The Buffalo Bills didn’t make nearly as many moves during the second week of free agency as they did during the first week, but that didn’t stop Brandon Beane from bringing in valuable players. Working with limited cap space, the Bills filled a couple of more holes on their road to the Super Bowl as they signed WR Jamison Crowder and RB Duke Johnson and then re-signed RB Taiwan Jones. (They also signed IOL Greg Mancz and QB Matt Barkley, but those were mentioned in last week’s article.)
I love the Crowder signing as he was one of the guys on my free agent radar last week. The Buffalo Bills signed the 28-year old slot receiver to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million just four days after releasing Cole Beasley. Crowder spent his first four seasons in Washington before joining the Jets in 2019. He has established himself as one of the best slot receivers in the game as he now has 4,607 yards (11.3 yds/rec) and 28 TD on 409 receptions over his career. (He also has 86 punt returns for 677 yards and a touchdown.) For reference, in Beasley’s 10 years, he has 5,709 yards (10.4 avg) and 34 TD on 550 receptions.
In addition to his route running ability, Crowder brings speed and a knack for YAC (yards after catch) to the Bills. Perhaps you might remember this play from the 2020 season…
Surprisingly, Crowder and Beasley have the same average YAC/rec over the last three seasons at 4.6 yards. Don’t get too caught up on that though because Beasley had Josh Allen throwing to him over that span while Crowder had Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson. Regardless, I think this is an upgrade for the Bills. If Crowder can put up 833 yards and 6 TDs in a Darnold-led offense, imagine what he can do with Allen and the Bills. Not to mention, he is four years younger than Beasley and $5.6 million cheaper. (Beasley had a $7.6 million cap hit, Crowder’s is only $2 million.) The only thing that concerns me though is his injury history as he has only played a full season once over the last four years. Hopefully things will change once he gets in Buffalo’s training facilities.
As for RB2, I think the Bills did a solid job of filling this hole. Duke Johnson was another one of the players on my radar last week as he has always been known as that speedy, third down back that the Bills were seeking. His deal is for one year and $1.3 million. He has bounced around the league over his seven-year career, going from Cleveland to Houston to, most recently, Miami. As much as I wanted J.D. McKissic, Crowder’s former teammate, I was pretty surprised and relieved after I compiled these stats:
Johnson’s career stats (96 games):
- 530 rush, 2,261 yds (4.3 ypc), 11 TD
- 311 rec, 2,870 yds (9.2 ypr), 12 TD
McKissic’s career stats (62 games):
- 221 rush, 971 yds (4.4 ypc), 4 TD
- 193 rec, 1,501 yds (7.8 ypr), 7 TD
Now I know that Johnson has played 34 more games than McKissic, but those numbers are encouraging, especially since he is averaging 1.4 yards more per reception over his career. And this doesn’t mean that he is the RB2 of the future. The Bills probably view him as a veteran placeholder until they find that other guy. I have a feeling that they will draft a running back next month as there are some speedy, versatile backs coming into the league.
That being said, they will probably have to get rid of Zack Moss and/or Christian Wade in order to make room since they have Taiwan Jones back in the RB room. (He is primarily used for special teams but is still listed as a running back.) Jones will be back for his 12th NFL season and fifth with the Bills. His new deal is for one year and worth $1,750,000.
Current Buffalo Bills Depth Chart
In order to see where the Bills still have holes in their roster, I made this depth chart so you can visualize where things stand (rather than reading another list of transactions) as we move into the third week of free agency.
|WR||S. Diggs||J. Kumerow||I. Hodgins|
|WR||G. Davis||T. Gentry|
|SWR||J. Crowder||I. McKenzie||M. Stevenson|
|C||M. Morse||G. Mancz|
|RG||C. Ford||J. Capra|
|RT||S. Brown||T. Doyle|
|TE||D. Knox||O. Howard||T. Sweeney||Q. Morris|
|QB||J. Allen||C. Keenum||M. Barkley|
|HB||D. Singletary||D. Johnson||Z. Moss||T. Jones||C. Wade|
|DE||G. Rousseau||A. Epenesa||M. Love|
|DT||E. Oliver||J. Phillips||B. Bryant|
|DT||T. Settle Jr.||D. Jones||E. Ankou|
|DE||V. Miller||S. Lawson||B. Basham|
|MLB||T. Edmunds||T. Dodson||T. Matakevich|
|WLB||M. Milano||M. Lee||A. Smith||J. Giles-Harris|
|SCB||T. Johnson||S. Neal|
|CB||D. Jackson||O. Griffin||N. McCloud|
|SS||J. Poyer||D. Hamlin||J. Thomas|
|FS||M. Hyde||J. Johnson|
|CB||* T. White||C. Lewis||T. Harris|
* = May not be ready Week 1
|BILLS SPECIAL TEAMS|
|PR||I. McKenzie||M. Hyde||M. Stevenson|
|KR||I. McKenzie||M. Stevenson|
What To Do From Here
I think most fans will agree that this team doesn’t have too many holes left to fill but can still use some upgrades. The two biggest positions that need to be addressed are cornerback and offensive line. The Buffalo Bills could still use another wide receiver and a punter, but those can be found in the draft, especially now after the Crowder signing. Buffalo has just under $3 million left in cap space. I calculated everything out last week and had them with just under $1 million, which seemed to align with what Brandon Beane said last weekend in that they had “a little bit” left (before signing five more players). But I’ve just learned over time that BBB will always be able to work some magic. So the last official number we got was $2,891,126 million from the NFLPA’s public salary cap report this past Thursday.
