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What Bills fans need to know about free agency in 2022

Ryan Bates (71). Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins at Highmark Stadium, October 31, 2021.  Photo by Ben Green
Ryan Bates (71). Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins at Highmark Stadium, October 31, 2021. Photo by Ben Green

The legal contract negotiating window for NFL clubs to contact prospective free agent players begins today at noon. Here's what Bills fans need to know about the 2022 free agent market and Buffalo's role in it.

Restricted free agents

Buffalo has a pair of restricted free agents in OL Ryan Bates and DT Justin Zimmer. The Bills can tender a qualifying offer to their RFAs to maintain the right of first refusal, which means if another NFL club signs them to an offer sheet, Buffalo has the right to match the offer to retain the player.

The low RFA tender this offseason is $2.433 million, which gives the team a right to match any contract offer the player might receive from another NFL club. The second-round tender ($3.986M), would give the club extending such an offer compensation in the form of a second-round draft choice if another NFL club signed that player away and the team chose not to match. A first-round tender ($5.562M) would provide first-round pick compensation if that player was signed away by another NFL team.

Here is what Bills GM Brandon Beane said about Bates and Zimmer last week in an interview on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550.

"Yeah, we're still working on that process," said Beane. "So the tenders would be coming due next week for those guys. Unfortunately, Zimmer just may be a little more complicated because he tore his ACL midseason, and really did a good job for us the last year and a half before the injury. But he's been rehabbing that and we'll probably just have to see where this rehab is before we find out whether we're able to bring him back or not."

The deadline to tender a one-year qualifying offer to a restricted free agent is 4 pm on Wednesday March 16th otherwise the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Unrestricted free agents

The Bills have already re-signed one of their unrestricted free agents in DB Siran Neal, agreed to terms with wide receivers Jake Kumerow and Isaiah McKenzie. But there are still 13 other unrestricted free agents that will hit the open market if they're not re-signed by Buffalo by Wednesday at 4 pm.

Beane is expecting many of them to see what's available in the market before considering re-signing with the Bills.

"I think some of their representatives wanted to at least talk to other teams in some form or fashion and try to get a feel for what their market is going to be and see where we're at," said Beane. "They want to get the best deal for their client. That's their job and we respect that for sure. We've had conversations, but still a ways away where we're not knocking on the door of anyone where we're about to get something done."

Here are the 13 pending unrestricted free agents.

DE Mario Addison
G Ike Boettger
RB Matt Breida
DT Vernon Butler
DE Bryan Cox Jr.
OL Bobby Hart
DE Jerry Hughes
RB Taiwan Jones
DE Efe Obada
DT Harrison Phillips
WR Emmanuel Sanders
QB Mitchell Trubisky
CB Levi Wallace

Free agency expectations

Under GM Brandon Beane, the Bills have rarely been a big player in the first wave of free agency. As a rule, Buffalo's front office doesn't like to overpay for free agent talent, which is often done in the market's first couple of days by NFL clubs.

Here is Beane's take on what you can expect from the Bills in the days and weeks ahead.

"We'll have to clear money for draft picks as well. So we've got work to do as a lot of teams do," said Beane. "It's still hard. The cap went up this year, but we're still catching up. It should have been in the 220s if we hadn't had setback of COVID."

Buffalo has already taken steps to create more cap space releasing veteran LB AJ Klein, OL Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams.

"We're going to look at every avenue whether it's cuts, a restructure here or there or pay adjustments. So, we're looking at all those right now and hopefully here in the next week or so we'll have some news that allows us to at least operate in free agency."

How much cap space the Bills choose to clear with such moves could give indication as to how active Buffalo plans to be with free agent signings.

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