Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC East [Print without images]

Monday, February 17, 2014
Previewing the Bills' free-agent class

By Mike Rodak

Earlier Monday, we mentioned safety Jairus Byrd and kicker Dan Carpenter as the only realistic candidates to receive the franchise tag from the Buffalo Bills.

But who are the other Bills' free agents? With less than a month until the free-agent signing period opens, here are those players set to hit the open market if they are not re-signed or franchised by the Bills before then:

Unrestricted free agents:

Safety Jairus Byrd -- He's the priority for the Bills. They must decide whether to franchise him, and if they don't, they will need to make an effort to re-sign the three-time Pro Bowler. Will it be enough? That's unlikely. Byrd is expected to draw plenty of interest on the open market and has no reason to favor the Bills in negotiations. If he signs elsewhere, the Bills will have a hole to fill in their secondary.

Kicker Dan Carpenter -- If the Bills don't franchise Byrd, they could decide to use the tender on Carpenter, as it would come at a reasonable cost. Carpenter had a strong season as a fill-in for rookie Dustin Hopkins. Kicker is a fairly interchangeable position, however, and Hopkins could still be the younger and cheaper option for next season.

Defensive lineman Alex Carrington -- Carrington is expected to hit the open market after missing the final 13 games with a knee injury. He's a better fit within a 3-4 defense and may not have a role in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme. The Bills would be smart not to overpay for their former third-round pick, especially after opening their wallets for Alan Branch.

Tight end Scott Chandler -- Despite leading the Bills in receiving last season, Chandler could be a toss-up to return. His performance could earn him interest on the open market among tight end-needy teams. The Bills, however, could look to upgrade at the position with a more athletic player. Chandler was not a red zone presence last season, which was a problem for the Bills.

Safety Jim Leonhard -- The veteran safety said he wants to play one more season in the NFL, which would be his tenth. He's undersized but is a strong presence in the locker room. The Bills shouldn't offer him much more than a minimum contract, but he's a good player to have around in a younger secondary.

Linebacker Arthur Moats -- As one of the more well-respected players in the locker room, Moats could return next season if the price is right. However, he's not expected to have a starting role in Jim Schwartz's new defensive scheme. Slot him as a role player who adds some limited contributions on special teams.

Restricted free agents:

Tight end Mike Caussin -- The oft-injured tight end spent all of last season on injured reserve. Expect the Bills to pass on offering him a restricted tender. He's not likely to receive much interest on the open market.

Offensive lineman Thomas Welch -- The Bills likely want Welch to return after he served as their third offensive tackle last season. However, they are likely to address the position in the draft. The Bills could offer him the "low" tender and keep him around at a reduced cost, but his roster spot wouldn't be guaranteed entering next season.

Exclusive-rights free agents:

Wide receiver Chris Hogan -- He's not a receiver with a lot of upside in the NFL, but Hogan should at least get the chance to compete for a roster spot. With less than three accrued seasons, Hogan can't sign elsewhere unless the Bills give up his rights.

Offensive Antoine McClain -- The Bills seem to be high on McClain, who did not dress for a game after being claimed off waivers from the Oakland Raiders. The Bills have the exclusive rights to re-sign McClain, one of the more loose and outgoing personalities in the locker room.

Cornerback Brandon Smith -- After being promoted from the practice squad, Smith had trouble cracking the 46-man gameday roster, appearing in just two contests. Still, the Bills could use some depth at cornerback entering training camp, so expect the Bills to hold onto their exclusive rights and keep him around.

Fullback Frank Summers -- After resurrecting his career with the Bills last season, Summers should at least have a shot at cracking the 53-man roster again next season. The Bills have the exclusive rights to re-sign the hefty fullback.