Starting with the offensive line, the big question that needs to get answered is whether RFA Ryan Bates will be back or not. That question actually will get answered by tomorrow as Tuesday is the fifth and final day the Buffalo Bills can match the offer sheet that the Chicago Bears gave Bates Thursday. When Buffalo gave him the rights of first refusal tender a couple of weeks ago, it was for the lowest amount ($2,433,000 cap hit). I would assume the Bears are going to throw him a deal that makes it hard for the Bills to match, but just because it may be a lot of money doesn’t mean he’ll have a cap hit that is too high for the Bills. And the Bills can always match the Bears and then restructure his new deal, lowering his cap hit.
However, you have to have a backup plan. And frankly, even if they can get Bates to come back, I don’t think the Bills have enough depth on their line. They are most likely drafting a lineman (or multiple linemen) at some point next month, but Beane and Sean McDermott love to have competition and veteran leadership and stability. So here are some offensive guards who the Bills could still go after (excluding Bates and UFA Ike Boettger who they can still re-sign):
- Trai Turner
- Will Hernandez*
- Ereck Flowers
- Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
- Michael Schofield
*Update: Hernandez has signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
I think corner is the other position that has to be addressed before the draft. With more rumors that Tre White might not be able to come back until October, the Buffalo Bills need to get a veteran who can hold down the fort until White is healthy again. If it were up to me, I’d sign a corner and draft one (maybe even two depending how the board falls). A team with expectations as high as the Bills can’t go into the season with Dane Jackson and a rookie as their starting two corners and they really can’t go in with just Jackson and Cam Lewis. So here are my top 10 remaining corners who I think can fill that veteran placeholder role at a reasonable salary:
- Steven Nelson
- Joe Haden
- Patrick Peterson
- Xavier Rhodes
- Jason Verrett
- Jimmy Smith
- A.J. Bouye
- Jackrabbit Jenkins
- Robert Alford
- Mackensie Alexander
(Note: James Bradberry has been drawing trade interest and has been linked to the Bills. However, given a $21.9 million cap hit and having to give away assets on top of it, I’m not sure if I’m pulling the trigger. The Giants said they would eat some of his contract and Beane could always re-work his deal, but you’ll be better off financially if you just sign one of these players.)
Who To Sign
This is where it gets interesting. The Buffalo Bills only have $2.9 million left in cap space and still need to save an additional $6-$8 million for their draft picks. The can extend players like Stefon Diggs and Dawson Knox, restructure players such as Tre White and Dion Dawkins, and cut players such as Tyler Matakevich ($2.5 million), Matt Haack ($1.5 million), Zack Moss ($1.2 million), Brandin Bryant ($895,000) and Eli Ankou ($895,000). They can worry about that as they get closer to the draft though.
So let’s say the Bills don’t match the Bears offer sheet for Bates and are looking for a new RG and CB2. I’m going to prioritize finding a cornerback since there’s probably more value in a cheap guard rather than a cheap corner. Steven Nelson would be at the top of my wishlist. He’s only 29 years old and is coming off a one-year, $3 million contract with Philadelphia. Plus, the Bills were rumored to have interest in him last year at this time. He’s a physical corner who has eight interceptions, 27 pass break-ups, and an 85.5 average passer rating over the last four seasons between Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
Say the Bills get him on a 2-year deal worth $8 million but he only carries a cap hit of $2 million for the 2022 season. They’re left with just under $1 million in cap space. So with this money, I would sign OG Michael Schofield to a cheap one year deal. This would not be a flashy signing, but it would be a typical McBeane signing.
Schofield would come in and bring a veteran presence and compete for a starting job while the Bills find their right guard of the future (whether it be in the draft or free agency/draft next year). He is 31 years old and has played eight seasons – three for the Broncos, three for the Chargers, one for the Panthers and, most recently, one back with the Chargers. Schofield is a solid pass protector as he only allowed two sacks in 907 snaps last season. He also only had three penalties called on him and recorded a 66.8 PFF grade. (For reference, former Bills RG Daryl Williams allowed four sacks, had six penalties called against him, and had a 67.5 grade in 1,172 snaps.)
We’ll see what tricks Beane has up his sleeve, if any, in order to keep filling out this Buffalo Bills roster. He said that they were done last week and still signed five players. I could be wrong, but look for cornerback and guard to be addressed in some capacity this week.