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Jerry Hughes' contract should be Bills' top priority

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- When the Buffalo Bills host the Green Bay Packers in their home finale Sunday, the game could also be the final time that several members of the team take the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Among those players is defensive end Jerry Hughes, who is set to become a free agent after this season.

"I'm not going to think anything like that," Hughes said Thursday. "We still got three more games left. That's been our whole focus, not being too far into the future. It's so hard to do."

While Hughes might not be thinking about it, his contract situation should be among the front office's chief concerns this winter.

With that in mind, and the Bills' regular season winding down, let's take a look at the Bills' top financial priorities this offseason:

1. Extending Jerry Hughes: At this point, there is little incentive for Hughes to take whatever deal the Bills are offering him. His risk of injury decreases with each passing week, so with only three games remaining, the best bet for Hughes is to play out his current deal and then wait until free agency opens in March. If you're Hughes, why not see what the other 31 teams in the league will offer you? The Bills can create a road block by using the franchise tag on their defensive end, but the cost will be steep. The franchise number for defensive ends was $13.1 million last offseason and it could be higher this year.

2. Re-signing C.J. Spiller: This could depend on any changes that are made to the Bills' coaching staff and/or front office this winter. If everything stays the same, I could see the Bills offering Spiller a short-term, reasonable deal that brings back one of their most explosive players for another run. It's safe to say that Spiller hasn't been nearly as effective in Doug Marrone's system as he was with Chan Gailey calling the plays, but if the price is right, he's another piece of the puzzle in the backfield. Fred Jackson turns 34 in February and both Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown have proven to be complimentary backs at best, so even if Spiller is re-signed, expect the Bills to pursue a running back in the draft.

3. Restructuring Mario Williams' deal: The Bills are slated to have among the most cap space of any team in the league for the 2015 season. That could change quickly if they franchise Hughes or extend him, so in the event that the Bills want to free more cap space, restructuring Williams' deal is one option. His cap number for next season is $19 million, the 11th-highest in the NFL. He's under contract with the Bills through 2017, so the team could take part of his $12.1 million base salary next season and convert it to a signing bonus, which would spread the cap hits across the remaining three years of his deal. It's a mechanism that could free upward of $5 million of cap space if both sides agree. The account hit would come for the Bills in 2016, when Williams is already scheduled to count $19.9 million against the cap.