The 6-2, 254-pound Texas Christian University product entered the NFL as a first-round draft selection (31st overall) of Indianapolis in 2010.
It went right up to the 11th hour, but a day before the free agent market opened free agent DE Jerry Hughes re-signed with the Bills agreeing to a new multi-year contract. The pass rusher flew to Buffalo on Sunday after contract negotiations made significant progress between the two sides over the weekend. The signing keeps the most successful pass rushing defensive line in the league intact. Buffalo has more sacks over the past two seasons (111) than any other team in football.
Hughes, who will turn 27 in August, is responsible for 20 of those sacks after posting back-to-back 10-sack seasons in 2013 and 2014 despite playing in two different defensive schemes. After logging double-digit sacks for a second straight season this past year Hughes became just the fourth Bill to record 20 sacks within the first two seasons of being with the team. He also has five forced fumbles and a fumble return for a touchdown in his two seasons with Buffalo.
Hughes had said from the start that his first choice was to return to Buffalo. After toiling in the background in Indianapolis as a reserve player for the first three years of his career, the trade that brought him to the Bills in 2013 proved to be boon to his career.
"Just the opportunity that the Bills presented me with the whole trade and my whole transition from Indy coming here, then just getting here and jelling with the guys," Hughes told Buffalobills.com. "Being here for two years and working with guys like Mario (Williams), Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and the rest of the guys on the defense and developing that team chemistry and then just getting that whole camaraderie and being so close to (the playoffs) last year.
"We all wanted to come back and do more and be great or be better. I think that was always sitting in me because you never want to leave something unfinished or undone. I definitely feel like we have a lot that's unfinished."
The pass rusher also admitted he was influenced by the hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach in January. Sensing the team is now a step closer to playoff caliber he didn't want to miss out on what he thinks could be something special.
"Playing on a defense now where Rex Ryan is taking over and he's the head coach and you hear all the great things from the players all over the league about how much they respect him and love him and how great of a coach he is," said Hughes. "With someone like that who is now leading the team you don't want to miss any type of involvement in that because you know he's going to bring us all along the right way. He'll get us all moving as one unit. For us to be so close (to the playoffs) I feel like with him taking over, Terry and Kim (Pegula) did a fabulous job adding a couple more guys to the mix it made the team impossible to walk away from."
Back in mid-February at the NFL Combine Bills GM Doug Whaley stated that he was "highly optimistic" that the team would reach a new deal with Hughes. February however, quickly turned to March and when Kansas City franchised their top pass rushing free agent Justin Houston and the Giants franchised DE Jason Pierre-Paul, it left Hughes as the best free agent pass rusher still set to hit the free agent market.
Hughes kept a close eye as to how the market was shaping up from February into March, but ultimately made it clear that Buffalo was his ideal landing spot.
"I paid a lot of attention to that just because it's your career," he said. "You want to know what's going on. I paid attention to what was going on with the market and the rest of the defensive ends. Yeah there (were other teams calling), but we were still listening to Buffalo. From my point of view I made it clear to my camp that this was the place I wanted to be."
Shortly after signing his contract Monday morning, Hughes spoke by phone with owner Terry Pegula.
"I told him I'm excited and very thankful for the opportunity that he's given me, but now it's time to get back to work," said Hughes. "We have goals, an AFC East title. We want to get that banner hanging up in this building so we know we've got to get ready to work for that and that starts now. So we're putting our effort into that. Super Bowl too, but first we've got to take care of our division so we can get into the playoffs and let the rest take care of itself."
Hughes return ensures that Buffalo's dominant defensive front will remain together for a third straight season. With the addition of Rex Ryan's schematics to the defensive talent pool Hughes believes the chances are greater for higher levels of achievement for the Bills in 2015.
"The sky is the limit," said Hughes. "You know Rex's rapport and the defensive guru that he is. For us to get out here and get into a playbook like that in the offseason it's going to be a lot of fun. Especially with the chemistry that we have, oh man I'm excited. You don't understand how many text messages I've been getting from the guys about how excited they are about the hiring of Rex. We're ready, we're pumped up and I know we're all going to come back in tip top shape ready to roll."