Three years remain on Jason Peters' contract, but it appears as if he wants a hefty pay raise sooner rather than later.
The 6-foot-4, 340-pound rock of a left tackle has been absent through the Buffalo Bills' voluntary spring practices. 2007 was a breakout campaign for Peters. He made his first Pro Bowl, was a 2nd team All-Pro selection by the Associated Press and a first-team pick by Sports Illustrated.
A tight end at Arkansas, Peters was given a chance in the NFL by Buffalo as an undrafted free agent. After a handful of athletically gifted plays, including a blocked punt-and-touchdown against Cincinnati, the Bills inserted Peters in at arguably the most crucial position - left tackle - in place of Mike Gandy.
He hasn't disappointed. With Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker as linemates, Peters flourished in '07 as a big reason that rookie Marshawn Lynch rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a shortened season.
And essentially, that's the problem. It took a lot of money for Buffalo to land Dockery and Walker in free agency last year. Dockery is making $7 million per year, while Walker is reeling in $5 million a year. Peters certainly feels slighted by this financial discrepancy, as he'll make $3.3 million in '08.
There's no question that NFL contract negotiations are predicated on baselines. With a Pro Bowl bid now as ammunition in contract talks, Peters is probably pointing to the colossal contracts signed by Alan Faneca this spring with the N.Y. Jets (a OL-record $8 million per year) and the contracts of St. Louis' Orlando Pace ($7.55 million per year) and Seattle's Walter Jones ($7.5 million per year).
It's very rare for a team to renegotiate a contract that still has three years remaining on it. But in this case, it's likely that the Bills will pursue an extension for Peters. Wide receiver Lee Evans is Priority No. 1, but with $15 million to work with under the cap, Russ Brandon and company may concede to Peter's demands.
At 26 years of age, Peters has developed quicker than anyone could have projected. His 4.9-speed and freakish athletic ability has seamlessly translated to blindside protection for the Bills – a dream scenario.
Brandon surely doesn't want to set a complain-and-renegotiate precedent throughout his team. The Bills' brass must hold onto leverage in as many deals as possible. Just last year Buffalo extended Aaron Schobel's contract when he was unhappy, and repaid Buffalo with only 6.5 sacks.
But Peters is a must-have.
For all of Buffalo's draft/free agency blunders over the past decade (see: Mike Williams, Drew Bledsoe, Erik Flowers, J.P. Losman and Rob Johnson to name a few), Peters is one huge break the team has had. Buffalo's own diamond in the rough.
Hernia surgery held Peters out of the 2008 Pro Bowl, but he should be back at full force this fall. His speed allows him to consistently beat pass rushers to the edge and the Bills rarely ever needed to slide an extra tight end or running back to help Peters, which allowed a natural pocket to form. Not many teams have the luxury of letting their left tackle operate on an island.
Bills fans know this, having suffered through the Marcus Spriggs/Jamie Nails Lookout Block Era.
Buffalo must keep Peters. Sure it seems superfluous. Players shouldn't be clamoring for a new contract after one solid season, and especially not after signing a big deal just two years prior. But Peters' isn't a one-year wonder, loudmouth wide receiver. He's a keeper that will greatly enhance the development of quarterback Trent Edwards. Last season, Buffalo only allowed 26 sacks - the least amount in 25 years. The Bills shouldn't go to Faneca-proportions, but a $7 million per year deal is worth the investment with Peters.
There's something special brewing between Peters, Dockery and Walker. Former G.M. Marv Levy dished out big bucks to lock up the latter two. Now, the current front office needs to make sure Peters doesn't slip away.