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Bills Free Agency Week 1 in Review; What to Expect in Week 2



Now that we are through the first week of NFL free agency, let’s take a look at what the Buffalo Bills have done so far and what they still need to do.

The first week of free agency was a bit anticlimactic to say the least, as the Bills only signed three new players. But GM Brandon Beane has been consistent with his message that there will not be any splash signings this offseason like there have been in years past; the Bills simply do not have the cap space to do so. Plus, Beane doesn’t want to put them in more cap trouble years down the road by taking on huge contracts (like the Los Angeles Rams did).

However, the Bills did make one big splash move of their own, as they were somehow able to retain S Jordan Poyer on a two-year deal, locking up the back end of their defense for at least another season. Poyer gets to reunite with Micah Hyde, who is in the final year of his contract. The top safety duo in the NFL will be back in action for their seventh season in Buffalo.

We all know how crucial Poyer is to the Bills defense; Buffalo went 13-1 last year in games that Poyer played, with the only loss coming to the Bengals in the playoffs. But perhaps people didn’t know this side of him, as there were so many rumors swirling around the last few weeks about the All-Pro potentially leaving Western New York.

Buffalo Bills Transactions

So, what exactly have the Buffalo Bills done so far this offseason and how much cap space do they have left? (I tweeted this last Wednesday, but it’s still accurate as the only transaction that’s happened since then was the release of WR Isaiah McKenzie.)

After these moves, Beane said on Thursday that the Buffalo Bills have $9-9.5 million left in cap space. McKenzie’s release on Friday saved them another $2.8 million, so now they roughly have about $12 million left. However, they have to save $6-7 million of that for their draft class and another $3 million for their practice squad. So essentially, the Buffalo Bills have $2-3 million left to work with, barring any more releases or restructures.

Positions To Address

Beane said that he is looking for depth and competition as we enter Week 2 of free agency. While the Bills still have the draft to fill out the rest of their roster, Beane typically likes to fill as many holes as he can in free agency so they can draft the best player available rather than having to target a specific position.

With little cap space left, the Bills are going to have to figure something out because they still have many holes to fill. Luckily, there are still multiple ways they can save cap space, as Beane alluded to at his press conference.

The way I see it, there are five positions that need to get addressed, preferably before the draft:

  • LB
  • WR
  • RB
  • OL
  • DL

Middle Linebacker

As we know by now, the Buffalo Bills were not able to retain LB Tremaine Edmunds, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Chicago Bears. With an AAV (average annual value) of $18 million, Edmunds became the fourth-highest paid LB in the NFL.

Obviously that was too rich for Buffalo’s blood, so a lot of us thought they would bring in a veteran as a stop-gap for two years. They could still do so, but it doesn’t seem as likely now that they re-signed Tyrel Dodson to a one-year deal and Lavonte David re-signed with Tampa Bay after Buffalo had been linked to him.

Here are some MLBs who are still available in free agency if the Bills choose to go that route. (I included their market values in parentheses if they were listed on Spotrac.)

  • Bobby Wagner ($9.3M)
  • Anthony Walker ($4.4M)
  • Zach Cunningham
  • Myles Jack
  • Denzel Perryman

Wide Receiver

This is a position that will definitely get addressed. Whether it’s free agency or the draft, I don’t know. But what I do know is the Bills only have four WRs under contract who are locks to make the roster. (KeeSean Johnson, Dezmon Patmon, and Isaiah Coulter were signed to reserve/future contracts.)

As of now, Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis are the two starting outside WRs while Khalil Shakir is the projected starting slot receiver. New wideout Deonte Harty was signed to a two-$9.5 million contract last week. Harty brings speed and versatility to the Bills, as he can play five different positions: PR, KR, WR (slot and boundary), and RB/gadget.

Harty’s Role

However, between Nyheim Hines being the current return man and Shakir in the slot, that takes away some of Harty’s positions. The Bills could relegate Hines from some of his return duties and integrate him into the offense more. But if they do that, then that could limit Harty as a weapon out of the backfield. So really, the only position that is totally open for Harty is boundary receiver. As of right now, Harty slides in as the first backup to come in for Diggs or Davis.

So, if you’re putting a 5’6” player with speed on the boundary, what is his best attribute? Taking the top off the defense. I’m getting the sense that OC Ken Dorsey is going to be very tempted to air the ball out with his new vertical deep threat. The Bills definitely need to find more help on the outside. I think it would be best if they signed a cheap veteran now and then draft another one to get him on a cheap rookie contract for a few years and to potentially replace Davis next year if the Bills don’t retain him.

I still like Marvin Jones as a free agent target. Jones is a savvy vet who knows how to manipulate the defense, running those short to intermediate routes. At 33 years old, Jones would not command a lot of targets, so you wouldn’t have to worry about him blocking snaps from Davis or the projected rookie.

As for the draft, I want a big-bodied WR who can go up and pull down the tough, contested catches. Cedric Tillman (Tennessee) and Rashee Rice (SMU) have recently caught my eyes because of how big and physical they are. Either of those guys could take over for Davis on the boundary.

