Are The Buffalo Bills Setting Themselves Up To Draft Defense Again?
As we are now less than a month away from the NFL Draft, it’s time to reflect on what the Buffalo Bills have done so far this offseason, and what they might do over the next month.
The Bills started the offseason almost $20 million OVER the cap. GM Brandon Beane did a great job of managing the cap situation and working with what he had. He said from the start that there wouldn’t be any big-ticket signings this year, and he was right (up until this point at least).
So what Beane did instead was find low-cost players who can still make a high impact.
As I said in the tweet, all seven of their new additions are between the ages of 25 and 27. The Bills have been going after guys who are coming off of their rookie contracts and have yet to hit their stride in the NFL. They believe that, given the right situation, environment, coaching and development, these players will pop off and those cheap, one-year deals will look like a bargain.
I love the addition of RB Damien Harris as a power back to compliment to James Cook and Nyheim Hines. QB Kyle Allen is a solid backup QB, especially given his relationship with Josh. I think that adding Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield to the WR room were two smart moves. And I think that the Bills did a solid job of building up their offensive line to protect Allen.
But that’s where I got caught up.
The Buffalo Bills started the offseason by re-signing OG Ike Boettger to a one-year contract before free agency even started. They then signed OG Connor McGovern to a three-year, $22.5 million deal and OG David Edwards to a one-year deal. And most recently, the team announced that they re-signed OT David Quessenberry to a one-year contract.
After I saw these four moves, I officially began to question how the Buffalo Bills are attacking their offseason.
What the Buffalo Bills have done to their offensive line is something I call “patch work”. An analogy that I often use to describe this is fixing a road. Think of any road at the end of the winter (which ironically falls during the same time as the NFL offseason). What does it mainly consist of? Pot holes.
That’s pretty much how I see the Bills’ OL; after the wear and tear they took during the season, there are a lot of “pot holes” that need to get fixed. In terms of real roads, the highway and street departments fill the pot holes with blacktop in the spring. Sometimes that blacktop holds up for the summer. Other times, it does not hold and it’s better to just put a fresh coat of pavement down to repair the road the right way before it gets worse.
Going into free agency, I was hoping the Bills would draft a guard early, and then sign a veteran RT to give Spencer Brown some much needed competition. But they have done the opposite, as they now have four guards who you can already pencil in on the depth chart and no offensive tackles who present a real threat to take Brown’s starting job. (Quessenberry is going to be 33 years old once the season starts and is coming off a season in which he allowed four sacks in 396 snaps for a 59.3 PFF grade. So this was more of a depth signing.)
The Buffalo Bills have been patching their holes at guard ever since trading away Wyatt Teller in 2019 with guys like Quinton Spain, Brian Winters, Jon Feliciano, Daryl Williams, Rodger Saffold, Greg Van Roten, Bobby Hart, etc. They chose to go that route again this spring. Now, McGovern and Edwards are probably better than the previous guys I listed. But it’s just stronger blacktop to try to keep the road together. Not to mention all of their backups will be free agents again next offseason.
And here’s the thing — the four guards on the Bills’ roster (McGovern, Bates, Edwards, and Boettger) account for $14.8 million in terms of average annual value for the 2023 season. So, not only do those guys take up roster spots, they also take away from being able to spend on different positions, like a middle linebacker to replace Tremaine Edmunds. On the surface, this appears to be another year where the Bills don’t draft a guard, at least early. They could still draft a tackle, but they now have 12 OL under contract, weakening the chance of that as well.
So now looking at it this way, and given the fact that six of their seven additions have been on offense, are the Buffalo Bills setting themselves up to draft defense early in the draft again? Are they pigeon-holing themselves into taking a linebacker?
Bills Draft History
The Bills hired Brandon Beane in May of 2017, so it was Doug Whaley who drafted with Sean McDermott that year. But over their six combined years of drafting, Beane and McDermott typically favor the defense. The way it looks on paper, it seems like they have a balanced attack in terms of drafting both offense and defense. But when you dig in a little deeper, you realize that the defense normally prevails. (See tweets below.)
What I take from that is the Bills typically draft defense early on, and then fill out their roster with offensive players later in the draft. The problem with that though is a good amount of players who are drafted on Saturday aren’t good enough to make an NFL roster and are just training camp bodies. Or you have someone like Isaiah Hodgins who you think isn’t good enough, so you put him on your practice squad, only for another team to claim him.
I was shocked when I realized that the last first-round pick Josh Allen played with on offense was Kelvin Benjamin, who wasn’t even a Bills draft pick. I also couldn’t believe that Zay Jones was the last wide receiver who was drafted before Day 3. So, Beane himself has never drafted a WR before Round 4 and has never drafted an IOL before Round 5.
What Position Will They Draft?
As of right now, it seems like the Buffalo Bills are setting themselves up to have to use early picks on defense. Middle linebacker is a glaring hole, as a lot of people think Iowa LB Jack Campbell would be a great Edmunds replacement. However, a lot of people are also saying that he doesn’t have a first-round grade. So if the Bills take him at 27, is it a reach? Or what if they trade back, only to find him snatched up by another team? Then they will have to pivot to Plan B and find another LB (like Drew Sanders or Trenton Simpson), probably sooner rather than later before they’re gone.
Defensive tackle, another position they’ve been patching up, could also be on the table for the Buffalo Bills. I know you could look at this and say that I’m contradicting myself because if they patched up their OL to the point where they probably won’t draft one early, why would they draft a DT early? The difference is, the Bills don’t have a DT under contract past 2023, whereas all five presumed OL starters are under contract past this season. Jordan Phillips reportedly is signing a one-year deal to remain in Buffalo, so here are all of the DTs who will be free agents next season.
And as much as some people might not want to hear it, defensive end could be another option for the Bills within the first three rounds. The Bills need a fourth pass rusher to go with Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, and Boogie Basham as Von Miller recovers from his torn ACL. Buffalo has yet to re-sign Shaq Lawson, and they have not signed any other veteran DE either.
Best Player Available
The Buffalo Bills always say that they will draft the best player available (BPA), so that’s why I’m highlighting some of these defensive positions. I think you have to take BPA with a grain of salt though. If the best player available is a quarterback, are the Bills really going to draft him?
In terms of the three defensive positions that I laid out, the Bills could really view players at those positions as the best players available at that given point in the draft. But again, I think they have to do this within reason. If the Buffalo Bills actually use their first three picks on a LB, DT, and DE, that’s going to be a tough selling point to the fan base, especially after scoring just 10 points against the Bengals in the playoffs last year.
If they went hard on building up the offense during free agency and acquired someone like a DeAndre Hopkins, sure, draft as many defensive players as you want. But you can’t wait to address the receiver room until Day 3 again and justify it with Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield.
Helping Josh Allen
And here’s another thing — most of the signings on offense were one-year deals. Did they really do enough to warrant them to NOT draft offense early? In a league where you have to be able to outscore your opponent moreso than ever before, I think you have to lean towards the offense in the draft this year. I don’t want them to neglect the defense, but I also don’t want them to favor it. It’s great to try and load up on defense, but are you really going to be able to stop Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow?
The Bills have a very smart front office and analytics department. I think they know all of this and will make the necessary moves to give their $250 million quarterback more help this year. But looking at how they have attacked their offseason thus far and how they’ve drafted in years past, I can’t be so sure.
Featured Image: Tom Pennington/Getty Images