For a team like the Bills making over your roster through free agency is going to be easier said than done when the anticipated uncapped rules take effect on Friday. Over 200 players in the league that were to be unrestricted free agents, will instead be restricted. With the majority of those restricted players likely to be tendered, signing those players to offer sheets comes at the expense of compensation.
Those changes, however, aren't going to discourage Buffalo's front office from acquiring the talent they believe they need to make the Bills better.
"We're sitting here trying to make sure we make good decisions for our football team," said head coach Chan Gailey. "If there's a player that upgrades us no matter what position we're going to try to get that player."
Still it's hard to argue that pulling prime talent away from other teams will require more commitment and in many cases more compensation. For example, Pittsburgh offensive tackle Willie Colon just completed his fourth NFL season, but under the uncapped rules he's restricted, as players need six accrued seasons to become unrestricted.
The Steelers have already tendered Colon at the first-round level meaning that if another team signs the right tackle to an offer sheet and Pittsburgh chooses not to match the offer, the club that signed Colon would have to surrender a first-round pick to the Steelers as compensation. That's not considered a worthwhile trade-off for a starting right tackle.
Still, Colon is viewed as one of the better tackles out there this offseason, but with his restricted designation he comes at a cost to a team's wallet as well as their stock of draft picks.
For Buffalo's new regime however, they don't sound all that concerned with the rules determining the way in which they can improve their team.
"I think the way we approach our team is we have to try to do everything we can to get the right players in position for us," said Gailey. "We'll just try to evaluate players and do what's best for the football team. There are always going to be restrictions no matter what the system."
The uncapped rules set to take effect later this week appear to benefit NFL teams that already have a good stable of talent that may have been ready to hit the open market. The Chargers are perhaps the best example.
In a normal offseason San Diego would have seen wide receivers Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson along with linebacker Shawne Merriman, offensive tackle Marcus McNeill and running back Darren Sproles all hit the free agent market provided they did not re-sign with the team prior to March 5th.
Signing all five of those players to new long-term contracts would have been next to impossible. Year one of their combined salaries on new contracts could have approached $50 million, and that's not counting bonus money. Instead all five players can be tendered qualifying offers allowing San Diego to retain their rights and gain compensation in the form of draft picks should any of them be signed to offer sheets by other NFL teams.
It's been widely reported that the Chargers intend to use the highest tender on Floyd, Jackson, McNeill and Merriman, meaning San Diego would get compensation in the form of a first and third-round pick for each of those players should they be signed away by another club. If the highest tender is used on all four of those aforementioned players the Chargers would be on the hook for just $13 million.
Of course there's also speculation that quality players that are offered one-year tenders may not sign them, choosing instead to hold out for a long term deal and an increased average annual salary.
Bills GM Buddy Nix doesn't believe anyone can predict how this very different offseason will play out.
"I think each case is different," Nix said of the restricted players. "I think each individual decides what's best for them. I don't see it being a wholesale either way. I think it'll just be an individual thing like it always is."
Nix, who was planning to make contact with representatives for some of Buffalo's unrestricted free agents this week, also isn't ready to believe that there will be more trades between NFL teams to make up for the smaller unrestricted free agent talent pool.
"Again I think that's determined by a team's needs and what's available," he said. "It takes two to trade. A lot of times you want to make a trade and you can't find anybody to trade with you."
The new system will require some feeling out by the Bills and the other 31 NFL clubs. One thing Nix has maintained since he was named general manager is that quick fixes usually don't set you up well for the long term. At the same time he knows free agency is a tool that can help to add pieces to the puzzle.
"We can't do everything in a one-year period," he said. "And we can't do everything through the draft. So we have to plug in some holes according to what's available. These other guys that are restricted on some other teams, we don't know what's going to happen with them yet, but we will try to plug in some holes before the draft."