BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When it comes to Buffalo Bills players who are due for sizeable contract extensions in the near future, much of the conversation (deservedly) surrounds quarterback Josh Allen, who stands to become one of the highest paid players in NFL history.
Swept somewhat under the rug, however, is two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who as the Bills' 2018 first-round draft pick enters his fourth NFL season at 23 years old.
Buffalo picked up the fifth-year option worth $12.7 million on Edmunds' rookie contract in May, after general manager Brandon Beane suggested that if the option was picked up for Edmunds as well as Allen, it wouldn't make much sense to do so without extending both players.
"You can't really be flexible with those cap numbers, so we've got to make sure if we pick them both up, that we're going to have to get close to $35 million space in next year's cap," Beane said in April. "It's not an ideal scenario for that to pick them both up and not extend them. We just got to kind of figure out how we can make that work in our system.”
Statistically, Edmunds turned in a solid 2020 season with 119 tackles, including 4 for a loss in 15 games -- but something seemed off. He missed Buffalo's Week 2 win at the Miami Dolphins with a shoulder injury before returning to play in his team's remaining 14 games, but he seemed slow to react on certain plays or hesitant to initiate contact.
Both critiques can be attributed to Edmunds' lack of chemistry with A.J. Klein, who filled in for usual starting linebacker Matt Milano for six games while the latter was injured, and his shoulder keeping him from playing at 100%.
But the two-time Pro Bowler was also better than the Internet might lead one to believe. Edmunds' 4.91-second average time to tackle ranked 22nd among qualified linebackers (at least 700 snaps played), and his 0.86 second get-off ranked ninth. Translation: Despite the chemistry issues and injury woes, Edmunds was processing the game quickly.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier commended the young linebacker for his role on the field and off it.
"Tremaine would say the same thing, that he really grew this season. He's grown in his first couple seasons here together, and I'm excited about what the future holds for his development," Frazier said. "I think more than anything, the area I saw him grow the most in was just his impact as a leader, his impact in terms of his personality coming out a little bit more on our defense and his intensity.
"Tremaine worked through a couple challenges early in the season with an injury or two, and I thought that that would be a good learning experience for him, as well. So these are all growing opportunities for our young linebacker.”
Edmunds said he would like to be more consistent in his fourth professional season, which began by attending Buffalo's organized team activities and minicamp practices in full, alongside the recently extended Milano.
The Virginia Tech product said the offseason cohesion has put the Bills' defense ahead of where it was at this point last season. Edmunds said this year's version of the team is "on a mission" after last year's loss in the AFC Championship Game, which he also said taught them how much further they need to push to reach a Super Bowl.
They'll also need Edmunds in order to do so; fortunately for the Bills, he believes his best football is still ahead of him. Spotrac estimates Edmunds' market value at $13.5 million a year over five seasons -- considering he would be 28 at the end of that deal, Buffalo could reap the benefits of Edmunds' development for the next decade or so.
"I know my mindset and I know my ability in what I could do," Edmunds said. "I'm a guy that I always want to get better. So I'm never going to think that I'm in my full potential. There's always some room to grow. And I take that approach in everything that I do, so whatever I do, my mindset is to get better."