It’s déja vu all over again for the Bills. A year after watching New England poach restricted free agent wide receiver Chris Hogan off their roster, the Bills are at their division rival’s mercy once again, as they attempt to do the same with backup running back Mike Gillislee.
On Tuesday, the defending Super Bowl champions submitted a two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet to the Bills RFA ballcarrier, starting the timer on a five-day period where Buffalo can decide to match the offer. Should they choose not to, Gillislee will become a Patriot and the Bills, in turn, will receive a fifth round pick in next week’s draft, as compensation for tendering Gillislee at the original-round level earlier this offseason. Additionally, Buffalo would receive $1.2 million in cap relief.
Similar to last year’s offer to Hogan, the Patriots structured Gillislee’s deal in a way that would prohibit the Bills from matching. With a little over $10 million in cap space at their disposal, matching would force them to pay Gillislee $4 million in 2017, $2.2 million more than what they would have owed him.
Gillislee burst onto the scene late during the 2015 season, getting promoted off the practice squad and piling up 267 yards and 3 touchdowns over the Bills final five games. This past season he served as LeSean McCoy’s primary backup, compiling 577 rushing yards, eight touchdowns, and an impressive 5.7 yards-per-carry average. That efficiency is likely what made Gillislee so attractive to New England, who saw first-hand what the 26-year-old Florida University product can do. Gillislee amassed 85 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots in their second meeting of the 2016 season, in Orchard Park.
Still, considering that the Patriots have six running backs currently on their roster, and just extended Super Bowl hero, James White’s contract through 2020, their interest does seem strange.
One report from The Boston Herald‘s Jeff Howe, suggests that the Bills are already leaning towards declining to match New England’s offer sheet for Gillislee.
The Bills haven’t informed Gillislee of their final decision yet, but the first indication is they don’t believe they’ll match, per source.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) April 18, 2017
Boy, it almost feels like the Patriots are just trolling the Bills at this point. Just going around snatching up all their best restricted free agent role players. It has to be an infuriating, annual occurrence, and that frustration is compounded when you consider that running back isn’t really a need for New England right now. Still, that doesn’t mean the Bills should match their offer, and if you’re in the camp that thinks they should, ask yourself: if this was any team other than the Pateiots, would I still feel as adamant about matching the offer? Just a guess but, I’m assuming that a lot of fans only want to match the offer because it’s the Patriots trying to poach Gillislee. From a fan perspective, that’s a totally normal reaction, but the Bills front office shouldn’t and won’t make an emotional decision.
Fact of the matter is, in today’s NFL, running backs are a dime a dozen – Gillislee’s story is proof of that. Don’t forget, before Gillislee the Bills found Karlos Williams in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. The same round they drafted Jonathan Williams last year. Ironically enough, they’ll receive a fifth round pick as compensation for letting Gillislee walk.
Now, notice that the Bills limited salary cap space is not part of my argument here, and that’s because with Aaron Williams designated as a June 1st cut, Buffalo is due $4.2 million in additional cap space in a few months. Gillislee’s new contract would essentially be covered, and then some. That doesn’t mean, however, that $4 million for a backup running back isn’t a bit excessive. And the main point still remains that backup running backs can be found just about anywhere.
Ultimately, whether the Bills decide to match New England’s offer sheet for Gillislee, isn’t going to be what makes or breaks their 2017 season. With LeSean McCoy and a stout offensive line still intact, losing Gillislee is a blip on the radar. There is some sentimental value with Gillislee, but in retrospect, the Bills got bigger fish fry this offseason. So as frustrating as it is to see Buffalo once again serve as a pipeline for their most hated division foe, that isn’t enough to warrant them matching. It certainly won’t hurt to gain an additional $1.79 million in cap space and a fifth round pick. Everything will be okay, promise.
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