuries, Taylor is a threat on the ground. His 568 rushing yards were the most ever for a Bills quarterback.
Opinions on Taylor are all over the map. The experts are torn. For now, the Bills won’t blink. Don’t have to blink. Taylor is under contract and more game action will provide more clarity.
The first day of free agency was another friendly reminder that this is a quarterback’s league. Premier passers are at such a premium that the Houston Texans will break the bank for an unknown. The Texans, like Buffalo, perennially hover around .500. With one contract, one contract instantly scrutinized they hope to become a legitimate contender.
"Quarterback was our No. 1 priority," Texans owner Bob McNair told The Houston Chronicle. "He was the one we wanted."
The Bills have stumbled along, bust to bust, for nearly two decades. They’ll gladly take competent quarterback play — but at what cost? Time will tell. They won’t be paying anyone any time soon.
As it stands, Gilmore and Glenn will cost the Bills $24.7 million this season. By locking up both long term, the Bills could hypothetically bring that 2016 figure down. But if you’re Gilmore or Glenn, would you really want to? Players of equal or less talent at different positions signed one outrageous deal after another.
In addition to Osweiler and Jenkins, defensive end Oliver Vernon signed with the New York Giants at five years, $85 million ($52.5 million guaranteed). End Malik Jackson reached a six-year, $85.5 million ($31.5 million guaranteed) with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Even running backs got paid — $7 million per year to Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin, $6 million per year to Jacksonville’s Chris Ivory.
Gilmore summed up the day best on Twitter with four wide-eyed, rosy-faced emojis.
Kudos to the Bills for securing the left side of the offensive line. The NFL’s No. 1-ranked rushing attack will remain in tact, albeit with a potential LeSean McCoy suspension.
But a precedent was set for Taylor and Gilmore on Wednesday.
A very player-friendly precedent.