As the team's player union representative, George Wilson knows all too well the different set of rules coming down the pike for free agency this offseason. With no new labor agreement in place the salary cap will disappear and new criteria will exist for who is and who is not an unrestricted free agent. Wilson is one of a handful of Bills players that will have a different designation this offseason. Minus a new agreement the four-year veteran will be a restricted free agent instead of unrestricted.
Under the new free agency rules minus a new labor deal by March 5, players need six accrued seasons instead of four to be unrestricted free agents. Though it alters Wilson's ability to freely market himself to 31 other NFL teams, he isn't letting the process get him down.
"It is new ground and you really don't tend to think about these things until they affect you," Wilson told Buffalobills.com. "But at the end of the day I know I've done my part. I've put a quality performance on the field in the 13 games that I started. The work is out there on tape for all 32 teams to evaluate and see if I may fit on their team."
Wilson's career timing could not have been better. When injuries struck Buffalo's secondary this past season it afforded the receiver turned safety to show what he could do and Wilson excelled. Playing primarily strong safety he set a career high in tackles with 95, good for second on the team. He was also second on the team in interceptions with four (also a career high) and second in pass breakups.
A special teams co-captain, Wilson finished tied for third on the team in special teams tackles. That's why he's resting easy even though where Wilson might be playing football in 2010 is yet to be determined.
"All I can do is focus on the things I can control, like my attitude, my work ethic, my level of preparation, having a team first mindset," said Wilson. "And if I do those things the proper way and they meet the expectations of the organization then money and contracts will all take care of itself. So I'm content with the work that I put out this year. I know that each and every game I went out there and gave it my all."
As a restricted free agent the Bills have the right of first refusal with the ability to match any offer sheet Wilson may sign from another NFL club. If Buffalo chooses not to match an offer sheet then they would be compensated with a draft choice from the club that signed equal to the round in which Wilson was drafted.
But that's where things shift in favor of Wilson, who went undrafted as a rookie. After a very productive season in 2009 the Bills will probably need to use a higher tender than the minimum ($1.176M), which carries no draft pick compensation. Should Wilson and the Bills not reach an agreement on a long term deal beforehand, it's likely that Buffalo tenders Wilson at the middle level ($1.759M). That would give the club a second-round pick as compensation if the safety was signed by another team and the Bills chose not to match.
Wilson hopes it doesn't get to that point.
"Hopefully (I'll have) a multi-year deal," said Wilson. "That's definitely what I'm looking for. I love Buffalo. I love the organization and the community that I play in and I want to finish my career as a Buffalo Bill. That would be my ideal situation. But I understand that it's a business too. And under these circumstances with a new GM and a new head coach soon to be coming in anything can happen. I've been in Buffalo long enough to see a complete regime change, so I know with a change in leadership comes a change downstairs in our locker room too. So I'm just hopeful that I get an opportunity to continue to play my career in Buffalo."
The dependable safety is encouraged by the fact that the Bills have done right by productive players on their roster that have been good representatives of the club, with Fred Jackson and Terrence McGee being two of the more recent examples. Both signed long term extensions in 2009.
"We as players sit back and see how the organization approaches the various contract situations that come their way," said Wilson. "And you take notice of how Buffalo rallies behind the good guys on their club that are good guys on the field as well as off the field. They tend to try to keep their quality men around. So I hope they see something in me where they feel compelled to do the same in my situation."
Other restricted free agentsBuffalo has five other restricted free agents on their roster that fall under the new restricted free agent designationalong with Wilson. They are as follows.
LB Keith Ellison
QB Gibran Hamdan
OL Richie Incognito
TE Joe Klopfenstein
CB Ashton Youboty