Free agency is often seen as a jackpot opportunity for players that have made the most of their first four or five years in the league. Even players say you work hard every day and perform every week for your second contract. For Jabari Greer it will be different.
The Bills starting cornerback, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, has already had a second contract. After signing with the Bills as an undrafted rookie in 2004, his rookie deal was up after the 2006 season. Greer went untendered by the Bills as a restricted free agent, but was eventually re-signed to a modest two-year pact.
This offseason Greer will sign his third contract after maximizing his pure talent with rigorous offseason training and learning from the experience 26 NFL starts can provide.
"I've gained that experience and become a better player," said Greer. "So I now have the maturity and know how to play the game and how to study and how to take care of my body. I've taken that step up and I feel like there are a lot more steps that I'm still going to take."
But the step into free agency is a different one. One that was much different from the last time he was not under contract. Coming out of the 2006 season Greer was a sub-package cornerback. He had yet to hold down a starting role on defense. The jury was out.
Now two years later with a pair of interception returns for touchdowns this season and solid performances against high profile receivers like Terrell Owens on his resume, Greer figures to be a hot commodity on the open market.
"I hope that's what they say when they see me," said Greer. "The funny thing is I know those plays and those plays feel good, but I'm worrying about the interception I missed against Jacksonville. And those plays are motivating for me when it comes time to conquer the offseason and know when there's opportunity you've got to grab it."
The opportunity that could be coming his way in the offseason is a big pay day if the Bills elect not to re-sign him prior to the opening of free agency in March.
A week ago New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster was re-signed to a five-year deal worth a reported $43.5 million with $20 million guaranteed. It's not unrealistic to think in an open market Greer, with comparable career numbers, could command as much.
Being heavily invested in top pick Leodis McKelvin, and with the contracts of Terrence McGee and Ashton Youboty set to expire after the 2009 season, it's hard to definitively say what the Bills will do at the cornerback position.
"That's the business aspect of the game," said Greer. "Unfortunately it's like that, but you also have a chance to do what's best for your family. And that's what I want to do. I'm not money hungry, but at the same time you have to take care of your own."
On the positive side Greer has respect for the organization that took a chance on him and a good relationship with Bills COO Russ Brandon, who played a large role in landing him as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2004 draft was over.
"I think they know where my heart is and that whatever happens and whatever business negotiations go on that I'll always be thankful for the opportunity I got here," said Greer. "There's a difference between loyalty and self interest and I want them to know that as long as the opportunity is here I'm going to be here. But if the opportunity is someplace else then I have to do what's best to provide for my family."
If that opportunity does prove to exist elsewhere, Greer knows moving on will be difficult when he thinks of his teammates.
"That's the toughest thing," he said. "The relationships that you establish in this locker room. I know when everything is said and done there are guys in this locker room that will be with me for the rest of my life. They understand what I'm up against. I don't want to speculate on what might happen, but whatever happens I know that I'll have the support of my teammates."
The road hasn't been easy for Greer in carving out a career for himself. From undrafted rookie, to special teams contributor, to sub-package defensive back to proven starter Greer has steadily climbed the ladder. And there will be a reward for that. But for once Greer is content with sitting back and letting that reward come to him.
"My mom always told me, 'Jabari, what's yours is yours and nobody can ever take that away from you.' Not only when they drafted Leodis or they brought in Will (James) in the offseason. There have been so many things that have been stacked against me. Through it all she's always told me what's meant for you is meant for you. So what's meant for me in the future in this game is going to be for me. If it's meant for me to be one of those guys that's blessed with the ability to provide for my family then it's going to happen. And I hope it does."