Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre, blurry right, said the day after the season he hoped
the club would reward him for four years of stellar, ironman play. (Reuters)
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With the services of safety Jairus Byrd all but secured by virtue of a non-exclusive franchise tag, the Buffalo Bills now should get busy locking up free-agent-to-be Andy Levitre.
The ironman guard, who plays on the Bills’ left side between tackle Cordy Glenn and centre Eric Wood, has earned $3.56 million in four years in Buffalo. He was a second-round draft pick in 2009, 51st overall.
If the Bills don’t re-sign Levitre a week from Tuesday (March 12) at 4 p.m. EST, the 26-year-old becomes an unrestricted free agent. And there would be anxious takers.
Unless the club is merely playing possum until the deadline gets closer, or unless it’s clearing massive room for another big dive into the free-agent pool — and heaven knows, there are positions of greater need on the AFC East club than offensive guard — Bills GM Russ Brandon and GM Buddy Nix should no longer hesitate in re-signing Levitre.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL Network ranks Levitre as the fifth best available free-agent-to-be, and the top interior offensive linemen.
Last year’s top-rated free agent guard, Carl Nicks, left New Orleans for Tampa Bay when the Bucs threw a $47.5-million, five-year contract at him.
Levitre probably won’t command as lucrative a deal as the two-time Pro Bowler, especially with so many clubs this year dumping high-priced veterans in their desperation to get under $123.0-million team salary cap by the March 12 deadline.
But the 6-foot-2, 305-pound Levitre is a premier pass blocker who is as durable as the redwoods just up the California coast from where he grew up, in Los Gatos. Levitre has started all possible 64 games with the Bills, one of only four NFLers from the 2009 rookie class to do so.
Last week at the scouting combine, Brandon said he would be the one in Indy to touch base with agents of the club’s pending free agents. Asked if contract talks could begin and conclude all at the combine, Brandon said:
“You can. Typically that doesn’t happen. But you can have a pretty damn good framework coming out of here if both parties are in position to strike a deal.”
That didn’t happen with Levitre’s agent, David Dunn. Not even close, apparently.
Levitre told Tim Graham of the Buffalo News on Friday that “I’m in limbo right now. I don’t know what their plan is … I haven’t been offered anything yet. We’re waiting around to see if something will pop up.”
On New Year’s Eve past, the morning after the Bills’ last game and at about the precise moment head coach Chan Gailey was being fired, Levitre held a brief scrum with beat writers in the team’s locker room. Here’s a transcript, to show where his mind was at at this crucial career crossroads:
ON THIS BEING PROBABLY HIS ONE BIG OPPORTUNITY IN HIS CAREER TO LAND A BIG CONTRACT:
“Yeah, and that could happen here. So that’s what I’m hoping for — that things will work out between myself and the Bills and I can be back here. Obviously, that’s what I want for myself. Not trying to be selfish or anything, but I want to be taken care of the way (with a big contract). Ya know, I feel like I’ve put in a lot of effort and work for this organization, and I feel like they’re going to reciprocate.”
ON THIS RARE OPPORTUNITY — HIS ONE SHOT:
“Yeah, absolutely, and it’s going to be exciting to see what happens over these next couple of months.”
ANY PART OF COUNTRY HE PREFERS BEST?:
“Not necessarily, no. … I’m from the West Coast, but I’ve been fine since I’ve been out here. I haven’t gotten homesick or anything. So, you know, I’ve been doing all right since I’ve been out here.”
ON WHAT HIS OFF-SEASON SCHEDULE IS, HEALTH-WISE:
“Yeah, I’m going to get my knee scoped in the next week or two. Nothing major, just a minor cleanup. Something that’s been bothering me for a while. I don’t think it will be anything serious. I should be good to go by March.”
ON HIS DURABILITY:
“I’ve been pretty lucky to play in as many games as I have over these last four years, and (I’ll) just continue to do the things that I do to prepare for games and stay healthy and try to stay away from injuries.”
WOULD HE ACCEPT LESS MONEY TO STAY WITH THE BILLS?
“I don’t know. That’s something I’ll have to think about, given what they offer and (things) of that nature… I don’t know, we’ll see.”
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Indeed, we’ll see.
Steve Palazzolo of ProFootballFocus.com also rates Levitre as the second best interior offensive lineman available in this pending free-agent class.
“He’s improved greatly since being drafted … and the Buffalo Bills will have a major hole to fill if they are unwilling to pay him,” Palazzolo wrote. “He’s certainly benefited from playing in Buffalo’s system that relies on quick, short passes, but Levitre was our top pass protector among guards.
“If there’s a complaint, he can improve his (PFF run blocking quotient) that ranked 39th at the position. However, his ability to prevent interior pressure will make him a hot commodity on the open market.”
If Brandon and the Bills are indeed intent on showing the league they truly are serious about being taken serious again as an NFL franchise that matters, they need to know that not locking up Levitre by a week Tuesday would send the opposite message.