In most cases a team's unrestricted free agents are the priority knowing come March they can entertain offers and sign with other NFL clubs without compensation to their former team. But the Bills have a few restricted free agents that they'll likely be factoring into their free agent conversations this offseason.
Keith Ellison stands out as the most prominent of Buffalo's restricted players. Starting all 16 games at outside linebacker in place of the I-R'd Angelo Crowell, Ellison finished tied for third on the team in solo tackles with 50 and fifth in total tackles with 82 in 2008.
Ellison played his best football against Miami with nine tackles and a fumble recovery in the first meeting with the Dolphins and 10 tackles in the second matchup.
The third-year pro is known as a heady player that doesn't make mistakes and can cover in space. Also an asset on special teams it's expected the Bills will tender the former sixth-round pick with a qualifying offer or sign him to a modest extension.
John DiGiorgio had his season cut short by a torn ACL suffered in the San Diego game on a non-contact play while on coverage teams. DiGiorgio had surgery on Oct. 31 and is on schedule according to team doctors for a return to football action not long after spring practices begin.
"I'll be back for offseason workouts, hopefully be back for OTAs and spend most of January and February up here doing my rehab with the training staff here," said DiGiorgio.
As for his restricted free agent status he believes he's shown the Bills enough in his time with the club that they will re-invest in him.
"What I did last year and what I do on special teams hopefully (is enough)," said DiGiorgio. "They know what type of guy I am and I really enjoy the organization and I hope to be here next year."
DiGiorgio isn't the only former undrafted rookie that has found a niche on Buffalo's roster. Receiver Justin Jenkins and safety George Wilson have also carved out careers for themselves on Buffalo's special teams units.
The two figure to be in the mix as far as tender offers go, but as was the case with Jabari Greer a couple of seasons ago, the Bills may elect to bypass the tender offer and re-sign them to multi-year contracts that are less expensive.
Gibran Hamdan is another restricted free agent that will likely be brought back. With J.P. Losman expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, and Hamdan a trusted confidante of Trent Edwards, the former NFL Europe star is likely to be re-signed by the club.
"I love being a Buffalo Bill and I hope they have interest in keeping it that way so we'll see how the offseason goes," Hamdan said. "But I'd love to be back in Buffalo."
The organization likes Hamdan's size and arm and likely wouldn't mind letting him compete for the number two job behind Edwards in training camp next summer after making him the number two quarterback for the last two games of the regular season.
"It was nice to get a late-season promotion like I did," Hamdan said. "Hopefully that correlates into moving forward next year."
Buffalo's only other restricted free agent is Dustin Fox. Fox did not make the opening day roster, but was signed to the team's practice squad when injuries struck the team's secondary. He was brought up to the active roster for the final five games of the season, but played sparingly.