ORCHARD PARK, New York — Bills general manager Doug Whaley says re-signing Marcell Dareus is his team's top priority, and he's already had preliminary contract talks in a bid to lock up the two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle before the start of training camp next month.
"We'll try our best, yeah. Now will it happen? Who knows," Whaley told The Associated Press following the team's voluntary minicamp practice Wednesday. "We've got to see where they're coming from and what they're thinking and everything. Typical negotiation process."
Whaley said he planned to meet with Bills chief negotiator Jim Overdorf later in the day in an effort to speed up talks.
"We'd like to get it out of the way so everybody can go into the season just concentrating on the season," said Whaley, who said Dareus has the potential to be one of the best at his position.
Dareus is entering the final year of his contract and has been a four-year starter in Buffalo since being selected with the third pick in the 2011 draft. He's part of one of the NFL's top defensive fronts and coming off a season in which he had a career-best 10 sacks and earned his first All-Pro selection and second Pro Bowl nod.
On the downside, Dareus will miss Buffalo's season opener against Indianapolis after being suspended without pay by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The punishment stemmed from Dareus being arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia after being stopped by Alabama State Police on May 5. Dareus avoided trial, during which he would have faced felony drug charges, by agreeing to enter an NFL substance abuse program in August.
New coach Rex Ryan hoped the suspension can serve as a learning experience.
"Hopefully, this is a one-time deal and we don't have to mess with it again," Ryan said.
As for Dareus' on-field ability, Ryan rated him as one of the NFL's top defensive tackles.
"This is a giant of a man who has unusual athleticism and is as good as there is in the league, or probably close to it," Ryan said of the player, who's listed at 6-foot-3 and 331 pounds.
The Bills thought so highly of Dareus a year ago they retained the option on the final season of his contract. And Dareus' asking price is expected to be pricey after the value of young and established defensive linemen jumped recently.
The Miami Dolphins opened free agency in March by signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a $114 million, six-year contract, making the former Detroit Lions star the highest-paid player in NFL history. In December, Tampa Bay re-signed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a seven-year extension worth $98 million.
The Bills are already pushing the NFL's salary cap limit this season. And Whaley acknowledged he will have to be creative in managing his payroll structure to make Dareus a competitive offer.
"It's going to be one of those things where we're going to try to get a deal done where it's beneficial for everybody involved and everybody wins," Whaley said. "Is it going to be tomorrow? I don't know."
Dareus declined to compare himself to other players, but noted his play speaks for itself.
"Turn on the tape," he said. "What they got, that's not mine. I can't count what I don't have."
Without committing to re-signing with Buffalo, Dareus is eager to secure his long-term future.
"Oh man, it weighs on my heavily," he said. "We'll just wait and see what the Bills do. I mean, however they want to play it, is how they play it."
And it didn't make much difference to Dareus that he had a previous business relationship with the Bills new co-owner, Terry Pegula. In purchasing the Bills in October, Pegula divested his interest in Five Star Athlete Management, the Atlanta-based sports agency that represents Dareus.
"Business is business. It's completely different, and I'm pretty sure (Pegula) looks at it the same way," Dareus said. "Whatever the outcome is, I'm pretty sure they're going to make the best decision."