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Buffalo Bills Free Agency Review: Week 1

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Once again, we saw this past week why Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane is known around town as “Big Baller Beane”. When the legal tampering period started last Monday at noon, the Bills had $7.5 million of cap space to work with. Yet somehow, Beane was able to bring in 13 players, including future Hall of Famer Von Miller.

Even more impressive, Miller signed a contract worth $120 million over six years but only carries a $5.2 million cap hit into the 2022 season. Complete wizardry by Beane.

Before we jump into week two of free agency, here’s a recap of everything the Bills have done thus far.

Cap Clearing Moves

PlayerMoney Saved
ReleasedLB A.J. Klein$5.1M
OG Jon Feliciano$3.4M
OG Daryl Williams$6.3M
WR Cole Beasley$6.1M
DT Star Lotulelei$1.5M
RestructuredP Matt Haack$0.4M
SS Micah Hyde$4.5M
LB Matt Milano$5.2M
ExtendedC Mitch Morse (Extended for 2-years, $19.5M)$2.3M
Total Cap Saved$34.8M
Cap Clearing Moves

Buffalo Bills Signings: Free Agency Week 1

I really like how the Buffalo Bills have assembled their roster and allocated their resources. Going into the offseason, I had nine positions that I wanted to see the Bills upgrade: DE, CB2, WR3, RB2, TE2, G, DT, QB2, and P.

PlayerContract2022 Cap Hit
G Rodger Saffold1-year, $6.3M$4.2M
DT Tim Settle2-years, $9M$2.7M
DT DaQuan Jones2-years, $14M$3.6M
OLB Von Miller6-years, $120M$5.2M
TE O.J. Howard1-year, $3.5M$2.9M
DT Jordan Phillips1-yearN/A
DE Shaq Lawson1-yearN/A
LB Marquel Lee1-yearN/A
G/C Greg ManczN/AN/A
QB Matt BarkleyN/AN/A
Free Agents Signed

Beane always talks about filling the roster out in free agency so you can draft the best player available. But with a small amount of cap space, I didn’t think they’d be able to address all nine positions. So the main ones I thought they had to address in free agency were defensive end, backup quarterback, and backup tight end.

Defensive End

Starting with defensive end, the Buffalo Bills desperately needed to find that proven, dominant edge rusher. As much as I like Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, and Boogie Basham, those guys don’t fit that description of “game-changers”. I think they have all shown flashes and given fans reasons to be excited – especially Rousseau – but they aren’t ready yet. They still need time to develop. However, the Bills are in win-now mode, so that is why you go get an eight-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and a two-time Super Bowl champion who has 540 career tackles, 115.5 career sacks and can completely change a game. And the great part about it is Rousseau, Epenesa and Basham get to learn from one of the best to ever do it as they continue to improve. Not to mention Miller will make the offensive line better everyday in practice as well.

Backup Quarterback

PlayerContract2022 Cap Hit
QB Case Keenum1-year, $3.5MN/A
Players Acquired via Trade

As for Josh Allen’s backup, this is another position where you want an experienced, proven veteran rather than drafting a rookie. The Bills acquired Case Keenum from the Cleveland Browns Saturday in exchange for one of their seventh-round picks this year (pick 246). Keenum had a $6.1 million cap hit but agreed to a contract restructure, reducing his base salary to $3.5 million. (We don’t have the official numbers yet for what his new cap hit will be.) The 34-year old is one of the best backups in the league who can come in and win games if need be. Buffalo also just signed Matt Barkley back to be QB3/practice squad QB. Clearly Beane made it a point to get Allen a reliable backup(s).

Backup Tight End

Backup tight end is the third position that I thought the Buffalo Bills had to address in free agency. Yes, Dawson Knox had a breakout year and yes there are some nice tight end prospects in the draft, but I just felt that the Bills could use another proven weapon, especially if they didn’t have enough money to sign a wide receiver. O.J. Howard is an excellent signing. Howard has spent his five-year career in Tampa but really hasn’t gotten on track, in large part due to being stuck behind Rob Gronkowski on the depth chart the last couple of years. He has great size (6’6, 251 pounds) and is great at running the seam route while also being able to block when he has to. And for only a $2.9 million cap hit, I think he is the perfect compliment to Knox.

When I made my offseason moves on our simulator, this is where I ran out of money. I re-signed WR Isaiah McKenzie and G Ike Boettger before signing DL Akiem Hicks, QB Kyle Allen, and Howard but then had to use the draft to finish building my roster. This is why Brandon Beane is paid the big bucks.

