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Tremaine Edmunds won't commit to a return to Bills, seems bound for free agency
National Football League

Tremaine Edmunds won't commit to a return to Bills, seems bound for free agency

Published Feb. 17, 2023 10:01 a.m. ET

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds didn't sound like someone keen on returning to the Buffalo Bills this offseason. Edmunds, the Bills' first-round pick in 2018, is coming off the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. He made $12.7 million last season, roughly doubling his previous NFL earnings. His deal is set to expire in March 2023 when the new league year begins.

The Bills are roughly $16 million over the salary cap, so they'll have to do plenty of contract maneuvering to meet the league requirements — let alone retain a free agent of Edmunds' quality. But in exit interviews, teams can express interest in retaining their top talents, even when they're hamstrung by the cap.

Was Edmunds interested in returning to the Bills? Or might he let the process take shape?

"I'm gonna let the process take shape," Edmunds told FOX Sports last week in Phoenix at an event for his agency, Athletes First. "You know what I mean? Like, you know, they've been good to me. So I definitely say thank you to the Bills for everything that they've done for me these last five years. But like I said, man, I'm just right now — I'm in the backseat."


Edmunds has logged over 100 tackles in every season of his career, with a career-high in 2018 at 121. He has 6.5 career sacks, five career interceptions, 35 career pass deflections and 36.5 run stuffs.

Edmunds, 24, demonstrated a level of versatility in 2022 that we'd not seen from him. Not only did he lead the team in tackles (102) despite missing three games with a groin injury, he also received the third-best coverage grade (88.1) for a linebacker on Pro Football Focus. He finished the year with the 11th-best overall grade among linebackers (79). But it was huge for his free agency prospects that he demonstrated his ability to do more than play the run game. Contributions in the passing game are what make linebackers truly valuable.

And perhaps that's the case he fights to get his deal in the same range as a player like the Titans' Zach Cunningham at $14.5 million per year. Cunningham has logged higher tackle totals, but Edmunds is the better linebacker in coverage. 

"Very good-sized LB with good length and instincts," an AFC scout told me. "[He's a] three-down player with versatility. Still a young ascending player. … Good fit in any scheme."

Given his age and consistent production, there's no reason why Edmunds won't be the highest-paid inside linebacker in this year's free-agency class.

Why would the Bills let a talented, productive player walk? For starters, they're $16.7 million over the 2023 salary cap before making any additions — and questions persist about their offensive line and receiver depth. The presence of star linebacker Matt Milano also helps; GM Brandon Beane and his group may feel like they can plug in a lesser player next to him without a huge dropoff.

At this point in his career, Edmunds doesn't have much more to prove. Still, he feels like he's ready to prove wrong any doubters who might not be aboard his hype train.

"I honestly like when people underestimate me, you know what I mean? Like it brings out the best in me," Edmunds told me last week. "That's what keeps me going day in and day out because I always work to prove people wrong. So if somebody says I can't do it, like I'm gonna do everything I can to make sure I prove this person wrong, because they're gonna come back and circle back and be like, ‘You know what, I was wrong about you man.' But that's what keeps me going day in and day out."

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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