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Posted: Tuesday, 07 January 2014 1:05PM

Big decisions looming for Bills in 2015



(WGR 550) -- During the off-season for teams in the National Football League a lot of pressure is put on the most immediate decisions that need to be made. Positional needs are looked at from a one-year perspective rather than one with a longer range.

Like most things though, it certainly is more involved than that. The decisions that will be made in the 2014 off-season for the Buffalo Bills will likely keep a keen eye on what the roster may look like in 2015 as well. 

By now, most know the list of the players that the Bills may be losing to free agency in March if nothing is done between now and then. However, the names of the players who have expiring contracts in March of 2015 are likely to be a much bigger loss if no precautionary steps are taken.

In a perfect world, teams would just re-sign all of the key pieces to their starting lineup. The reality of the situation is much, much different. Contract demands and desire to stay in Buffalo are the most rudimentary of factors, but a player's personality and their fit within the current makeup of the roster are equally as important.

With all that written, the Bills have five players that were vital to their efforts in 2013 that will be unrestricted free agents in March of 2015. And because the Bills likely won't be able to keep all of them, some steps may be taken in 2014 to prepare for what could happen.

Here is a look at the big names set to hit free agency in 2015:

1) DL Marcell Dareus
- With the way that Dareus has come on in the third season of his NFL career, most would believe this to be a very easy decision. When he wants to be, Dareus can be a dominant player on the field. That is perhaps the most perplexing part about him, because he has all the talent in the world to be one of the best defensive tackles in the league. However, does he want it enough? The Bills have gotten an extended look at how Dareus approaches the game weekly and to this point he hasn't been a model for how to be a professional. Back in Week 16, Dareus was benched for the first quarter for being what a league source called "habitually late" to team meetings. One day after the initial benching, Dareus was late to a team meeting once again according to The Buffalo News, and was benched for the entire first half in Week 17. In his defense, he is only 23 years old and maturity for some is delayed. Before the Bills load up Dareus with a large amount of guaranteed money though, they'll likely need to see that he's showing signs of maturity. His rookie deal is up in 2014, but luckily for the Bills they can take a relatively cheap extended look at Dareus if they so choose. As part of the first crop of rookies brought into the wage scale era of the draft, teams have the ability to pick up a fifth-year option on their first round picks for a bit of an increase in salary. The deadline for the Bills' decision is in early May. If they don't pick it up, that could speak volumes.

2) HB C.J. Spiller
- The term "frustrating" doesn't even begin to describe 2013 for C.J. Spiller. When he was healthy, he wasn't getting the touches many expected him to. When he wasn't healthy, his rate of effectiveness diminished. What we saw unfold at One Bills Drive over the course of the past season is that they did not come across as a team that believed Spiller was a feature back in the NFL. Coming into the season, that was the expectation from not only the fans and media, but of the team themselves. The dynamic Spiller was poised to pop in the opinion of many. Instead the runner went back to old tendencies of running east-west too often and flat-out could not be trusted on third-and-long situations in pass protection. That duo and his high ankle sprain created a major void that Fred Jackson filled for the time being. So now, what to do with Spiller? He's a free agent after the 2014 season and will likely command a high salary with the combination of his age and home run abilities. Don't expect the Bills to negotiate with Spiller this off-season to try and prevent him from leaving. The organization will likely use 2014 to see if Spiller is worth that kind of contract. If he doesn't improve in those two very important areas as mentioned above, 2014 could end up being Spiller's last season in Buffalo.

3) S Aaron Williams
- This list started off with two players that the Bills aren't sure about just yet, but the same cannot be said for former second-round pick Aaron Williams. With the hiring of Doug Marrone and the switch of Williams from cornerback to safety, it's as though the former Texas Longhorn got the wake-up call he needed.  In his first year of playing the position in his life, Williams showed a large amount of potential to be a playmaker at that spot for many years to come. He's viewed by the coaches as an extremely hard worker, a loyal teammate, a player with a lot of room for growth and someone that aches to win in the NFL. Once the dust settles on the 2014 off-season (free agency, draft) and we start to get closer to training camp, it wouldn't be at all surprising if the Bills try to work out a new contract with their talented safety to keep him in Buffalo past 2014. It would be smart for a couple of different reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that he's a talented player with loads of potential. The second would be to try and re-sign Williams before he has a truly huge jump in production that could cost the Bills millions more to keep him.

4) HB Fred Jackson
- C.J. Spiller isn't the only running back with an expiring contract after the 2014 season. Fred Jackson will also be entering the final year of his deal and is a very important player to the Bills' offensive attack. With how hard he runs, how much the coaching staff likes him and how much the fans love him, re-signing Jackson would be an open-and-shut case if it weren't for one very important factor: his age. By the time the 2015 season starts, Jackson will be 34. While that's young by real life standards, that's borderline ancient for running backs in the NFL. It's tough to have a crystal ball to see what his production will be in 2014, but if he has a similar season to the one he just had in Buffalo there is a very easy scenario to envision. The Bills could be proactive and draft a running back in the third or fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and develop him while both Spiller and Jackson get the majority of the carries. With Spiller likely commanding a pretty penny on the open market, the Bills could re-sign Jackson to a one or two-year deal, let him retire as a member of the team and pair him with whoever they drafted in 2014. Whatever the case, the Bills should act quickly on the running back position before it's too late and draft someone with an eye on the future.

5) RLB Jerry Hughes
- While Doug Whaley is still going through the paces of his initial year of being the General Manager, he needs to be commended for the first trade he likely had a large hand in pulling off. The Bills flipped former third-round pick Kelvin Sheppard, who was just an average starter for the team over his first two seasons, for former first-round pick and pass rusher Jerry Hughes. Thought by many in Indianapolis to be a bust, Hughes took the change of scenery and ran with it. Heading into 2013, Hughes had only five sacks in his first three seasons. In his lone season with the Bills Hughes finally realized his potential and brought down the quarterback 10 times, bringing his career total up to 15. If he has another season with similar production, he will be an in-demand unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season. With all the money committed to Mario Williams, it might be a stretch for the Bills to have two big-ticket pass rushers on their roster. While not an immediate need, a mid-to-late round pick on a pass-rusher could be warranted to soften the blow of Hughes' potential departure.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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