This doesn't mean the Bills aren't continuing to strike a long-term deal with Hughes. Instead, it means the Bills decided that assigning Hughes the franchise tag, which would guarantee him a one-year, $14.813 million deal if he signed his tender, was too expensive.
Elsewhere in the NFL, two prominent defensive ends were assigned the franchise tag Monday: Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul. That thins out the market for defensive ends, which is good news for Hughes as he seeks a lucrative new deal.
The Buffalo Bills have one free agent who is a realistic candidate for the tag -- defensive end Jerry Hughes -- and they've been working on a long-term deal with Hughes for weeks.
General manager Doug Whaley said during the NFL combine that he'd like to avoid using the tag on Hughes, which would cost the Bills between $14 and $15 million for a guaranteed, one-year deal. An exact number is not yet available, as the NFL has yet to release its 2015 salary cap, which factors into the franchise-tag equation.
There are two versions of the franchise tag available: the exclusive version, which doesn't allow for negotiations with other teams, and the non-exclusive version, which allows for negotiations with other teams. If a team agrees to a deal with the tagged player before he signs his tender with the original team, the new team must send two first-round draft choices to the original team.
As of Sunday evening, no NFL players had officially been assigned the franchise tag this offseason.
If the Bills assign the franchise tag to Hughes, they'll have nearly $50 million of their salary cap devoted to him and his three Pro Bowl counterparts on the defensive line: Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
Whaley has stated the Bills can absorb a higher cost on their defensive line because of their low quarterback spending. Tagging Hughes, however, would cut the Bills' 2015 salary cap space in half, potentially making them less active on the free-agent market.
McCown, 35, agreed to a three-year deal Friday with the Cleveland Browns, choosing Buffalo's neighbors on Lake Erie over the quarterback-needy Bills.
But the Bills wanted McCown and were in negotiations to sign him as recently as Thursday. They only carried two quarterbacks last season, and adding McCown to the mix with Manuel could have completed the team's offseason shopping at the position.
In that sense, this is a setback for the Bills. They had their sights set on McCown above the other available options. Now they'll have to turn to Plan B.
Who could that be? Brian Hoyer vaults toward the top of the list now that it's a virtual lock that he won't be back in Cleveland when he hits free agency next month. Hoyer didn't lead the Browns much of anywhere the past two seasons, but represents a younger option with potentially more upside.
Beyond that, it's the usual suspects: Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Matt Moore, and other available free agents. There are also dominoes that could fall during the draft this April that could lead to Nick Foles being available on the trade market.
It's slim pickings, and the Bills aren't going to find a quality starter at quarterback before next offseason, at the earliest.
From Doug Marrone opting out to the arrival of Rex Ryan and Richie Incognito, Buffalo Bills fans have learned to expect the unexpected in 2015.
Would a trade for Adrian Peterson come as a shock?
That, along with a court ruling in Peterson's favor Thursday, has opened the door to speculation on Peterson's future, including the potential for a trade.
Would the Vikings entertain the idea? That's not known. Would the Bills have any interest? That's not clear. But it's still an idea worth exploring. Here are some key points:
Lack of assets for deal: The Bills don't have much trade bait, lacking a first-round pick and having no additional picks in the second or third rounds of this spring's draft. That could limit their chances of landing Peterson even if they were actual suitors.
Bills could absorb cost: What the Bills do have, however, is cap space. They're among the top third of the NFL in 2015 cap space, with close to $30 million by the most accounts. Some of that will be chewed up if Jerry Hughes signs a new deal in the coming weeks, but it's still enough to take on the roughly $13 million due on Peterson's contract this season.
Position of need: Another factor in the equation is a Bills need at running back. With Fred Jackson turning 34 last week and C.J. Spiller potentially departing through free agency, the Bills could use another bruiser in their backfield, especially in offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system. Peterson would be the most ideal fit. Still, this is considered a deep draft class for running backs, and the Bills could find a younger back than Peterson at a much lower cost in the middle rounds, helping to fill their need at that position.
