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|Will the Bills unload disgruntled LT Jason Peters to avoid another lengthy holdout?|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
For the past 72 hours, the Buffalo Bills have dominated NFL headlines.
The league suspended Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch for three games, and star receiver Terrell Owens unexpectedly showed up for voluntary workouts.
The most important offseason Bills story, however, regards neither of them.
While cameras search for T.O. and questions swirl around Lynch's latest reprimand, contract angst roils again within left tackle Jason Peters.
To say trouble's on the way would be false. It's already here. More precisely, it never went away.
Just as he did last year by refusing to join the team until two days before the season opener, Peters still wants to be compensated like a franchise cornerstone and quarterback Trent Edwards' blindside protector.
The Bills don't think he's necessarily worth it. Peters' talent is undeniable, but his commitment is dubious.
The drama apparently will drag on awhile. Amid speculation they will unload Peters before the NFL draft to avoid another prolonged holdout, the Bills sound about as far away from trading the two-time Pro Bowler as they are from reaching accord with him.
Peters' trade value will be at its peak before the draft begins April 25, but NFL sources tell ESPN.com it's highly unlikely a deal will materialize by then.
One AFC personnel executive said teams interested in obtaining Peters must open the conversation with first- and third-round draft picks. The Bills are looking for a bundle of assets in return for perhaps the best player at football's second-most-vital position. Those types of proposals haven't been forthcoming.
The Philadelphia Eagles are the team most frequently mentioned as being interested in Peters. They hold the No. 21 and No. 28 draft choices and lost three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas to free agency.
But a league source said the Bills and Eagles haven't held any discussions about Peters.
That Peters remains a Bill through the draft isn't guaranteed. Significant trade talks still could occur during the next two weeks.
The switchboard at One Bills Drive could get flooded with calls from around the league, but the Bills are said to be resigned to the possibility they'll be forced to deal with another holdout that could last through training camp.
"We're anxious that he's present and involved," Bills coach Dick Jauron said last month at the NFL owners' meeting in Dana Point, Calif. "It doesn't serve anybody's purpose when he misses all that time.
"Last year, he didn't show up. We've just got to anticipate that he will, and we've got to keep working in that direction and keep the lines of communication open and believe he's going to show up because that's all we can do."
Good luck with that.
Peters proved last year he's not afraid to boycott mandatory practices, incurring more than $600,000 in fines.
Peters still has two year left on a contract he signed in 2006. He will be paid an average of about $4 million a year -- not bad for a guy who was an undrafted tight end out of Arkansas, but well under market value for an elite left tackle, which he has become. Bills right tackle Langston Walker's contract averages $5 million a year.
Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon and senior vice president of football operations Jim Overdorf submitted a contract proposal to Peters' agent, Eugene Parker, at the end of last season.
The proposal practically was dismissed out of hand. Counteroffers have been made, but the sides are farther apart than Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann.
Peters wants a deal that pays him eight figures a year. The Miami Dolphins gave No. 1 overall draft pick Jake Long a five-year, $57.5 million deal last spring, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. The Carolina Panthers in February kept All-Pro tackle Jordan Gross from hitting the open market with a six-year contract worth nearly $60 million.
One AFC general manager agreed Peters is a premium tackle and -- in theory -- well worth the Bills' asking price of multiple draft picks, including first- and third-rounders. But the GM questioned whether it would be a prudent investment to give Peters the money he seeks because of perceived dedication issues.
"Once you give him the money, I'm not so sure he plays up to it," the GM said.
Last offseason, with three years remaining on his deal, Peters skipped every offseason workout, mandatory minicamp, training camp and all four preseason games. He begrudgingly reported -- sans new contract -- two days before the regular-season opener.
Peters was scratched from the first game and got off to a slow start while he played himself into game shape. He missed the final two games with a knee injury.
He didn't play nearly as well as he did in 2007, but his peers and opposing coaches voted him to his second straight Pro Bowl.
Internally, the Bills were dismayed Peters received the honor because they feared it would only reinforce the idea he can coast through another offseason and be rewarded.
|Scott Cunningham/Getty Images|
|If the Bills do unload Peters, they could draft a replacement in the first round, such as Andre Smith.|
A club might be hesitant to trade for Peters in part because it could use a first-round pick on a top rookie tackle rather than send it -- along with other draft choices -- to Buffalo.
For the second straight year, there's impressive talent among offensive tackles in this year's draft class. Baylor's Jason Smith, Alabama's Andre Smith, Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher of Ole Miss all are immediate starter material.
Buffalo owns the 11th selection and could take one of those players if they were to trade Peters. With the extra first-round pick they would receive in return, they m
ight draft Oklahoma tight end Brandon Pettigrew or a linebacker.
But one AFC executive remarked that pulling off a multipick deal like the Bills are seeking for Peters would get more difficult as the draft draws nearer.
While that might sound counterintuitive because Peters' trade value should be at its zenith, the executive noted scouts become increasingly passionate about their evaluations as the draft approaches and would become less likely to deal a package of choices.
The New England Patriots, with 11 picks in all and six within the top 97, would be an exception. But the Bills aren't trading Peters within the AFC East.
Then again, based on the vibe emanating from One Bills Drive at the moment, there's a strong possibility they won't trade him at all.
The Bills simply aren't working themselves into a lather to get Peters off their roster.
Much can change over the next two weeks. Maybe the Bills get nervous, some calls get made, a deal gets hammered out and he gets shipped to Philly.
At the every least, the Bills have a Pro Bowl left tackle under contract for two more years.
They would prefer to avoid another holdout, but it's an outcome they probably can't sidestep without a radiant proposal or a serious compromise to make him happy.