Beefing Up The Trenches

Beane heavily addressed the lines, signing five defensive linemen (including Miller) and one offensive lineman. The first signing in free agency was former Raiders, Rams, and Titans G Rodger Saffold. The 33-year old is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had a 73.9 run blocking grade, 16th best among all guards. Saffold also gets to reunite with Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer as the two spent time together in Los Angeles in 2017 and 2018. (Saffold was named a second-team All-Pro after the ’17 season.) So essentially, the Buffalo Bills got Saffold and $5.5 million in cap space for Feliciano and Williams.

Buffalo then signed DTs Tim Settle and DaQuan Jones. Settle played his college ball with Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds at Virginia Tech before being drafted by Washington in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. He’s being described as one of the most underrated defensive tackles after being stuck behind Washington’s talented front four the last four seasons. In 2021, Settle recorded a career high 70.1 PFF grade. Jones is another quality signing after he posted 23 pressures and a career high 69.4 pass rush grade for the Panthers last season after spending his first seven seasons in Tennessee. (Fun fact: Jones is from the Binghamton area.) Both of these players will help the Bills improve their run defense, as Jones weighs 320 pounds while Settle weighs 308.

Beane then took it a step further by bringing back DT Jordan Phillips and DE Shaq Lawson, two former fan favorites. Phillips was going into the third and final year of his $30 million contract with the Cardinals before they released him last Wednesday. Immediately after, he posted a picture on Instagram of him in his Bills uniform where he thanked the Cardinals and then finished with, “the heart wants what the heart wants #letsgobuffalo“. And let’s not forget… this is the same guy who went to the Bills-Chiefs playoff game to publicly root for the Bills while being employed by the Cardinals.

Lawson is another guy that the Bills couldn’t afford in 2019 as he also took a $30 million contract (with the Dolphins). He was traded to the Texans, released, and then signed with the Jets before getting released (again) in January. Both players took one-year deals to come back to Buffalo for presumably a pretty low price, so the Bills essentially saved upwards of $60 million while still getting these two guys back on their d-line.

Re-signings

And last but not least, Beane was also able to bring back some key role/depth players who contribute to special teams with Dodson, Neal, Kumerow and Lee, although the first three players mentioned had already been signed before the team had $7.5 million in cap space.

PlayerContract2022 Cap Hit
LB Tyrel Dodson1-year, $895,000$895,000
CB Siran Neal3-years, $9M$2.3M
WR Jake Kumerow1-year, $1.2M$1.0M
WR Isaiah McKenzie2-years, $8M$1.9M
Players Re-signed

Considering how much work Beane and company had to do to clear enough space to get the players that they wanted, I think they did a terrific job. Just the fact that Von Miller chose Buffalo and Josh Allen over Los Angeles and Aaron Donald is a huge win in itself, but then add another dozen signings and you have yourself a great first week of free agency.

Current Cap Space

Heading into week two of free agency, the Buffalo Bills have very little cap space left. There are still some cap hits and contract details that haven’t been released yet, but I estimate that the Bills have just under $1 million. Beane did say during his press conference Friday that, after some moves that he had planned (presumably the Keenum trade and Barkley deal), they would have “a little bit, but not a lot” left, so my estimations would seem to align correctly.

What To Expect This Week

I would say to not expect anything too big to happen this week, but I have learned to never underestimate Big Baller Beane. The Buffalo Bills desperately need some help at corner after Levi Wallace signed with Pittsburgh and with Tre White still recovering from his torn ACL. They also need to find WR3 behind Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis as well as a speedy, pass-catching RB to pair with Devin Singletary (McKissic was perfect, sigh). And they could still use some help at guard with only Saffold, Cody Ford, Jacob Capra, and former Dolphins and Texans G/C Greg Mancz under contract right now. (Ryan Bates is a restricted free agent; the Bills used the RFA right of first refusal tender on him, meaning they can match any team’s offer.)

I think all four positions will definitely be addressed in the draft, but will Beane be able to clear enough cap space in order to bring in more veterans for competition? It’s becoming more and more popular to find your wide receivers and cornerbacks in the draft since they are younger, cheaper, and becoming more and more talented each year. Not to mention they haven’t sustained as many injuries over their careers. However, I still think there is good value at bringing in free agents at the right value.

How Can Beane Clear More Cap Space?

There aren’t a lot of bad contracts left on this team anymore, but probably the one that sticks out to me the most is Tyler Matakevich’s. Releasing the backup linebacker would save $2.5 million. They can clear up another $1.5 million by releasing Cody Ford due to his liabilities on the field, but then they would be left with just Saffold, Capra, and Mancz at guard. (And something tells me they want Kromer to work with Ford to get him back to playing like one of the top prospects that he once was.) Buffalo can also save $895,000 by moving on from DT Brandin Bryant and another $895,000 by releasing Eli Ankou.

