Bills Could Lose Longest-Tenured Player to Emerging AFC Rival: Report

Jerry Hughes

Getty Jerry Hughes of the Buffalo Bills.

The Buffalo Bills could be losing their last remaining connection to “The Drought” era.

Defensive end Jerry Hughes, 34, will enter free agency later this month, and a new report predicted that Hughes would join an emerging AFC rival. Bills general manager Brandon Beane had already made it clear that the team would face some tough decisions this offseason and wouldn’t be able to keep everyone it would like to, which could mean allowing Hughes to leave in free agency.

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Outlet Predicts New Home for Hughes

Hughes has been a fixture of the Bills’ defense since coming to Buffalo in a 2013 trade with the Indianapolis Colts. He was the most consistent element of the team’s pass-rushing attack over the last decade, racking up 53 total sacks to reach fourth on the all-time franchise sack list.

But Hughes may have played his last down with the Bills, Pro Football Focus predicted in a February 21 story on the projected destinations of its top 50 free agents. PFF ranked Hughes 39th on the list, predicting that the Bills would move on to their younger pass rushers and that fast-rising AFC rival Cincinnati Bengals would sign him.

“The Bengals have a pretty solid pass rush with Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, but they lack depth behind them,” PFF wrote. “Hughes has recorded 50-plus pressures in nine straight years and can be a force if used correctly in Cincinnati.”

As Nick Wojton of USA Today’s Bills Wire wrote in a March 4 story, the Bills may be unable to match PFF’s projected one-year, $6.5 million deal offer from the Bengals.

“If the Bengals were to go that high, it seems unlikely that the Bills would match it,” he wrote. Meanwhile, Spotrac rated Hughes’ market value at $3.3 million per year.

Hughes Hopes to Return

Hughes has made it clear that he would like to remain in Buffalo, saying he believes the team can win a Super Bowl next season and wants to be part of it.

“I want some hardware,” Hughes said via video conference on January 12. “We were close to getting that last year. So now we know what it takes to get back to that stage. And if this is my last opportunity being a Buffalo Bill, I want to go out on top.”

Few would have earned it more than Hughes. He endured through the final years of “The Drought” era (the period from 2000 to 2016 when the Bills failed to make it to the postseason), helping the Bills finally end “The Drought” in 2017, the first year of Sean McDermott’s tenure as coach. And he has helped the Bills grow into a Super Bowl contender behind quarterback Josh Allen.

If Hughes does return, the Bills will likely be looking for him to take a hometown discount. As The Athletic’s Tim Graham and Joe Buscaglia noted in a story published March 2, Beane spoke about Hughes and fellow veteran defensive lineman Mario Addison, making it clear that the team wouldn’t break the bank for them.

Beane said Hughes and Addison intend to keep playing and the door is open at One Bills Drive for either or both,” the story said. “But Beane stressed they must be at team-friendly prices. Hughes, who will turn 34 before the season, just finished a two-year, $21.5 million contract. He recorded two sacks last season.”

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