Ever since Sean McDermott’s arrival, the Buffalo Bills have placed an emphasis on having a good Defensive Line with depth. The most important part of the Defensive Line for McDermott has been the use of a solid rotation. There a plenty of benefits to rotating Defensive Linemen, most notably being the endurance factor. It’s one thing to believe in the idea of rotating Defensive Linemen, but it requires reliable depth.
In 2017, the Buffalo Bills cut Marcell Dareus despite costly dead cap hits of $10.6 million in 2017 and $13.5 million in 2018 (according to Over The Cap). Upon the arrival of Beane and McDermott, the Bills were entering a full-blown rebuild. They wanted to rid the team of players brought in by the prior regime. There were a few outliers like Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson for example. However, the plan from the beginning was to build from the ground up to cultivate a winning mindset.
In 2018, the Buffalo Bills began to bring in players that fit the culture and could buy into “the process.” In that offseason, the Bills signed Star Lotulelei, Trent Murphy, Jordan Phillips, retained Kyle Williams, and drafted Harrison Phillips. Say what you want about the free-agent signings, but the point is made that the Bills want depth on the Defensive Line.
2021 Buffalo Bills Defensive Line
From there, the Bills draft Ed Oliver and Darryl Johnson in 2019, A.J. Epenesa in 2020, then Carlos Basham Jr. and Gregory Rousseau here in 2021. It took a while, but Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott have rebuilt the Bills Defensive Line. It’s now at the point where it’s going to be tough to make the roster at this position. This is quite the turnaround from just four years ago.
The Bills currently have 16 Defensive Linemen under contract heading into training camp. Under Sean McDermott, the Buffalo Bills have typically kept nine Defensive Linemen on the final roster. Turning 16 into nine is no easy task. However, the best way to narrow it down is by position, then get rid of the outliers.
Buffalo Bills Defensive Ends
Due to the high draft capital recently spent on Epenesa, Rousseau, and Basham; all three should be locks to make the final roster. With the magic number under McDermott being five at the Defensive End position, I need to identify two more. Deductively, I can likely rule out guys at the bottom end of this competition. Players like Bryan Cox Jr. and Mike Love are going to have to be pretty impressive this pre-season to merit anything more than a practice squad slot.
Assuming they aren’t making the final roster, that leaves Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Efe Obada, and Darryl Johnson fighting for two roster spots. Although Hughes is entering the final year of his contract and it wouldn’t cost much to cut him, it worries me to think about how that could harm the locker room and overall team morale. On the other hand, Mario Addison is another older guy that’s past his prime. However, cutting him would also come with a $6.75 million cap hit, and the younger guys would lose a mentor.
After releasing Quinton Jefferson this offseason, the Buffalo Bills signed Efe Obada who became a quick fan favorite signing. The idea of him being able to play the edge and reduce down to rush from the interior on passing downs at a lower price tag is extremely appealing. With that being said, the Bills drafted two players in Basham and Rousseau that have similar versatility. Lastly, Darryl Johnson is an interesting case because his development is still in progress.
After being drafted in 2019, Johnson has flashed some on defense but has contributed the most towards special teams. It would be tough for him to make the roster primarily because of his special team contributions, but there may not be another way. It all depends on the amount of development he shows in training camp. The bottom line is that those last two roster spots at the defensive end position are up for grabs and it’s going to be entertaining to watch the competition.
Buffalo Bills Defensive Tackles
With five Defensive Ends likely to be rostered, the magic number for the Defensive Tackle position is four. Within this position group, I only have two locks for the four available slots. These locks being Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei. Some people may think that Star could be cut this pre-season, but his dead cap hit is just too much this year. He’s practically a free agent signing coming off of his opt-out season in 2020.
With only two locks, that means there are two more spots available to hit the magic number of four. Left at the position is Vernon Butler, Harrison Phillips, Justin Zimmer, Brandin Bryant, and recently signed Treyvon Hester. It’s tough to rule anyone of these five players out of the competition for those final two roster spots. Considering what we know, there isn’t much that sets one apart from the other.
I would assume that Bryant and Hester are headed to the practice squad or cut. Although the Buffalo Bills agreed to terms on a pay cut with Butler, his dead cap isn’t too substantial to avoid cutting him. Sitting with just a $2 million dead cap figure, if Butler gets outplayed by Zimmer and/or Phillips, there shouldn’t be much holding management back from cutting him. Yet another position group that’s extremely difficult to predict, but also makes for interesting training camp storylines.
Air Raid Hour Recap
On yesterday’s episode of the Air Raid Hour, Judge was unable to make it so I was the next man up to co-host the show with Tilt. We led off the show by touching on yesterday’s hot topic; potential Julio Jones trades. Naturally, there were factions of Bills Mafia that wanted to mortgage the future to grab Jones. So Tilt and I had to put our thoughts on the airwaves.
If you haven’t seen the newest edition of Bills: Embedded 2021, I highly recommend checking it out. It brings you behind the scenes of the Buffalo Bills war room for the 2021 NFL Draft. Tilt and I broke down the video and shared our thoughts on the themes we picked up on.
Then, of course, we broke down the 2021 Buffalo Bills Defensive Line in even more depth than I just wrote about above. If you liked this article then you would definitely like yesterday’s episode of the Air Raid Hour. If you missed us live, you can watch the replay linked and embedded above.
As always, go Bills!