UPDATE: The Bills signed WR Trent Sherfield to a one-year deal Monday afternoon.

Running Back

This position is starting to confuse me. Beane admitted that the team is looking to add more of a bruiser at RB, someone who has a different skillset from James Cook and Nyheim Hines.

“We’ll definitely add more depth… [we’re] totally aware that we got a couple of guys that are around 200 [pounds] so yeah, we’ll probably add somebody that’s a little heavier than that at some point between now and training camp.”

beane on the rb room

Two of my favorite ideas to fill that hole are both off the board now. Jamaal Williams signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Saints and D’Onta Foreman signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Bears. Both of those players were linked to the Bills and would have fit perfectly considering what they’re looking for. Each of their deals were of great value as well, so I’m not really sure how or why Buffalo failed to get either of them.

So who do they go after now? Will it be in free agency or the draft? Beane left the door open for drafting another running back by saying that they’ll bring one in between now and training camp. I just can’t see them drafting another one though as they’ve spent either a second or a third-round draft pick on a RB in three out of the last four years. And now with the market slowing down, will we see a reunion with Devin Singletary?

If they decide to look elsewhere in free agency, here are some potential options:

  • Damien Harris ($7.1M)
  • Leonard Fournette ($2.1M)
  • Ezekiel Elliot
  • Latavius Murray
  • Kenyan Drake

I posed this question the other day on Twitter, and I got a lot of mixed responses.

UPDATE: The Bills signed RB Damien Harris to a one-year deal Monday night.

Offensive Line

This is another position that I still need more answers from. Going into this offseason, I was hoping that the Bills would finally invest in their OL rather than trying to patch it up. Specifically on the interior, as we’ve seen them go through their fair share of guards ever since trading Wyatt Teller away… Brian Winters, Quinton Spain, Jon Feliciano, Darryl Williams, and Rodger Saffold, just to name a few.

On the contrary, I wanted to see Buffalo sign a veteran RT to give Spencer Brown some much needed competition. (Brown allowed four sacks, had six penalties called on him, and recorded a 51.4 PFF grade in 2022.) However, they have done the opposite thus far.

It’s still early, but the Bills gave OG Connor McGovern a three-year, $22.4 million contract, putting him in the top 20 in terms of highest paid guards in the NFL. With almost $12 million tied up between McGovern and OG Ryan Bates (in terms of AAV), it looks like the Bills have their two interior guards for the next three years. McGovern is an immediate upgrade over Saffold at left guard. (He said he will most likely play LG while Bates, his former college teammate, will stay at RG.) However, he ranked 13th in the NFL in pass blocking last year, and 79th against the run.

The Bills are definitely not done building their OL, but with money tight now, I’m not sure how many other linemen they will be signing. And with a gaping hole at MLB, that makes it tougher to finish building the line through the draft, specifically in the early rounds.

Defensive Line

As for the defensive line, it is in better shape than the OL, but it still needs some work. As of now, this is what the Buffalo Bills DL depth chart looks like. (DE Kingsley Jonathan, DE Kendal Vickers, DT Eli Ankou, DT Brandin Bryant, and DT Cortez Broughton were all signed to reserve/future contracts.)

  • DE: Von Miller, A.J. Epenesa
  • DT: DaQuan Jones
  • DT: Ed Oliver, Tim Settle
  • DE: Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham

The Bills will most likely be without Von Miller to start the season, so adding another defensive end is a must. They also need a fourth defensive tackle. And let’s not forget, after 2023, Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, and Tim Settle will all be free agents (as of now), so you have to think about the future as well.

Knowing that, the Bills may just draft a DT and let him compete against the reserve/future guys for that fourth spot this year. Or if they want to go the free agency route, I could see them bringing back Jordan Phillips or signing Chris Wormley, formerly of the Steelers. As for DE, I could also see Shaq Lawson coming back on a team-friendly deal to round out the edge rushers until Von is ready to return. But if they want to look at the free agency market, someone who I like there is Melvin Ingram.

Moving Forward

As we get ready for Week 2 of NFL free agency, the Buffalo Bills need to address some of these positions if they want to take that next step. I understand the money is tight, but you cannot be content with the roster the way it is.

The impression that I got after this first wave of free agency is that the Bills are trying to build the offense around OC Ken Dorsey, giving him players that match his system. Buffalo’s main shortcoming last year was that they didn’t use the short-to-intermediate part of the field; Dorsey, for whatever reason, did not scheme guys open for short, quick gains. He just simply didn’t use his players to their strengths. So basically, these signings show me that the Bills don’t want to change their offense this year. Rather, they just want to execute it better.

Looking at how the Bills have attacked the offseason so far, they added a pass-blocking guard and a speedy WR who can stretch the field vertically. If the Buffalo Bills continue with this trend, we could be in for another season of Josh Allen playing hero ball week in and week out, as he will have too much put on his shoulders once again.

To hear more on this, check out Episode 3 of “The Writer’s Club,” which aired Sunday night on the Buffalo Fanatics YouTube channel.

Featured Image: Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images