Buffalo Bills: What to Do with RFAs Donald Jones and David Nelson?

Greg MaiolaSenior Analyst IIJanuary 26, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 11: Donald Jones #19 of the Buffalo Bills lines up against the New England Patriots during the game on November 11, 2012 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills made extremely brilliant undrafted rookie signings in 2010, inking Donald Jones of Youngstown State and Florida's David Nelson.

In fact, both Jones and Nelson earned their way onto the team, earned starts as rookies and earned big-time roles in the offense over the next two years.

In Jones' three seasons in Buffalo, he recorded 82 receptions for 887 yards and six touchdowns. In that same time period, Nelson hauled in 94 catches for 1,042 yards and eight scores.

While those numbers won't blow anybody away, both players had an impact for the Bills. Jones was a downfield threat and Nelson, at 6'5'', provided Ryan Fitzpatrick with an excellent pass-catching option in the slot.

Though the Bills targeted a big receiver in Robert Meachem in 2012 and whiffed, they will likely target one again this offseason.

Jones and Nelson provide depth to Buffalo, are proven veterans and offer unique skill sets to the offense that only enhance it. The only problem is that both players are restricted free agents this March.

When an unrestricted player is on the open market, he is free to sign anywhere he likes with no strings attached.  A restricted free agent is a player whose three-year contract is expiring and can field offers from other teams.

If Jones or Nelson field offers from other teams, Buffalo has the right to match any offer. If the Bills don't match a potential offer, they lose the player and are compensated with a draft selection.


The final day of the 2012 NFL season is March 12, 2013. At the time of this deadline, Buffalo must decide if they want to put in a qualifying offer for each player or not. If they do, they will receive compensation for the players in the event of them signing elsewhere and earn the right of first refusal if another team puts in an offer and Buffalo wishes to retain the player.

The main issue facing the Bills is the $2.023 million tender price for each player. That is nearly a 275% increase from their base salaries of $540,000 in 2012. 

That is a lot of money to dish out, especially if Buffalo wanted to retain both players.

If the Bills were to tender Jones or Nelson, it would come at a second-round pick for any team intending to sign them if Buffalo declines to match the offer.

The problem Buffalo faces is that both players are coming off of 2012 injuries and may not be worth $2 million a piece. If Buffalo were to tender either player, it is unlikely that the other 31 franchises would be willing to give up a second-round pick for either Jones or Nelson.

If the Bills do not put an offer in for Jones and Nelson, they would become unrestricted free agents and will be free to sign elsewhere with Buffalo receiving absolutely nothing. This could hurt Buffalo because they would lose two valuable receivers and have to sign more proven guys to add to the roster.

The Bills can try to re-sign both players to multi-year deals, but that type of investment could hurt Buffalo from landing a top-tier wide receiver in an offseason loaded at the position.


Another solution is to tender one player and let the other one walk.

Nelson has had the better overall career but Jones is coming off a career high 41 receptions, 443 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games.

This is where Buddy Nix and Doug Marrone must evaluate and decide what to do. Both players have gone from undrafted players to starters in the NFL. They both have helped the Bills' passing game and have had memorable moments for the franchise.

Nelson might be the more sought after of the two free agents, but Buffalo must decide if he is worth the money. Jones is coming off a year in which he finished second in receiving only to Stevie Johnson, but Buffalo must decide if he is worth the money and risk of another team not matching the offer.

This will be a very difficult decision to make as the franchise heads in a new direction under Marrone. The Bills have until March 12 to make a decision and to show the fanbase how the personnel will be constructed in 2013.