With loads of cap space, the Buffalo Bills don't have to make many hard decisions with some of the better players on their roster. And even though they employ a player with a roster bonus and salary jump that would make most front offices squirm, the Bills are intent on standing pat.
The highest paid defensive player in NFL history still resides on the Bills roster and Mario Williams won't need to worry about restructuring his deal. Williams is owed a $10.6 million roster bonus with the start of the new league year in March, which is more money than any single player from Buffalo's roster is owed for their salary this season.
The bonus is paired with a $6.4 million jump in the defensive end's cap number with the Bills, accounting for $18.8 million of Buffalo's annual salary allotment. Normally with a cap figure as jarring as the one Williams is owed, teams will work to restructure the deal.
Bills general manager Doug Whaley isn't concerned about it.
"At this time, non-issue," he said Friday. "We're comfortable where it is right now."
Williams has back-to-back double-digit seasons, collecting 23.5 sacks and forcing three fumbles during his first two seasons in Buffalo. Including 2014, the defensive end has four years left on his contract, with cap numbers of $18.8 million, $19 million (2015), $19.9 million (2016) and $16.5 million (2017).
In April of 2013, the Buffalo Bills selected quarterback EJ Manuel as their new hope for the future of the franchise.
In January of 2014, his freshman replacement at Florida State led a very similarly talented team to the school's first national championship since 1999. It's led to the exclamation from some -- not all -- fans of the Bills that their team drafted the wrong Seminoles quarterback.
One of the more intriguing prospects in the draft this year is wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin who hails from, you guessed it, Florida State. He had two seasons on the field in Tallahassee.
His first year, EJ Manuel threw him the ball. In his second, it was Jameis Winston. How might he compare the two?
"You really can't. They're totally two different types of guys," Benjamin said of their on-field prowess, but remarked off-the-field that they're actually quite similar. "But at the end of the day, they care about their team. That most of all. They care about their receivers, really. EJ and Jameis, off-the-field problems, you can go to them with anything. They'll be there to talk to you. You want to borrow a couple of bucks from them? They'll take it out their pockets and give it to you. That's the type of guys they are."
That falls right in line with the leadership qualities Manuel was touted to have, in which he was described as a player his teammates gravitate toward. Now the Bills are just hoping the on-field production will improve to match his off-the-field persona.
Everyone needs a great one and so few NFL franchises have one of that caliber. That's why it was a bit of an anomaly in 2013 when the Buffalo Bills were the lone team to take a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft.
The general consensus was that it wasn't the year to need a quarterback, and almost every team held off. Those that waited, in the opinion of many, will be much better rewarded based on the prospects of the top signal callers available in 2014.
Since the Bills were the lone franchise to buck the trend of the popular opinion in 2013, where would their franchise quarterback rate in this year's crop?
That seemed like a good question for the guy that had a hand in drafting him, Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley.
"Oooh. Good question," Whaley said, caught perhaps a tad off-guard while expecting the normal combine banter with the media. "I would have to say he would be talked in the top tier of those guys. Just with his size and athletic ability, you looked at the measurements now, there was only one guy close to his size and that was Blake Bortles at 6-5, and AJ McCarron was over the 6-3, so he's in there. I'm a big proponent that everything equal, you go with the bigger guy."
So there you have it, Bills fans. In the opinion of Whaley, Manuel would be with the top crew of Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and even perhaps Derek Carr.
Save this quote just in case. If Manuel doesn't end up panning out for the Bills and the GM is forced to draft another quarterback to get over the hump, his final sentence in that quote should be remembered. In Whaley's world, the tie goes to the big guy.
What is Whaley expecting from Manuel in his second go-round?
"I want to see some progression just with his being comfortable in the system and I think you're gonna get that because now he knows what to expect. He knows what to expect in this off-season, he knows what to expect in camp, he knows what to expect in the regular season," the GM replied, before coming out with an intriguing sentence. "And with what coach put around him with the quarterback coach and the offensive assistant, we're giving him every resource to do what he has to do to take that next step to get us where we need to go."
All quotes are open to many different ways of interpretation, and perhaps the effort to give him "every resource" to succeed is essentially saying "we've gotta see something from you this year, kid." Or, maybe it's just a sentence in an answer. Either way, the progress of Manuel will be fascinating and it will not be impeded by a player at his same position in regards to the ninth overall pick.
Whaley said they can do just about anything with the ninth overall selection.
"With the way our roster's set up right now, besides quarterback, we could go with any position," he remarked.
If you were holding on to the slim hope that the Bills would take a signal caller with their first round pick, you can officially saddle up for another year of EJ.
Quick, name the top five tight ends of the Buffalo Bills since 1990.
Pete Metzelaars undoubtedly tops the list, but from there it's a collective head scratching exercise. Jay Riemersma? Scott Chandler? Lonnie Johnson? Dave Moore? Derek Fine?
While Chandler has been a suitable starter for the past three seasons, it's hard to argue that the Bills could serve to upgrade the position. Now that the tight end is a free agent heading into 2014, Buffalo might actually look at that position as one to add to through the NFL Draft.
While it's not a full out certainty considering they do like Tony Moeaki and want to see what he can do at the position, an argument can be made for an addition to tight end anyway. If young quarterback EJ Manuel is going to flourish, some will argue to surround him with as much playmaking talent as possible.
And for a young quarterback, the tight end is often their best friend. With that written, there are some intriguing names throughout the 2014 class.
Here are my initial rankings of tight ends available in this year's class:
(Keep in mind that these are overall rankings, not who the Bills may be looking for and targeting.)
Eric Ebron - North Carolina
Austin Seferian-Jenkins - Washington
Jace Amaro - Texas Tech
Troy Niklas - Notre Dame
Colt Lyerla - Oregon
C.J. Fiedorowicz - Iowa
Arthur Lynch - Georgia
Rob Blanchflower - UMass
Richard Rodgers - Cal
Marcel Jensen - Fresno State
A.C. Leonard - Tennessee State
Gator Hoskins - Marshall
Jacob Pedersen - Wisconsin
Xavier Grimble - USC
Joe Don Duncan - Dixie State
Trey Burton - Florida
Ted Bolser - Indiana
Crockett Gillmore - Colorado State
Chris Coyle - Arizona State
Jake Murphy - Utah
Jordan Najvar - Baylor
Michael Flacco - New Haven
Nic Jacobs - McNeese State
**Note: Most have Lyerla much lower, but the 2014 Combine will be huge for Lyerla (5) in explaining himself to teams. His potential is outstanding enough, at this point, to take a mid-round chance on him.
An in-depth preview of the top players of the position and how they fit the Bills will be on the way as the draft gets closer.