One of the most surprising and crucial pieces of business taken care of by general manager Brandon Beane and the Buffalo Bills this offseason was keeping linebacker Matt Milano from hitting free agency.
Not even Beane could have realistically expected Milano to accept below-market money for his second NFL contract after performing so well throughout his first four seasons.
But Milano desperately wanted to remain in Buffalo.
The same can be said of his partner in the Bills' typical two-linebacker set, Tremaine Edmunds. But Edmunds is heading into the final year of his rookie contract with no extension in sight, although the Bills are sitting on the right to exercise a fifth-year option for $12.7 million guaranteed in 2022.
Meanwhile, the Bills added a pair of veterans, Tyrell Adams and Marquel Lee, in free agency, and head to the NFL Draft with seven picks this year and plenty of options.
In this installment of a series examining the strength of each Bills' position group, we take a closer look at what they have and how it affects their draft plans.
Edmunds knows he's on the clock. As the second of their two first-round draft picks (behind quarterback Josh Allen) in 2018, he's played terrific at times, showing great explosiveness and making each of the last two Pro Bowls. Whether he's shown enough consistency for the Bills to lock in at $12.7 million next year is another story.
They have until May 3rd to decide on picking up the fifth year, which would make his 2022 salary fully guaranteed.
Beane has promised he will focus more on the contracts of Edmunds and Allen immediately after the draft.
Whether they exercise the options or not, they obviously will be able to continue discussions on long-term extensions that would enable them to backload the bulk of the money to 2023 and beyond, giving the Bills more salary cap flexibility heading into next season.
Edmunds is a big-time playmaker who sometimes misses some big-time plays.
Last season he allowed 12.5 yards per reception, which was second-most among linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus, which also had him missing 15 tackles, the ninth most among the league's linebackers.
"I've done some really good things, but at the same time I know what I can do, I know my talents," Edmunds said after the season. "I know just pretty much how far I can take this linebacker position as far as where I want to see myself the next couple years. As far as a letter grade, like I said, I'm tough, so I'd say probably about a B-minus. That's give or take, just because I know what I could do and I know where I could be at.
"I'm looking forward to this upcoming year and just the years ahead of me, because I've been around some real good guys, guys that paved the way for me and guys that I've learned from, just talking with them and just understanding that I'm nowhere near where I could be at. ... So I'm getting back to the drawing boards, and soon the people that are sleeping on me, I'm going to wake them all up and let them know what I can do out there."
How Adams and Lee will fit is unclear.
Lee started 19 games for the Raiders from 2017 through 2019 before spending last season out of football.
Adams became a regular starter for first time in hiis career last season and finished with 125 tackles and 2.0 sacks for the Houston Texans.
A.J. Klein, who will be back for more at age 30, was remarkably productive as the Bills' third linebacker last season and played 61% of the defensive snaps because Milano missed time with injuries. His 5.0 sacks tied defensive end Mario Addison for the team lead.
Special-teamers Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith and Tyrel Dodson round out the linebackers on the roster.
A deep and talented collection, for sure.
But probably not so deep and talented that the Bills wouldn't pass on a cost-controlled upgrade.
At least one linebacker, Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, has been mocked to the Bills in a first-round prediction. That came from Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, before he amended the pick to Clemson running back Travis Etienne.
Owusu-Koramoah, who is built more like a safety at 6-1, 215, is an interesting prospect because he could potentially fit as Buffalo's big nickel defender, enabling them to go with three linebackers all the time
On the other hand, maybe he's not realistic because he could be off the board well before they first pick at No. 30 overall.
So stay tuned to this linebacker group and follow the money to see which way the Bills are going to go.