Buffalo Bills Mock Offseason: Pre-Free Agency
Today marks the beginning of the legal tampering period in the NFL, meaning that teams can begin negotiating with impending unrestricted free agents ahead of the new league year which begins Wednesday at 4 pm. As we’re expecting to see a flurry of moves come in across the league, don’t be surprised if the Buffalo Bills do not break the bank to bring in a big-name player.
Buffalo re-signed fan-favorite WR Isaiah McKenzie to a 2-year deal worth up to $8 million Sunday night. Even more impressive is that McKenzie’s cap hit for this year is only $1.9 million. With $824,395 in cap space prior to the signing, the Bills are roughly $1.08 million over the cap. As you can see, they still have a lot of work ahead of themselves if they want to be competitive in free agency.
Luckily, now with Buffalo Fanatics’ new offseason simulator, fans are able to play the role of GM Brandon Beane to see how exactly we can go about upgrading our team this offseason. After many mock simulations, I came up with one that I really liked, considering the limited amount of money I had to work with.
|Player Cut||Cap Saved|
|Cole Beasley||$6.1 million|
|Star Lotulelei||$1.5 million|
|Tyler Matakevich||$2.5 million|
|Daryl Williams||$6.3 million|
|Cody Ford||$1.5 million|
|Matt Haack||$1.2 million|
|Total Cap Saved||$19.1 million|
The first thing you do with the simulator is release up to six players in order to save money. The first player I released was WR Cole Beasley. The Buffalo Bills have granted Beasley permission to seek a trade, but at this point I would just assume teams will wait to see if he’s released and then sign him to a new, possibly cheaper, deal. I then went down the list and cut DT Star Lotulelei. In real life, the Bills can designate Lotulelei as a June 1 release and save an additional $2.6 million.
I continued down the list and released LB Tyler Matakevich, OL Daryl Williams, OL Cody Ford and P Matt Haack. Cutting these six players freed up over $19 million, bringing my total team salary cap to just under $20 million.
(Note: Beane can also trade players, restructure their deals or sign them to an extension in order to create more cap space, but you are unable to do those things in the simulator. If I were to guess, Williams and Matakevich are the most likely candidates to have their deals restructured. Haack had his restructured on Saturday, but he can still be released depending on who the team signs/drafts.)
After you cut your six players, you can re-sign whoever you want before free agency begins. The first player I re-signed was McKenzie, as his deal had already been announced. (Our cap figure on him was only $1 million less.) I then re-signed OL Ike Boettger to a 2-year deal worth $7 million. Boettger has been a solid depth player since arriving in Buffalo in 2018 and also played well at left guard this season before suffering an achilles injury in December. (He has a 6-9 month recovery time, putting him on track to be ready for the start of the regular season.)
I was unable to re-sign any other free agents just based on the salary cap – DE Mario Addison had a $10 million cap hit, CB Levi Wallace had a $9.3 million cap hit, DE Jerry Hughes had a $6 million cap hit and DT Harrison Phillips was $5.4 million. If Beane can get any of these guys to take a big discount, I’m all for it, but I don’t see that happening. The most likely one to re-sign out of those four is Hughes, in my opinion. The 33-year old is the longest tenured Bill, had a great pressure rate last season (even though his stats didn’t back it up) and is well-respected by his teammates, coaches, and the fans. I can see him signing a cheap deal and being a depth/rotational player in order to make one last run at the Super Bowl.
UPDATE: After this article was written, the Buffalo Bills did in fact release Daryl Williams. They also extended C Mitch Morse to a 2-year deal, lowering his 2022 cap hit from $11.25 million to $9 million. As it stands, the Bills currently have $7.5 million in cap space going into free agency.
Moving into free agency, I’d say the biggest need for the Bills this year – in order to get over the hump – is a proven pass rusher. The Bills have been linked to DE Chandler Jones, who is from Rochester and went to college at Syracuse. In his 11 seasons, Jones has put up double-digit sacks seven times, including 19 in 2019. However, as much as I’d like to see the star pass rusher come home, his market value is $14 million, which is very pricey for a team like the Bills. Buffalo has also shown interest in acquiring DE Danielle Hunter from the Vikings or DT Fletcher Cox from the Eagles.
