As word continues to circulate that Bills Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters won't be happy until and unless he becomes the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL, the football-wise observers out there seem to weigh in on the side of the Bills doing whatever it takes to keep him.
Now that the Bills have added Terrell Owens to the offense, Peters is needed to keep quarterback Trent Edwards upright long enough to get the ball to T.O. and Lee Evans, not to mention open a few holes for Marshawn Lynch (whenever he returns from suspension) and Fred Jackson. That is the conventional wisdom.
I share that view, but only to a point. While Peters was criticized, and rightly so, for a slow start after his ill-advised holdout, he remains one of the most talented left tackles in the NFL, and he's only 27 years old. Talented left tackles are expensive, and Peters and agent Eugene Parker know it.
But at what price?
This is where I think the Bills have to draw some type of line and stick to their guns, because for me, a player who's only leverage is to hurt his team and teammates by withholding his services despite being under contract, is not a player to count on. Peters still has two years left on a deal that was already restructured for him once, and while he has good reason to feel underpaid at $3.8m and $3.4m due in 2009 and 2010, that is still the contract he gladly signed two years ago.
The going rate? No doubt Peters and Parker will point to the deal top overall pick Jake Long signed with Miami a year ago; a deal worth an average of $11.5m a year. It's a virtual joke that NFL rookies who haven't played a down rake in that kind of money, and the NFL really needs to address that, but that's another subject for another day.
More comparitive, is the contract the Carolina Panthers just did with talented left tackle Jordan Gross, which averages about $10m for six years. Gross is a year older than Peters, and some would say a notch below, but that's for somebody else to debate.
What it boils down to for me, is the notion that ANY player feels he has to be THE highest paid, regardless of what the numbers are. There's no point in referring to the slumping economy, etc., because I guarantee you JP could care less about that. That's for other people.
We already know Peters is willing to sit out again, until he starts to miss a check to start the season, and he's in exactly that same situation now, only this time, the Bills ARE offering him a hefty raise. We don't know the specifics, but to guess the offer might DOUBLE his current deal seems reasonable to assume.
If that's not enough, then cut ties now, and move forward. There'll be a market for Peters, and several suitors who won't mind paying him what he thinks he's worth, even if he is off base.
The Philadelphia Eagles, for example, have TWO #1 picks in the April draft at #21 and #28. There's the chance a Michael Oher of Ole Miss, or William Beatty of U-Conn, or Eben Britton of Arizona would be there, and it's reasonable to think any of them could step in as the Bills starting LT this season. Would they be Peters? No.
But then again, the Bills might also get another high draft pick or two out of the deal, and be rid of a player who is never happy with his contract, while saving some cap room for other potential moves at the same time.
My gut tells me the Bills WILL get a deal done with Peters, but I think its a mistake to get that deal done if it doesn't make economic sense.