It came closer to the start of free agency than they hoped, but the Buffalo Bills have re-signed defensive end Jerry Hughes to a five-year contract worth slightly north of $45-million.

Vic Carruci of the Buffalo News was the first to report the deal was struck.

Hughes was free to speak with and negotiate with other teams as of Saturday afternoon and could’ve signed with another team as early as 4:00pm Tuesday. Published reports indicate there were at least six other teams attempting to lure Hughes away from Buffalo.

The Bills had the option to place the franchise tag on Hughes last month but decided against it. While it created angst, probably internally and certainly amongst fans that it could lead to his exit, not tagging him worked out well for Buffalo.  Had Hughes been tagged he would’ve earned $14.68 million for 2104, all of which would’ve gone against the salary cap, greatly impeding Buffalo’s ability to make other significant personnel moves.

Hughes, 26, is coming off consecutive seasons of double digit sacks and did so with two different schemes - one with Mike Pettine in 2013 in a scheme Rex Ryan built and is bringing with him to Buffalo, and the other under Jim Schwartz, who departed shortly after Ryan was hired as the head coach.

One of the best athletes for his position in the league, Hughes became a successful reclamation project after the Bills traded for him with Indianapolis two years ago for linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.

Bills general manager Doug Whaley has maintained this offseason that re-signing Hughes would be a priority.

Meanwhile the Bills still have cap room to make an impact when shopping season officially begins Tuesday afternoon. There’s already a buzz the Bills will attempt to sign tight end Charles Clay away from Miami, while the New York Daily news is reporting the Bills have interest in Jets running back Bilal Powell.  It’s also expected the Bills may look for a guard in free agency, possibly Mike Iupati.

Before that happens, however, it’s possible the Bills make a string of roster cuts to free up more cap room. As we reported yesterday, that could include popular running back Fred Jackson.

Stay tuned---It’s going to be an interesting week to say the least.