It's a question that came to mind for most Bills fans not long after it was announced that Ryan Fitzpatrick was locked up long term with a new contract extension late Friday afternoon. Who will be the next Bills player signed for the foreseeable future?
Most of the attention has focused on top wideout Stevie Johnson, who also has a contract set to expire after the 2011 season. Johnson was more excited about Fitzpatrick's extension Friday than he was about his own situation.
"I think it's good for the Bills because they've taken one step to solidify quarterback," Johnson told Buffalobills.com. "You know it's not a one and done season here in 2011. There are other guys with contracts that are going to be up, but you know you have your head guy coming back for years to come. It's one step with Fitz toward putting this team together for the long haul."
Buffalo's offense clearly has a core of playmakers now, but some of their more important pieces have expiring contracts. Both starting offensive tackles, Johnson and Roscoe Parrish are all up at season's end, and Fred Jackson has also expressed a desire for a new deal, with his current one expiring after the 2012 campaign.
Bills GM Buddy Nix, who wants nothing more than to build the team into a perennial playoff contender and more, knows with his quarterback position solidified he can fill in the other necessary pieces that much quicker.
"It makes everything easier for us," he said. "It's easier to put good players around him if you've got that position that you feel good about and we do. It makes the rest of it go faster."
Most contract negotiators however, would tell you that agreeing to new deals for players isn't something that happens in short order.
Nix understands there are some other key components to the team that need to be addressed sooner rather than later and laments the time lost during the league's lockout when organizations could not even contact their players or their agents.
"I don't want to blame it on the lockout," he said. "I think we'd had have a lot of these things done in a normal year."
Johnson would appear to be the player next on the list, but no one can say for sure who Mr. Wilson and Nix have as the new top priority. What does seem certain is if the team is to develop into a true playoff contender that Johnson and Jackson are just two of the more essential ingredients in making that happen.
"I think there are plenty of guys that are going to come up in terms of contracts," said Fitzpatrick. "Stevie and Freddy are the ones that are talked about the most. They're really big parts of our team and our offense. We feel like we have a good core group of guys. It's going to be a tough attempt to keep everybody together and continue to build off the success we've had and continue to go in the right direction. But we need those guys to do it."
Johnson is hopeful that his situation is resolved in due time, but seems willing to be patient for now.
"Who knows what happens next," said Johnson. "For the most part we're thinking that we all will be locked in so we can try to go from here. It would make a lot of sense, but it's still a business at the end of the day. Everybody that we want to be on the team may not be here next year, but we have action with Fitz getting extended. We'll see what happens and see how the season goes."
When asked about Jackson and Johnson specifically Nix didn't commit to anything, but did give an indication that they would be addressed.
"We just don't discuss it," he said of contract negotiations. "We'll do the same with them as we've done this time. When it's done we'll talk about it."