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Is Buffalo's front office allowing itself to get out-leveraged?

By Tim Graham

I've wondered out loud how a team can miss 13 straight postseasons and claim to rebuild through the draft yet fail to re-sign the players who develop just as they hoped they would when drafting them.

I asked Andrew Brandt, an ESPN business analyst who handled player contracts and the salary cap for the Green Bay Packers, how the moribund Bills could connect on a second-round draft pick such as left guard Andy Levitre and not be able to re-sign him.

The problem, Brandt explained, is that the Bills should have addressed Levitre's future a long time ago.

"The way teams balance their cash and cap commitments to their star or top players is to have an infrastructure with a good portion of the team under rookie -- fixed -- contracts and building the pipeline for the future," Brandt replied in an email.

"The best-managed teams seem to draft, develop and sign their core young stars in advance of their leverage point of free agency. With someone like Levitre, that seemed like a perfect target for an early extension, taking him off the market with remaining time on his deal.

"For whatever reason, that didn't happen."

In other words, the Bills would have gotten Levitre to stay for a lot less than the six years, $46.8 million he accepted from the Tennessee Titans had they offered him some security before he completed the final year of his rookie contract.

Perhaps two-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd would have come cheaper, too.

Waiting too long to re-sign good players is a bad economic model for a team that generally must overpay to land free agents. The Bills' most cost-effective opportunities to acquire quality talent are in the draft and on the waiver wire. Those players have no choice but to report for duty.

Not being able to hang onto those players compounds the problem.

The Bills might find themselves in a similar situation in 11 months if they don't approach center Eric Wood. His contract will be up. That negotiation, however, could be tricky. Wood is one of the NFL's best centers when healthy. Given his injury history, an early contract extension would be a gamble.

But you can understand why the Bills would be hesitant. They have been stung when trying to be proactive.

They did well in re-signing Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams a year ahead of time, but they overpaid on four of their biggest advance extensions: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, receiver Lee Evans and defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel.

The Fitzpatrick extension is a significant reason why the Bills didn't have as much salary-cap flexibility this offseason. Although, as Brandt pointed out, the Bills could have brought Levitre back at a much cheaper price had they taken care of him months ago.

"The Fitzpatrick deal may have been an emotional reaction to the hot start that year," Brandt said. "Interestingly, the three quarterbacks who were paid handsomely in recent years despite limited sample sizes -- Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel -- were all cut last week."

tagged

2013 free agency | Aaron Schobel | Andy Levitre | Chris Kelsay | Eric Wood | Jairus Byrd | Kyle Williams | Lee Evans | Ryan Fitzpatrick
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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