BUFFALO, N.Y. [WKBW] — We know the Buffalo Bills want to re-sign Matt Milano and we know he wants to keep playing for the team that drafted him. But the question becomes can the Bills afford to keep their star linebacker?
Before the 2020 season began, Milano was asked about his looming contract. He said he would let the contract situation play itself out and wouldn't get into details. As a follow-up, he was asked if he wanted to stay in Buffalo. "I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else," Milano said.
Matt Milano on a potential new contract: I’m not really focused on that right now.— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) August 7, 2020
When asked if he wants to stay in Buffalo: Absolutely, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
According to Spotrac, Milano's current market value is $13.8 million per year. At that price, Milano would be the sixth highest-paid outside linebacker [WLB/Will] in the NFL. Considering last year Milano had a cap hit of just $2.2 million, the 26-year-old is about to get a massive raise wherever he signs.
“Matt is a very good player. What a great job he’s done since he came in here to improve from 2017 to now,” Bills GM Brandon Beane said when speaking with reporters following the 2020 season. "We’d love to be able to get Matt back. He knows that. I've shared that with him and I'm sure Sean has as well."
There's no denying Milano deserves a huge raise. Since joining the team as a fifth round pick in 2017, Milano has played a valuable role on the defense. During his rookie season, Milano played in all 16 regular season games and emerged as a starter towards the end of the season. Since his rookie year, when healthy, he's been the man lining up beside fellow linebacker and two-time Pro Bowler Tremaine Edmunds.
In 2020, Milano finished with 45 combined tackles and 3.5 sacks. While those numbers are lowered than what he posted during his second and third years in the league, Milano was placed on injured reserve following the Week 4 win against the Raiders. When he returned, he was used in a limited capacity until the final month of the regulare season.
"The business side matters. He wants to and he’s earned the right to go to free agency and see what his market bears," Beane added. "We’ll do our best to retain him and as many guys as we can. We just don’t even know the numbers yet and what it’s going to be. There are going to be some tough decisions unfortunately for us. Whether it’s letting guys go on this roster or having to watch guys leave."
As it currently stands, fitting Milano's new contract under the salary cap at anything close to $13 million seems like a stretch. With the salary cap expected to be significantly lower in 2021, Beane will likely need to cut ties with several players to make room for Milano. Beane was specifically asked if he would consider placing the franchise-tag on Milano, and didn't rule it out.
“We want to keep good players, but you know it’ll come back to that cap and what we can afford, and if it’s $175M, we’re right at it right now, so definitely some tough moves to make," Beane added. "But listen, we want to keep good players and Matt’s a good player, so we’d love to keep him here but again he’s earned this right and we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
The new NFL league year begins on March 17. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents 48-hours before the new league year. Let the waiting game begin.