Laying out Bills' options with Dareus

The Buffalo Bills are at a crossroads with Marcell Dareus.

The Pro Bowl defensive tackle was arrested Friday by police in Hamburg, New York, on three misdemeanor charges in connection with a drag race, the Buffalo News reported Monday.

According to the newspaper, Dareus will appear in Hamburg Town Court on charges of reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and participating in an illegal speed contest.

Dareus, the third-overall pick in 2011, is already facing two felony drug charges in Alabama after he was stopped for speeding on May 5. No court date for those charges has been set.

Last Wednesday, Dareus told reporters that he "wasn't a trouble guy" and that "things happen." He was arrested by Hamburg police two days later, although it is unclear when the drag racing incident occurred.

Dareus hasn't shown to be violent. He's not a dangerous criminal. But his mounting legal woes show an immaturity that hasn't waned. If he says he's changing his ways, he clearly isn't.

That puts the Bills in a tough spot with Dareus.

He's a 331-pound lineman who has started 45 games over the past three seasons, tallying 7.5 sacks last season. Those guys don't just grow on trees. And to an extent, the Bills need Dareus, especially in a critical, transitional year when the eyes of new ownership will be on the performance of management this season.

There are two factors out of the Bills' control that would keep him off the field this season:

Jail time in Alabama: Dareus faces charges of (1) felony possession of a controlled substance and (2) possession of drug paraphernalia from his May 5 arrest in Alabama. According to Alabama law, the first charge is a Class C felony that, if convicted, carries a minimum one-year jail sentence. However, it would be unlikely that Dareus faces any jail time soon. He must first be indicted by a grand jury on the criminal charges before the case proceeds to trial. Even then, it's possible he could cut a deal to plea to lesser charges and perhaps avoid jail time. It looks unlikely, at the moment, that Dareus would miss any time this season because he must serve a jail sentence.

An NFL-imposed suspension: This is the much more likely scenario. The NFL could suspend Dareus under its personal conduct policy. Discipline, according to the policy, is possible for "criminal offenses relating to steroids and prohibited substances, or substances of abuse." The policy is vague when it comes to when the commissioner can impose a suspension, but it states that for a first offense, discipline won't be imposed until there is a disposition the legal proceedings. In this case, a plea deal could lead to Dareus being suspended sooner.

With that in mind, let's run down the Bills' options with Dareus:

Wait it out: The Bills could wait until Dareus' case in Alabama, and now his case in Hamburg, are decided until making a decision on his future. They could argue that he is innocent until proven guilty and that as long as he shows up to work on time, he'll be a part of the team. If Dareus is convicted and suspended, their punishment for him would have been already made by the government or the league. In the meantime, the Bills would have one of their better defensive players available as they try to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

Release Dareus now: This would be the least likely of the possible scenarios, in our mind. While releasing Dareus would send a message to other players on the team that Dareus' behavior won't be tolerated -- and that no one player is bigger than the team -- it puts the Bills in a difficult spot this season. If Dareus was released, his replacement would be Alan Branch, who hasn't been at the facility for organized team activities to this point. Beyond Branch, the Bills don't have experienced depth at defensive tackle, with Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, and two undrafted rookies rounding out their depth chart. They could tap into the free-agent market, but that is generally dry at this point in the offseason. The Bills desperately need to make the playoffs and Dareus is coming off his best season. His salary this season is guaranteed, so the Bills wouldn't gain anything financially by releasing Dareus.

Trade Dareus: This would be more likely than just releasing Dareus outright. How much of a market would there be for Dareus? Despite his legal troubles, there could be several suitors. While I don’t think the Bills would fetch a first- or second-round pick for him -- rarely does that happen in the NFL -- they could pick up a mid-round selection from a team looking to take a chance on Dareus. That team would have to be willing to wait out Dareus’ legal proceedings and the NFL’s decision on any discipline. The effect of a trade would be the same on the Bills: their defense would take a hit this season but it would send a message to other players.

Release Dareus after the season: If the Bills allowed Dareus to play out this season on his guaranteed $6.5 million cap number, they could still avoid paying him his $8.06 million salary next season. His fifth-year option, which the Bills exercised in March, is guaranteed for only injury until the start of the 2015 league year in March, at which point it becomes fully guaranteed. If the Bills released Dareus before the 2015 league year, they'd clear his salary completely off the books for next season. It would also give the Bills time to find a replacement in free agency or the draft.

Let him play out his deal: If the Bills feel as though Dareus' legal troubles aren't enough of a reason to keep him off their team, they could let him play out his fifth-year option in 2015. That would open the possibility of more off-field incidents between now and when Dareus hits free agency in 2016, but it would keep a Pro Bowl player in the Bills' control as they push to snap their playoff drought.