BUFFALO, N.Y. (Feb. 8, 2007) -- Cornerback Nate Clements, a key to the Bills' defense, plans to test free agency next month.
His agent, Todd France, told The Associated Press it's in his client's best interest to pursue free agency once the period opens March 2. France added that Clements is open to re-signing with the Bills if the team makes a competitive offer.
The Bills declined to comment, except to point out what coach Dick Jauron said about the team's potential free agents at the end of last season.
"Our guys may want to test the market, and we understand that," Jauron said. "But we'd like to be kept in the loop and keep the conversations up with them and be as honest as we can be with them and keep an open mind as we chase our guys and others. That's the game. That's the business."
How much the Bills would be willing to spend is a question, considering Clements would immediately become among the most coveted defensive backs to enter free agency this offseason. Other cornerbacks that could also be eligible for free agency include New England's Asante Samuel and Indianapolis' Nick Harper.
Clements' asking price is already high. The one-time Pro Bowl selection and six-year veteran has previously said that he wants to be the top-paid player at his position. Champ Bailey set the standard when he signed a seven-year contract with Denver in 2004.
It's unclear whether Clements can attract a similar offer, but teams probably will be prepared to outbid Buffalo. The small-market franchise might be projected to have plenty of salary-cap space to spend this offseason, but Buffalo has a history of not holding high-priced free agents.
The Bills finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the seventh straight year, but showed signs of gelling in the final two months of Jauron's first season in Buffalo.
Clements' loss would be a blow to a unit that also risks losing starting middle linebacker London Fletcher to free agency. Clements was part of a young and patchwork defense that struggled against the run last season, yet did not allow an opponent 300 yards passing.
Buffalo's 2001 first-round pick out of Ohio State, Clements is coming off a strong year in which he shut down most opponents' top receivers, including limiting the Colts' Marvin Harrison to two catches for 21 yards in Buffalo's 17-16 loss in November.