When the Buffalo Bills selected Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick in 2019, he was drawing comparisons to Aaron Donald as a dominant interior defensive lineman. Those may not have been accurate comparisons, but the point was clear; this kid had potential. The rising star from Houston was set to be a wrecking ball. He was the obvious choice for a rebuilding Bills team that already had a quarterback they believed in.
It’s now been four years since the Bills took Oliver and, though he’s flashed, he hasn’t been the consistent performer that the team expected. Still, he’s played well and, last offseason, the team picked up the fifth-year option on Ed Oliver’s rookie contract. He’s going to make $10.7M this season, all of which stacks up against the salary cap.
Whilst his performance hasn’t blown offenses out of the water, he’s still been the best interior defensive lineman out there for the Buffalo Bills. There have been times when his performance has changed the game for us, but also times when he’s been a non-factor. It’s difficult to evaluate inconsistent talent. How does this team balance his performance against our salary cap trouble, as well as consider the long and short-term needs of our defense? Let’s take a look at our options to deal with Ed Oliver.
You may have heard it through the grapevine; trading Ed Oliver has been the hot topic this week so far. The Buffalo Bills have money trouble and, after the trades for Dean Marlowe and Nyheim Hines, they’re down to only six draft picks. A great way to stay under the cap in the long run is to deal players late in their contracts for draft capital. Stocking up on rookie contracts to be cap-friendly, and selecting draft prospects in an attempt to strike gold (Get it? Prospects? Gold?) is a risk, but it’s a cheap one. Ed Oliver likely commands an early Day 3 draft pick in a trade, such as a fourth round selection. There are plenty of excellent prospects available there, but who could we chase?
Unfortunately, this creates as many issues as it solves for 2023, despite being a potential answer beyond that. The Buffalo Bills are in a Super Bowl window. Creating a gap in an otherwise excellent roster is not a recipe for success. It may help with the salary cap issue, but should we lose our best DT in exchange for a mid-round pick that may not pan out just to get a bit cheaper? A big question, but not one with a simple answer.
Option number two is on the opposite end of the scale. Oliver is set to make $10.7M this season, but, if extended, his cap hit can drop considerably. His expected market value, per Spotrac, is just over $10.4M average annual value (AAV), some of which can be converted away from cap spending. It would make him the 17th-highest paid DT in the NFL, until the next few major extensions hit later this offseason. He’s already set to be 16th this season, playing on his fifth-year option. By agreeing to terms on a deal in this range, the Bills can lower his cap hit and help tie up the interior defensive line for years to come.
But do they feel that Ed Oliver is valuable enough to command that money from a team that has other significant players in need of paydays? They would be committing to a DT that is streaky, with game-breaking potential that can get lost in the crowd. Brandon Beane has been praised for striking whilst the iron is hot, extending numerous players before their market value increases. He did it to great acclaim with Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins, Josh Allen, and others. If Oliver is extended and he reaches his potential level of play, he’d be a steal and Beane would be celebrated once again. If he’s extended and falls short, things just get murkier for the Buffalo Bills’ future.
So, can Oliver wait until next offseason, perhaps? Can the Bills?
Wait & See
That’s the third and final option. The simplest answer of them all. Do nothing. There is no pressing concern regarding Ed Oliver, no need to solve this problem right now. The organization has an entire offseason on it’s plate, and another year to let Ed eat. If Oliver has a down year, he could be retained for a significantly lower price, or let go without a loss. But, if he achieves his potential, we may lose him for nothing, or retain him at a significantly steeper cost. This iteration of the Buffalo Bills are not indecisive, but they might need another year to think this one over.
What To Do With Ed Oliver?
Having reviewed our three options, it seems to me that extending Ed Oliver is the best course of action. If the contract estimates are to be believed, he’s not commanding top-of-the-market money. As the salary cap expands, DT contracts are about to increase by a portion. Because of this, extending Oliver now is a reasonable investment, even if he continues to perform at his current level. We can renegotiate cap space this year with a signing, and help secure the middle of our defensive line for another four seasons on a contract that will look progressively better as the next few years pass.
Ed Oliver is extremely polarizing within Bills Mafia. Regardless of our course of action, some fans will be left with sour grapes. But, love him or hate him, Ed is the best we’ve got. It would be reckless to get rid of him for a temporary bump in spending money. If we’re so uncertain, wait until after the draft and see what prospects fall in our laps. I doubt we’ll find ourselves with someone better than Ed in 2023.
Like this piece? Check out the previous Buffalo Bulletin on trading for WR DeAndre Hopkins.
The Buffalo Bulletin on Buffalo Fanatics is a weekly editorial by Iestyn Harris. Check back regularly for hot topics, riveting discussion, and, occasionally, some actual insight.
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