It's important to note that any Peterson-to-Buffalo trade is pure water-cooler talk at this point. Yet in an offseason when nothing seems to be off the table in Buffalo, it's a discussion worth having for the Bills and their fans.
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills are negotiating to sign veteran free agent Josh McCown to address their long-standing needs at quarterback.
A person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press on Thursday that contract talks are taking place between the two sides. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bills do not comment on contract discussions.
The negotiations began after the 35-year-old spent the previous two days visiting the Cleveland Browns. Two weeks ago, McCown spent two days meeting with Bills officials and touring Buffalo. He has also visited Chicago and the New York Jets.
McCown is a 12-year NFL veteran who went 1-10 in his only season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being released by the team earlier this month. Overall, he has a 17-32 career record split among six teams.
The Bills have several needs at quarterback under newly hired coach Rex Ryan.
The ex-Buffalo Bills coach's propensity to punt -- even in situations where attempting a fourth-down conversion had better odds -- frustrated fans last season and led the New York Times to chastise his use of analytics in game management.
But how do the Bills compare to other teams in their use of analytics?
ESPN recently took a hard look at analytics across all four major sports. Among NFL teams, the Bills were placed in the "one foot in" category, wedged between "believers" and "skeptics."
The Bills aren't behind the curve, having hired a director of analytics in 2013 and expressed a commitment to using more data in their decision-making. But they're hardly on the cutting edge, as evidenced by Marrone's questionable fourth-down calls last season.
The outlook isn't much better for next season. Rex Ryan wasn't considered a "numbers" coach with the New York Jets, and as a result the Jets rank in the bottom 10 of all major sports teams in ESPN's analytics ranking.
ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak discusses the team's priorities.
Spiller made it abundantly clear Tuesday that he's a Chan Gailey fan. Gailey, of course, is the Jets' new offensive coordinator, and he coached Spiller from 2010 to 2012 with the Buffalo Bills.
With Chris Johnson gone and Bilal Powell poised to hit free agency, the Jets have a gaping hole at running back. They need a playmaker, someone who can thrive in space and complement Chris Ivory's downhill style. On paper, Spiller is the ideal fit. He racked up 1,703 rushing and receiving yards in 2012, averaging 6.8 yards per touch -- high for a running back.
Spiller sounded like he's up for a reunion with Gailey. Then again, we have to take everything with a grain of salt, knowing this is the time of year when guys are looking for jobs.
"Obviously, it will be different now, since he's just going to be the offensive coordinator," Spiller said. "He's going to have more time just to spend on the offense, compared to his time in Buffalo when he was the head coach and pretty much had the full plate. Now he's just going to be able to focus in on that offense, and do what he does well."
Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday, citing sources, that the Bills were pursuing a trade with the St. Louis Rams for Bradford, but the Rams tell ESPN that there is no merit to the report.
This isn't the first time that Bradford has been connected with trade reports. CBS Sports reported last week that Bradford had been given permission to seek a trade, but Rams coach Jeff Fisher said at the NFL combine that those reports were "inaccurate."
Bradford or not, the Bills are still in need of a quarterback to compete with EJ Manuel, and the next month will be their best opportunity to acquire one this offseason. Stay tuned.
Spiller is set to hit the open market when the free-agent negotiation period begins March 7. In an appearance Tuesday on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Spiller didn't rule out a return to Buffalo but made it clear he's keeping his options open.
"There’s still a possibility that I could be a in Bills uniform," Spiller said. "You never know how this thing is gonna play out. The organization knows I want to be there. Pretty much the ball is in their court.
"At the same time, we’re going to weigh all of our options and see what best suits me. The biggest thing is you want to go somewhere where you’re wanted. That’s the biggest thing. That’s pretty much how I’m approaching this thing, and I’m looking forward to it."
Striking a deal with a winning team that has the right style of offense is important to Spiller.
"You got to go to a place that fits your style of play," he said. "You got to be comfortable with the offensive coordinator. Obviously, you want to have a great quarterback -- only certain teams have that -- you want to be in a good situation.
