The NFL's legal tampering window officially opened at noon.
That means the Buffalo Bills and 31 other teams can enter into contract negotiations with the agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. Wednesday. While terms can be agreed to, those deals can't become official until that time.
It didn't take long for the first big deal to take form around the league, with multiple reports saying the Oakland Raiders have agreed to a four-year contract worth up to $66 million with former New England Patriots left tackle Trent Brown. That agreement was reported at 12:09 p.m. – just nine minutes after negotiations were permitted to begin.
The Bills first move on Monday afternoon was adding cornerback Kevin Johnson, who was released last week by Houston and thus eligible to sign right away. They also have been linked to some of the biggest names available this offseason – whether through free agency or via trade. First, a deal for Steelers star Antonio Brown was considered last week. Then Monday it was reported that the team had discussed the possibility of taking a run at Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, one of the biggest free agents on the market.
I'm told there have been some level of discussions within the #Bills on impending FA DE Trey Flowers. Gathering of opinions, was the tone conveyed at this point. Other potential targets that peaked interest in similar discussions, are mired in a tag situation.
— ig: josinaanderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 11, 2019
Flowers, however, won't be coming to Buffalo. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that he's set to join the Detroit Lions on a five-year contract.
Even considering getting into the market for Flowers is interesting from a Buffalo perspective, because it calls into question the future of the Bills' current top three players at the position – Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson.
Hughes, who will be 31 at the start of the 2019 season, has one year left on his contract. His cap hit of $10.4 million is the second highest on the team behind only defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Hughes is due a $1 million roster bonus Sunday – something the Bills would likely want to avoid paying if they were planning to go in a different direction. Hughes is one of only five players remaining on the roster who predate General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott arriving two years ago.
Murphy, meanwhile, has the fourth-highest cap hit, at $8.7 million. He has a $500,000 roster bonus due Sunday. At the same time, $2.5 million of his 2019 base salary becomes guaranteed. The Bills could move on from him with a $3.5 million "dead money" cap hit if they moved him before Sunday, either through a trade or by releasing him. Murphy was part of Beane's first free-agent class last year.
Flowers, 26 at the start of the 2019 season, is younger than both Hughes and Murphy, who is 28. Now that he's off the market, however, perhaps the Bills are content to bring back Hughes, Murphy and Lawson, who is scheduled to become a free agent after this season unless the team picks up his fifth-year option, in 2019.
Additionally, Pittsburgh free agent tight end Jesse James will sign with the Detroit Lions, according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 11, 2019
James, who will be 25 at the start of the 2019 season, had been viewed as a potential target for the Bills, who currently have just one tight end on the roster in Jason Croom. James grew up in Pittsburgh, but was stuck behind Vance MacDonald on the Steelers' depth chart.
The Bills agreed to terms with tight end Tyler Kroft from the Cincinnati Bengals, but might pursue additional players at the position.