Buffalo Bills face big decision on when to extend Josh Allen's contract

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Draft, develop, re-sign.

It might as well be the new "Live. Laugh. Love." as far as decorations go at One Bills Drive, where Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has placed an emphasis on developing and retaining the team's homegrown talent.

As his fourth year in a successful rebuild comes to a close, Beane will have his first opportunity to re-sign arguably the most important homegrown talent a GM could ask for -- the quarterback. Josh Allen set single-season franchise records in nearly every major passing category during the 2020 NFL season, earning his first Pro Bowl selection, some MVP consideration and possibly a huge extension this offseason.

"You know I don't get into contracts, but it's a fair question since I'm very proud of Josh," Beane said Wednesday when asked about extending Allen. "What I would say about him is he's his own worst critic. Even though he had a great year just like he did last year, he kind of led our exit meeting. He went through what he's got to do. ... He's so driven, we gotta get Josh to power down and just reset.

"But he's gonna come back, using [coach] Sean [McDermott]'s words, humble and hungry. ... I don't think he's reached his ceiling. I think there's still room for him."

Even though he markedly improved in his third NFL season, it's a one-season sample size of high-level play from Allen; is that enough to warrant a contract extension? Cornerback Tre'Davious White was a borderline Pro Bowler in each of his first two seasons before breaking out as a first-team All-Pro in his third. The Bills then rewarded him with a multiyear extension.

As a first-round pick in 2018, Allen is eligible to have his fifth-year option picked up this offseason, something the Bills did for White last year before agreeing to the extension. Their ability to do so for Allen gives them more time to get his extension hammered out, but that decision comes with pros and cons.

On one hand, agreeing to a figure now would keep Allen from getting any more expensive as the quarterback market continues to reset each year. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' average annual value of $45 million is the highest in the NFL and is probably not in the cards for Allen; as of right now, the $39 million AAV Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson signed for last year is more realistic. In fact, Spotrac projects Allen's market value at four years, $162.4 million, which holds an AAV of $40.5 million.

With 2019 MVP and quarterback Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) also eligible for an extension and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott still looking for a long-term deal, that market value could change if the Bills hold off on extending Allen until next offseason. And as Buffalo finds itself in a position to sign more of its homegrown talent, it'll need all the salary-cap space it can muster, especially in a year when the cap is expected to lower because of ramifications from the pandemic.

At the same time, there are recent examples of quarterbacks receiving extensions after their third seasons and seeing a decline in their play. By the time the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams agreed to extensions with Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, respectively, both quarterbacks had put together MVP-caliber seasons -- just like Allen. Two years after signing, however, neither quarterback's future with his team is set in stone.

Wentz was benched for rookie Jalen Hurts toward the end of the 2020 season, and the Rams have been non-committal regarding Goff's status for the 2021 season.

Then there's Watson, who signed his extension after his third year and put together one of the best season's of his career in 2020 -- although the relationship between him and the Texans has grown contentious over the past month.

Waiting to extend Allen, 24, would give Buffalo an opportunity to see him repeat his impressive 2020 season while allocating some of the money it would save on his contract toward making sure his supporting cast remains strong. Allen has previously expressed interest in playing out his career with the Bills, so perhaps there's enough trust on both sides that a deal will get done eventually.

"My family is forever engraved here, myself included. I don't ever want to leave," Allen said after Bills fans donated more than $300,000 to a local children's hospital in honor of his late grandmother. "I want to play for as long as I can and give back to this community and Bills Mafia."

However, if Allen outplays his already-skyrocketing market value -- which, of course, the Bills would appreciate -- his contract could make it trickier to keep some of their homegrown talent around.

Beane might have to decide which gamble to take: locking Allen into a big contract now, risking the possibility the 2020 season was his ceiling, or waiting to extend him and risk watching his price soar as he continues to improve.

If the Bills truly believe Allen is far from his ceiling like they have publicly stated, and they can find a number with Allen that both sides agree on, signing him this offseason is a no-brainer. If the sides can't agree, Buffalo still has two more seasons of team-control to get a deal done.

Either way, the ball is in Beane's court.