The Bills are close to finalizing a new contract with their top free agent, pass rusher Jerry Hughes, reports Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News (via Twitter). Earlier today, we heard that talks between Hughes and the Bills were expected to come to a head today, and it looks like those negotiations will end with an agreement.
Hughes, 26, is coming off his second consecutive 10-sack season for the Bills, and his first year as a full-time starter. The former first-round pick also racked up 54 tackles and forced three fumbles, and was viewed as a potential candidate for the franchise tag. When the Bills elected not to franchise him, Hughes looked like a good bet to reach the open market, where teams like the Jaguars, Raiders, Colts, and Browns would be potential suitors. Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News notes (via Twitter) that the Giants also had interest.
Instead, it appears Hughes will return to Buffalo, rejoining a dominant defensive line that also features Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus. Those three players were already on the books for a combined $33.86MM cap hit for the 2015 season, so a new deal for Hughes figures to push that figure up over $40MM, barring other restructures or extensions. That’s a significant amount to invest in a defensive line, but that line is the primary reason Buffalo’s defense has been so good in recent years, ranking in the top five in DVOA in both 2013 and 2014, per Football Outsiders.
When I ranked this year’s top 50 free agents, I named Hughes the fifth-best player in free agency and the top pass rusher on the unrestricted market, after Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul were franchised. Assuming Hughes finalizes his new deal with the Bills, teams eyeing a top pass rusher could shift their focus to players like Pernell McPhee, Greg Hardy, Brandon Graham, and Jason Worilds.