ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- While he was a known commodity among football's inner circle entering 2019, Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White introduced himself to the world during his third season in the NFL.
The former first-round pick intercepted a pair of passes on Sunday Night Football and stripped Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins during the AFC wild-card round. White's performance led to a first-team All-Pro pick. He's now known as a Pro Bowler, top-tier cornerback and cornerstone of Buffalo's defense.
He may also be soon known as the highest-paid player at his position.
White is entering a pivotal offseason, during which the Bills can decline or exercise his fifth-year option for the 2021 season -- which projects to be worth roughly $10 million, given his draft position. The decision to exercise the option is an easy one for Buffalo; it's essentially a non-negotiable safety net for teams to keep a player at relatively low-cost.
The question in White's case is not whether to pick it up but rather what comes next? Bills general manager Brandon Beane has said the team wants to keep White in Buffalo and is at least willing to have extension talks this offseason.
"We're proud of Tre and where he's come since a rookie to where he's at now, and the year he had, helping us have a successful season as a team," Beane told ESPN. "It takes two to tango, so I'm sure he and his reps will have an idea of where they think the market should be if we approached them to extend them this year, and we have it. And if there's something on there that we thought made sense and they did, it'd get done.
"Otherwise, we know we have that fifth-year option."
White, 25, could set the market for cornerbacks with his next contract after leading the NFL with six interceptions last season and not allowing a touchdown in 599 coverage snaps, according to PFF.
ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick called White a "tremendous pro" who "is who he is" at this point in his career.
"He's a guy who, he shouldn't need to prove anything else at this point," Riddick said. "If you want to hold off on him because you're doing it for salary cap purposes and you can take care of him later, that's one thing. But as far as him proving anything at this point, that's a guy you don't mess around with."
Buffalo is projected to have north of $80 million in salary cap space this offseason, with most of its core players on low-cost or rookie deals. Beane and coach Sean McDermott have both preached their desire to take care of their own players before bringing free agents into a carefully curated locker room.
Although deals with cornerstones like left tackle Dion Dawkins and linebacker Matt Milano are more urgent, given the former's lack of a fifth-year option, the Bills shouldn't be strapped for cash when it comes time to pay White.
In theory, it makes sense to work out a deal with White before another cornerback, like the Rams' Jalen Ramsey, sets the market higher than the $15.05 million annual average Dolphins corner Xavien Howard signed for last year.
In reality, doing so before exercising his option would be unprecedented. Twenty three cornerbacks were drafted in the first round from 2011 to 2016, the year before White entered the league -- none signed a contract extension before their option was exercised. Only one, Arizona's Patrick Peterson, signed an extension before the start of his fourth season but even he did so after the Cardinals opted into his fifth year.
Of course, not all of those 23 cornerbacks are as accomplished as White; only two -- Peterson and Baltimore's Marcus Peters -- were named All-Pro within their first three seasons in the league.
There is precedent, however, of Beane rewarding players shortly after picking up their option. In Carolina, he was part of a front office staff that signed Luke Kuechly to a five-year, $62 million extension five months after exercising his fifth-year option; Kuechly was a two-time All-Pro at the time.
Spotrac estimates White's market value at $15.6 million per year and projects his deal to be worth a league-record $78.23 million over five years. Regardless of what his next deal is actually worth, the long-term marriage between the Bills and White seems more of a matter of when than if.