But again, between limited cap space and the inability to make trades on the simulator, I went a different route. I signed DL Akiem Hicks from Chicago for 2 years, $5.5 million per year. Hicks is a proven disruptor on the defensive line and can play defensive end or tackle. He has had a few down years as of late, but maybe a fresh start on a great team is all he needs. One other name I’ll throw out there is DE Carlos Dunlap. With Seattle entering rebuild mode, they may take a late-round draft pick for the 33-year old. Plus, with Seattle eating $5.6 million of his $6.5 million cap hit, the Buffalo Bills would only owe him $900,000.
The next position I addressed is one that, in my mind, has to be addressed in free agency and that is backup quarterback. If something happens to Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills need someone reliable who they can put in to win games. With the market heating up for Mitch Trubisky, it seems as though a return to Buffalo is pretty much out of the picture. So I went with another Allen, Kyle Allen, on a 2-year, $8.5 million deal.
Now, I know we would all love to see Ryan Fitzpatrick ride off into the sunset shirtless in Buffalo, but given his age, injury history, and market value, I don’t think it’s as likely as we may think. Marcus Mariota and Jacoby Brissett would also be great options, but they may want more money and a better chance to start elsewhere. So I figured Kyle Allen is a safe option who the Bills can probably get for a good deal. And given his relationship with Josh, I see this as a perfect fit.
The last position I was able to address in free agency before I ran out of money was tight end. Now that Tom Brady is back for another year (I knew it was too good to be true), it seems as though a Rob Gronkowski return to Tampa Bay is imminent. The Bills were reportedly interested in Giants TE Evan Engram, but with rumblings coming out last night that Engram is close to signing a 4-year, $30 million deal, I’m not sure the Bills will want to invest that much in a backup tight end.
That’s why I went with Bucs TE O.J. Howard on a 1-year deal worth only $2.2 million. Howard has been linked to Buffalo before and, with his market value as low as it was, I figured he would be a perfect compliment to Knox while giving Allen another big target to throw to. After this fifth signing, I was left with just over $1 million in cap space.
(Note: The Buffalo Bills need to save $6-$8 million for their draft picks, but they can release more than six players in real life in order to trim salary.)
Round 1 (25th overall): CB Andrew Booth Jr. – Clemson
Finally, the draft. A lot of people have mocked the Buffalo Bills to take a cornerback with the 25th pick, and a lot of people have mocked them to go with a wide receiver at 25. Before I get into which route I went, I think that if any of the Georgia defensive linemen (Travon Walker, Jordan Davis or Devonte Wyatt) fall to 25, the Bills may snatch them up given their need there. However, I went with a cornerback at #25. The Bills desperately need some help at corner with Tre White still recovering from a torn ACL, Levi Wallace about to hit the open market, and Dane Jackson still being a young role player. That’s why I took Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. Arguably a top three corner and top-15 pick, Booth has all the tools needed to immediately step in as CB2 opposite of White.
Round 2 (57th overall): DT Travis Jones – UConn
With my 2nd round pick, I selected DT Travis Jones from UConn. I see Jones as Lotulelei’s replacement, being a big, powerful body that will draw multiple blockers on him, freeing guys like Tremaine Edmunds. Jones weighs 333 lbs, 22 more than Lotulelei. He has a ton of upside but may not be able to start right away. However, if Beane can get Jerry Hughes back as the fourth DE or somehow sign Chandler Jones or acquire Danielle Hunter/Carlos Dunlap, Akiem Hicks could slide over from end to play tackle next to Ed Oliver until Jones is ready.
Round 3 (89th overall): RB James Cook -Georgia
With my 3rd round pick, I went with a running back. Not just any running back, a speedy, pass-catching running back. I took James Cook 89th overall. Running back is another position of need for the Buffalo Bills this offseason, but you always want to be careful about paying running backs, especially when you don’t have a lot of money. That’s why I decided to go the draft route as Cook, Dalvin’s younger brother, is regarded as the best pass-catching RB in this draft. He finished his four-year college career at Georgia averaging a whopping 10.9 ypc to go with his six TDs.
