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3 pressing questions for the Bills heading into the 2021 NFL free agency period

Isaiah McKenzie (19) punt return for touchdown. Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins, January 3, 2021 at Bills Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert
Isaiah McKenzie (19) punt return for touchdown. Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins, January 3, 2021 at Bills Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

1. Do plans change if a big name player becomes available?

Bills GM Brandon Beane clearly stated in his season-ending press conference that Bills fans should not expect big splashes in free agency. Buffalo's tight cap situation has the team's personnel boss leaning toward taking his typical approach of finding affordable value and filling as many holes as possible before the NFL draft.

But what if in the salary cap cuts we've witnessed the past week suddenly thrusts a big name talent into the market that was largely unexpected? That happened a few weeks ago when J.J. Watt was released by the Houston Texans, and the Bills were players for his services.

Such a scenario could present itself again as the new league year begins.

Do the Bills deviate from their free agency plan to find a way to land a big name player that can make a world of difference?

It may not be likely, but Buffalo seemed willing to adjust when Watt was released. If the right player at a position of need is cut loose by another club the Bills may get creative to at least make an offer.

Beyond that however, Beane and his personnel team figure to operate in the middle tier of the free agent market.

2. Will a contract extension for Josh Allen be a factor in free agent decision making?

A contract extension for Josh Allen is more a matter of when than if for the Bills. Again the restrictive salary cap as well as the lost ticket revenue from 2020, and potentially 2021, has likely impacted the timing of an Allen extension. Beane did mention in an offseason interview on the 'Cris Collinsworth podcast' that they would consider completing one this offseason.

Whether an extension for Buffalo's quarterback is completed this offseason or next, that kind of financial commitment will factor into the team's free agent signings knowing they have to leave themselves enough cap room to accommodate Allen's new contract in the near future whenever it's finalized.

"I'm sure Brandon Beane is working on that deal and figuring it all out now," said NFL Network analyst and former league personnel executive Marc Ross. "It's not going to be once Josh is up where they say, 'What do we do now?' All these plans for his contract were probably begun last year just making sure they try to strike as early as possible and put themselves in the best position with his contract for the long-term future. But it definitely changes things. When you've got a QB on a rookie deal and now he's taking up 40 percent of your cap you have to make much wiser and financially sound decisions."

3. More or fewer one-year contracts?

Beane and his personnel department have been ahead of the curve with this approach in free agency. Making use of one-year contracts has worked both for the Bills and those players looking to re-establish their value in the league.

Daryl Williams did that this past season and benefited without even having to change teams after agreeing to terms on a new three-year contract with Buffalo for significantly more money than he signed on for a year ago.

Players like DT Jordan Phillips and G Quinton Spain are two other examples of players who were able to maximize their value on prove-it contracts and earned more long-term lucrative contracts in free agency.

After Buffalo addresses their most pressing positional holes, there figures to be more one-year contracts for two reasons. First, the restrictive cap is forcing a lot of NFL clubs to not commit long term to every player they sign in free agency due to their limited monies available to spend. Second, the players themselves might be less apt to take a long term deal, knowing taking a one-year deal this offseason will allow them to get back into the free agent market next offseason when more teams will have more money to spend in a normal cap year.

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