"Obviously, you want to compete for championships. Because at the end of the day, that's what it's all about. Obviously, I've been in the NFL for five years now. We haven't been fortunate enough to reach the playoffs and that's pretty much -- that's really high on my list: having a chance to get to the postseason and experience that and having a chance to hoist that Vince Lombardi trophy.
"Those two things right there are extremely high on my list: teams that can win and be a contender."
That doesn't mean the Bills are off the table, however. In an appearance Tuesday on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Spiller praised new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
"I haven't had a chance to sit down with him. They've been busy with combine stuff," he said. "From everything that I hear -- also I've studied some of the 49ers, what they do -- he's a guy that loves to run the football. As a running back, that's what you want: a guy that loves to run the ball, no matter what. Coach Roman, he does a good job of sticking with his guns. He's gonna be physical. You've got to be excited as a runner."
If Spiller can't agree to a deal with the Bills, his most likely landing spot remains the New York Jets, where former Bills coach Chain Gailey is installing the same offense that made Spiller a star earlier in his Bills career.
"His offense is gonna be very creative," Spiller said of Gailey. "He's gonna put his players in the best situations to win matchups. Just a humble guy. First class, goes about his business the right way. He's gonna treat his men like men.
"Obviously it will be different now, since he's just gonna be the offensive coordinator. He's gonna have more time just to spend on the offense, compared to his time in Buffalo when he was the head coach and pretty much had the full plate. Now he's just gonna be able to focus in on that offense and do what he does well."
In total, the Bills have 10 unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market on March 10, with an open negotiation period beginning March 7.
Outside of those top four free agents, here's what I've learned:
DE Jarius Wynn -- The Bills have expressed interest in re-signing Wynn, according to a source. However, a deal is not imminent and there is not expected to be movement until March. Wynn, 28, was part of a rotation at defensive end last season in Jim Schwartz's scheme, making one start. He's expected to compete for a starting role at defensive end in Rex Ryan's scheme, which is a different position than last season but one that he's played before in his career. At 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, Wynn should be sturdy enough for the job.
LB Larry Dean -- There have been initial talks between Dean and the Bills, according to a source, but no deal is imminent. Signed in September, the veteran was a quiet contributor to the Bills, finishing third on the team with nine special teams tackles. There's a possibility he could return to the Bills, but they are deep at linebacker and playing time on defense could be hard to come by.
WR Marcus Easley -- The Bills' top special teams player from the past two seasons is in a good position to return in the same role. Whaley told reporters in Indianapolis last week the Bills are interested in re-signing him.
LB Stevenson Sylvester -- There's also no word on whether the Bills want Sylvester back next season. The former Pittsburgh Steelers special teams maven was signed last summer to add depth at linebacker, but he suffered a torn patella tendon in the preseason. There's no word on if he's healthy again and ready to play.
Here is a look at some important upcoming dates on the NFL's calendar:
March 2 -- Final day teams can assign the franchise tag to an impending unrestricted free agent.
March 7 -- At 4 p.m. ET, first day teams can begin negotiations with unrestricted free agents on other teams. They cannot finalize a deal until March 10.
March 10 -- New league year officially begins at 4 p.m. ET. Unrestricted free agents may finalize deals with new teams and trades can be executed.
Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley gave an update last week to talks with some of the Bills' top free agents. Later Monday, I'll have an update on talks with the rest of their free-agent class.
Here are some Buffalo- and Bills-based stories from around the Web, from reporters who made the trip to Indianapolis:
- Hobart College offensive lineman Ali Marpet was the only Division III player invited to the combine, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Sal Maiorana writes, and his performance in some drills is drawing attention.
- Syracuse.com's Matthew Fairburn checks in with Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett, who have reunited on the Jacksonville Jaguars' staff.
- The Buffalo News' Jay Skurski offers Hamburg, New York, native and San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco's take on Chargers offensive coordinator and former Bills quarterback Frank Reich, who was a candidate to replace Doug Marrone this offseason.
- Skurski also relays thoughts from Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio on former University of Buffalo star Khalil Mack.