Quinton Spain took a one-year, prove-it deal to join the Buffalo Bills as an unrestricted free agent last April.
The veteran guard proved plenty in helping them to a 10-6 record and playoff appearance in 2019.
A month away from re-entering the NFL's open market, Spain is looking to cash in on all that proof with a long-term agreement that would pay significantly more than the $2.05 million he received from the Bills in the form of a $1.75 million base salary, $200,000 signing bonus and $100,000 workout bonus.
He figures to draw attention from other teams. However, Spain, who spent four seasons with the Tennessee Titans after they signed him in 2015 as an undrafted free agent from West Virginia, has expressed a desire to remain with the Bills.
The Bills could do a whole lot worse than keep him as their starting left guard.
"He's been awesome for us," quarterback Josh Allen told reporters last month, as the Bills packed up for the offseason. "Just his mindset, his attitude, the way he plays, he brings a fire. He's a really good dude, too.
"I love him and I wish we’d get him back, too. I know it's the nature of the business. If I had a say, we’d have him back. He’s just one of those guys that you want on your team."
The question, always, is: At what price?
For the Bills, determining what it is might very well go beyond their evaluation of Spain. It could, in fact, have more to do with their vision on Cody Ford, who started all but one game at right tackle after the Bills made him a second-round draft pick from Oklahoma last year. Ford struggled enough in pass protection to raise serious questions about whether he should remain at tackle or move to guard, where he also played in college.
If the Bills move Ford to guard, that would diminish Spain's value to them. Jon Feliciano, who started at right guard last season but who can play both guard spots, could replace Spain at left guard while Ford starts at right guard. Feliciano is entering the final year of a two-year, $7.25 million contract.
According to analytics data from Pro Football Focus, Spain, 28, didn't allow a sack in 1,063 snaps, the 12th-highest total among guards and he didn't miss a single offensive snap. PFF also had Spain allowing five quarterback hits and 29 pressures. In addition, it had him with four penalties, which tied for 30th among guards.
PFF's overall grade for Spain was 55.8, with 70.4 for pass-blocking and 45.8 for run-blocking. All of the grades were career lows, although he had his highest count for snaps. Spain's worst overall game grade was 38.3, which came in the Bills' Dec. 15 playoff-clinching victory at Pittsburgh.
Considering that former Bills guard John Miller, 26, received an average of $5.5 million per year to join the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent, it's fair to think Spain would command more than that because he is a better player. Another former Bills guard, 36-year-old Richie Incognito, gets an average of $6.3 million from the Oakland Raiders. However, Spain is not at his performance level.
Where the Bills and Spain ultimately wind up with numbers remains to be seen.
Spain told reporters after the season that he would like to get a deal done before free agency if the Bills are interested in bringing him back.
"If you have a guy that you want, whatever player it is, you’d love to go ahead and get something done before they get to free agency," General Manager Brandon Beane said at his season-ending news conference. "But I also respect the business part of it. We have to make business decisions that are sometimes painful, because you get to be around these guys, and you love them, and you appreciate what they’ve done for you.
"I don’t hold it against any of them if they say, 'Hey, I really want to be here, but I want to wait a little closer to free agency and get a feel for my market because maybe … where your offer is at, I think I can get more or I just want to make sure before I commit.' Some guys are like, 'I just want to be here and that’s what I want to be.' And that’s great for us or whatever team they like. A lot of guys or their agents may say, 'Let us see what’s out there and let’s circle back closer to free agency.' There’s different times these agents fill out and find the market.
"Any guy that says, 'I definitely want to be here,' and we can be on the same page of their value that we want, we’d love to go ahead and get them done as soon as possible."
Allen calls Spain a "team guy" with strong communication skills.
"He gets along with everybody in the locker room, he's a good presence," the quarterback said. "And when he goes out on the football field, he plays really well. I guess time will tell (on whether Spain returns). I hope he knows that I love him and that'll never change."
"We'd love to have him back, but he deserves to get paid this offseason," center Mitch Morse told reporters last month during the locker clean-out. "He's a great person to be around. He's smart as hell, made this offensive line so much better. Helped me out a lot and I owe a lot to Quinton Spain. I have a lot of respect to him as a person and as a football player."