The Tremaine Edmunds question: Should Bills re-sign him or let him hit free agency?

There are 20 players on the Buffalo Bills roster who will be eligible to enter the unrestricted free agent market in five weeks, but there is only one that will truly present a vexing decision for general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott.

What to do with linebacker Tremaine Edmunds?

Yeah, that’s a big one. Should the Bills re-sign him at a hefty price tag, or allow him to enter into an arena where the 31 other teams will have a chance at luring him away from Buffalo.

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There are other players the Bills would like to retain, most prominently safety Jordan Poyer and to a lesser degree, running back Devin Singletary, defensive linemen Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson, and maybe special teamers like Tyler Matakevich, Taiwan Jones and Jake Kumerow.

But they pale in comparison to Edmunds, both in terms of what he means to the team, and what it will cost if they decide to bring him back.

Tremaine Edmunds, who will be eligible for free agency next month, has made at least 100 tackles in all five of his Bills seasons.
Tremaine Edmunds, who will be eligible for free agency next month, has made at least 100 tackles in all five of his Bills seasons.

“Draft, develop, re-sign,” Beane said at his season-ending press conference, referring to the Bills’ preferred strategy of developing their own draft picks to the point where they sign them to a second contract. “He’s a big part of our success coming in with Josh (Allen in the first round of the 2018 draft). Like Poyer and many of these other guys, we would love to keep them all and we’ll do our best.”

What is the Bills salary cap situation?

If the Bills weren’t in the red on the salary cap, with nine players set to count for a combined $155.1 million before any potential (and likely) contract alterations take place, this probably wouldn’t be too tough of a call. Edmunds will be only 25 years old this spring yet he’s already an accomplished five-year NFL veteran who has made at least 100 tackles every season. Of course they would find a way to re-sign him.

However, Beane’s capologists are going to have to get creative just to get back to Buffalo’s approximate adjusted salary cap threshold of $226.4 million by March 15 when the new NFL year begins, let alone find the money for a contract that could range anywhere from perhaps $11 million to $15 million per year.

“I love it here,” Edmunds said late last season. “(They’ve) done a good job of just creating a winning culture, a culture that you want to be a part of and a culture that I would like to be a part of. It’d be tough, man. You spend five years somewhere, these are my brothers.”

Sports contract website estimates Edmunds’ market value at four years for $44 million. Based on current salaries of linebackers across the league, $11 million per season would rank him tied for 10th. But given that Edmunds is younger than all the others above him, that might be reason enough for a team to see fit to giving him more than $11 million per year.

He’s not going to command the contract the Ravens just gave 26-year-old Roquan Smith, a five-year, $100 million deal with $60 million guaranteed that makes him the highest-paid linebacker.

But Edmunds could be worth the same as 28-year-old Foyesade Oluokun of the Jaguars ($15 million per year with $28 million guaranteed), or 29-year-old Shaq Thompson of the Panthers ($13.5 annually, $27.9 million guaranteed), or 29-year-old Deion Jones of the Browns ($14.2 million annually, $34 million guaranteed).

That’s the neighborhood Pro Football Focus has Edmunds residing in as it put a valuation of three years and $45.75 million ($15.2 million annually) with $28.5 million guaranteed.

Jones may be the best comp because he signed that contract when he was 24 and it just expired, so he’ll be back on the market. Another comp could be the extension Minnesota’s Eric Kendricks signed in 2018 when he was 26 which averaged $10 million per year and guaranteed him $25 million.

Tremaine Edmunds' contribution to Buffalo Bills

Tremaine Edmunds has been a full-time starter since his rookie season in 2018. If he leaves, the Bills will have a big hole to fill in their defense.
Tremaine Edmunds has been a full-time starter since his rookie season in 2018. If he leaves, the Bills will have a big hole to fill in their defense.

Edmunds is a polarizing player in the fan base. You can make an argument that he’s been one of the best and most productive players in the Bills defense, but you can also make the argument that he has never quite lived up to being the No. 16 overall pick in 2018 because he has struggled to make the big splash plays.

Still, an Edmunds departure would create a massive hole in the middle of Buffalo’s defense and it would occur on the heels of his best season as a pro, an indication that there should be more where that came from.

“I really believe that I think you saw him grow from a leadership standpoint, you saw him grow from a performance standpoint," McDermott said. "And I know he’s just got that attitude that he wants to continue to improve.”

Do the Bills want to let him get away after having devoted so much time into developing him into one of the best players at his position, only to let another team reap those rewards?

“He’s just been amazing to watch his growth from a 19-year-old,” Beane said. “I mean, it’s not like he’s 29, he’s still a kid. He is a young man.”

In its list of the top 100 free agents available, PFF ranked Edmunds 25th (they had Poyer at 18th).

It seems unlikely that 2022 third-round pick Terrel Bernard — a 6-foot-1, 224-pounder who will turn 24 just five days after Edmunds turns 25 in May — will become the player the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Edmunds is, so the Bills have a clear dilemma on their hands.

“He’s a captain, calls all of our plays for us on the offensive side of the ball, a guy that has been in this league for five years now and he’s made some some unbelievable plays and had some unbelievable moments for us,” Allen said. “He’s a difference maker out there. Guys love him. I love him. He busts his tail, he works hard, he doesn’t complain. He’s the ultimate guy on defense that you would want leading your defense. So I guess we’ll have to see. And again, I hope we get him back.”

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills roster contains 20 free agents: Is Tremaine Edmunds a priority?