If the Bills run out of players that they want to release, restructures and extensions are always an option. The Bills could possibly extend Diggs or Knox in order to save money this year while spreading it out over multiple years. And because the market is increasing every year for those two positions, you might want to extend them now before they cost too much. (Although Beane didn’t seem like he was too worried about extending Diggs during Friday’s press conference.) Dion Dawkins and Tre White could have their deals restructured in order to free up some money as well.

Available Players/Targets For The Buffalo Bills

Let’s assume Beane can work some more magic and clear up another $5-10 million in cap space. Here are some potential veteran targets for the Bills as we begin week two of NFL free agency.

Cornerback

  1. Joe Haden 
  2. Patrick Peterson
  3. Xavier Rhodes
  4. Jason Verrett
  5. Jimmy Smith/A.J. Bouye

*Notable, more expensive CBs: Stephon Gilmore, Kyle Fuller, Steven Nelson, Bryce Callahan, Mike Hughes

The biggest need right now is CB2. Assuming the Bills will draft a corner (or two), I want the Bills to sign someone as a veteran placeholder, not a guy in his prime who will want a lot of money. Haden is a reliable veteran who can hold down the fort until White is healthy and/or until the presumptive rookie is ready to start. Haden is a good zone defender who has 155 passes defended in his career, the most among active players. He probably won’t command a lot of money being on the down half of his career. And even more interesting, he tweeted this on Wednesday after thanking the Steelers for everything:

Wide Receiver

  1. T.Y. Hilton
  2. Jamison Crowder
  3. Zach Pascal
  4. DeMarcus Robinson
  5. Dede Westbrook/Mohamed Sanu

*Notable, more expensive WRs: Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green, Will Fuller

The Bills are in an interesting position at wide receiver now that they have to replace Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley. I’ve been really high on Skyy Moore and Calvin Austin as rookie slot receivers, so I think the Bills should focus more on replacing the Sanders role in free agency. T.Y. Hilton could be a sneaky good pick-up for the Bills. He too is a guy on the wrong side of his career, so he probably won’t be looking for a lot of money or for a lot of targets. I see him as a perfect WR3 as he still has some juice left in the tank and can still be a deep-threat. The 32-year old has dealt with his fair share of injuries over his career, but get him in Buffalo’s training facilities and he’ll be golden.

Running Back

  1. Darrel Williams
  2. Jerick McKinnon
  3. Tarik Cohen
  4. Justin Jackson
  5. Marlon Mack/Duke Johnson

*Notable, more expensive RBs: Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, Ronald Jones II

After missing out on J.D. McKissic, the Bills may just draft one at this point (James Cook and Max Borghi are high on my boards). But if they do look to free agency, I really like the idea of Darrel Williams. The 26-year old ran for 558 yards and 6 TDs while also catching 47 passes for 452 yards (9.6 avg.) and 2 TDs this past season. He had to share time with Clyde Edwards-Helaire the last couple of years, so I feel like he has a lot of untapped potential. And for a market value of only $2.2 million, you’d almost have to take that, especially if it means taking a weapon away from Kansas City.

Guard

  1. Ryan Bates
  2. Ike Boettger
  3. Trai Turner
  4. Will Hernandez
  5. Ereck Flowers

And finally for the guards, if the Bills can’t retain Bates and/or Boettger, Trai Turner is another reliable veteran who can fill a starting role with a relatively low market value – he played for the Steelers on a $3 million contract last year. Drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft by the Panthers, Turner has some familiarity with Beane and Sean McDermott as the three of them spent a few years together in Carolina.

As much as some fans would love to bring Julio Jones or Jarvis Landry to Buffalo, I don’t think that’s a smart choice given how limited the Bills are with money right now and because the draft is loaded with great wide receivers. (However, I said something along those lines last week and then Beane pulled off the Von Miller signing, so who knows.) Regardless, the top four players I think the Bills can still afford are Joe Haden, T.Y. Hilton, Darrel Williams, and either Ike Boettger or Trai Turner.

What the Bills do this week and the rest of the offseason remains to be seen. If I were to make a prediction, I would say that we will see two or three moves to clear cap space and then use that money to sign two or three veterans who can help fill out the roster. One thing remains certain though… never doubt Brandon Beane.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    March 24, 2022 at 5:32 am

    Good read.

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