Not much went wrong for the Bills during their record-setting 13-3 season last year. But with fans and media needing something to nitpick online, 22-year old linebacker Tremaine Edmunds was often discussed as a player that was underperforming for the Bills. The expectations for Edmunds coming out of Virginia Tech as a 19-year old were sky-high. Brandon Beane traded up to draft what many considered to be the best linebacker in the 2018 NFL Draft just nine picks after securing their franchise quarterback. While there was steady growth in his first two years, Bills fans and local media were right in their assessment that Edmunds’ impact plateaued this year. With a decision on a possible 5th-year option looming for the two-time Pro Bowler, how should the Bills handle Edmunds as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract?
When the NFL announced the official 2021 salary cap in March, they also announced the fifth-year option numbers for players. For linebacker, the fifth year option would carry a cap hit of $12.7 million. As of now, that would be the 8th largest cap hit for a linebacker in the NFL.
|1. Von Miller||$22.2 million|
|2. Chandler Jones||$20.8 million|
|3. Bobby Wagner||$17.1 million|
|4. Robert Quinn||$14.7 million|
|5. Khalil Mack||$14.6 million|
|6. Za’Darius Smith||$14.6 million|
|7. Jason Pierre-Paul||$12.8 million|
|8. Eric Kendricks||$12.5 million|
|9. Dont’a Hightower||$12.4 million|
|10. Myles Jack||$12.1 million|
After the top 10, there is a quick drop to the $8-10 million range. Tremaine Edmunds is a Top 10 talent, and should be paid like one. Spotrac estimates that Edmunds’ market value is $13.5 million. By their estimation, the fifth-year option would benefit the Bills financially. Even next year when the salary cap will once again increase, the Bills will want to be money conscious, as the financial situation in the NFL isn’t likely to stabilize for some time.
Why the Bills should use the 5th-year option
To me, it’s clear: the Bills should apply the 5th-year option to Tremaine Edmunds before working out a long-term deal. This season when the topic of what to do with Matt Milano came up, I believed that the Bills should have signed him to a one or two-year prove it deal to literally do just that…prove that he could stay healthy and stay on the field before they committed to him long term. Ultimately, I am glad that Brandon Beane didn’t call for my advice before signing Milano to what turned out to be an extremely team-friendly deal. Let’s be honest; he probably would have balked at it anyway. In my reasoning to use the option on Edmunds, I am going to use a similar line of thought. If the Bills pick up his fifth-year option, they have an extra year of evidence to determine if what happened to Edmunds in 2020 was an outlier, a byproduct of an early-season shoulder injury that never had a chance to completely heal. If he can improve his play and continue to rise up the league ranks, as he did in his two seasons prior to this last one, then the Bills should have no qualms about giving him a long-term deal.
Getting Edmunds cheaper than what his market value is isn’t something the Bills should turn their nose up at. But after seeing how Beane has signed nearly every player this year to a bargain deal, even without applying the option, I’d bet he would get Edmunds lower than the expected market value. As I highlighted last week, their quarterback will soon have one of the richest contracts in league history. With Stefon Diggs, Tre’Davious White, and Dion Dawkins with massive contracts already, the Bills will have to be absolutely sure that Tremaine Edmunds is worth breaking the bank for. I believe that ultimately his play will show that he is worthy of a long-term financial commitment, and we will see that the 2020 plateau was just a blip on what will be a long and successful career quarterbacking Sean McDermott’s defense.