Round 4 (128th overall): CB Tariq Woolen – UTSA
In the 4th round, I went back to CB. I wanted to sign a veteran corner in free agency to help hold down the fort, but I ran out of money. So I decided to use two draft picks on the position, and with the 128th pick I chose Tariq Woolen out of UTSA. Woolen has exceptional size, length and explosiveness for a corner standing at 6’4”, 209 pounds, something the Bills don’t have at the position. And not only is he big and strong, he is extremely fast. Woolen ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at the combine, which is the second fastest for a defensive back in combine history. One weakness is that he is a converted WR, but given his physical traits, Woolen is rising up draft boards.
Round 5 (167th overall): WR Tyquan Thornton – Baylor
Coming to Buffalo in the 5th round was WR Tyquan Thornton from Baylor. Another speed demon with size, I see Thornton being the number three receiver on the outside behind Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, with McKenzie in the slot. Measuring at 6’3”, 183 pounds, Thornton had a 4.28 40-time, the fastest among all receivers. His size and speed make him a great deep threat, adding more explosiveness to this offense.
Round 6 (183rd overall): LB Troy Anderson – Montana State
In the 6th round, I went with LB Troy Andersen out of Montana State. This is a guy who played LB, QB, and RB for the Bobcats. His 4.42 40-time was the fastest among all linebackers at the combine. He has a ton of upside with his “elite” athleticism and has already met with the Bills. I do not see him as a starter this year, but I think the Bills coaching staff can develop him into a nice role player and he can possibly take over for Edmunds if they cannot extend him. But for now, I see him fitting that Tyler Matakevich role as a backup LB who contributes on special teams.
Round 6 (201st overall): OG Josh Sills – Oklahoma State
With the other 6th round pick, I drafted OG Josh Sills from Oklahoma State. I think Sills could be one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the draft. He has tremendous size at 6’6”, 325 lbs. Not only that, he has thin ankles which help him move quickly and fluidly in a fast-paced offense like the Bills. He is also a great run blocker and is described as someone who plays nasty, something that new OL Coach Aaron Kromer loves. This *could* be the Wyatt Teller we’ve been looking for since… Wyatt Teller. Sills is a PERFECT day three pick for the Bills.
Round 7 (228th overall): P Matt Araiza – San Diego State
With the 228th overall pick in the 7th round, I selected punter Matt Araiza from San Diego State. Araiza has an absolute cannon for a leg, as he can boom 80-yard punts, including an 86-yarder against San Jose State. Known as the “Punt God,” Araiza now holds the NCAA records for punting average in a season (51.19), punts over 50 yards (39) and punts over 60 yards (18), according to Pro Football Network. Considering all of the troubles the Bills had with Matt Haack last year, Araiza is undoubtedly an upgrade. He can change games just based on the opposing team’s starting field position.
Round 7 (243rd overall): RB Max Borghi – Washington State
With the 243rd and final pick for the Buffalo Bills, I selected Washington State running back Max Borghi. Borghi has met with the Bills several times already and is a great all-down back with speed, strength, and agility. His 24 rushing TDs and 102 receptions since 2019 rank first among Pac-12 RBs. He looks and plays like Christian McCaffrey, so if you can find that kind of talent at the very end of the draft, then hats off to your scouting department.
I know I only drafted one wide receiver, but that’s just how the board fell. When you’re a team as good as the Bills, you never want to draft for need – you want to take the best player available. I could’ve taken a WR in the 1st round and I will be happy if the Bills do come April 28 (Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, and Jahan Dotson could somehow still be available). However, I was in a better position to take a corner and didn’t want to reach.
Since I only had a little over $3 million left after bringing back McKenzie and Boettger and signing Hicks and Allen, there weren’t any WRs or CBs left on my board that I could afford, so I went with the next best route with Howard at TE. By the time the draft came, I had two more targets for Allen but nothing opposite of Tre White, leading to the selection of Booth. So even though it may seem like I hardly did anything at WR, I still gave Allen five additional targets, just in different ways based on the salary cap – two WRs, two RBs and a TE to go with Diggs, Davis, Knox, Singletary, and Stevenson.
This just shows how hard it is to be the general manager of an NFL team, or any team for that matter. As much as we may want Allen Robinson or Christian Kirk to pair with Diggs and Davis, the Buffalo Bills may have to take a similar route that I took over these next few days. But with the news coming out this morning about Williams and Morse, Brandon Beane may have some other tricks up his sleeve. We will find out very shortly.