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Re-sign or Let Walk : Bills CB Levi Wallace

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Alright, Bills fans, Brandon Beane has some decisions to make during free agency with Matt Milano and Jon Feliciano. But what about Levi Wallace? The former Alabama standout has had a strong start to his NFL career in Buffalo. But has he done enough to earn another contract with the defending AFC East Champions?

1.) Decent 2020-2021 Campaign for Wallace

After Levi Wallace lost the starting CB2 job to Josh Norman, things looked troubling for the former Alabama walk-on. But the three-year veteran took advantage of the time he had on the field.

Starting in twelve games, Wallace recorded 48 tackles and eight passes defended, which does not seem impressive, as he had 76 in 2019. But keep in mind Wallace missed three games due to an ankle injury and another because of COVID-19.

He could have started all sixteen games if it were not for those bumps in the road. Looking at the number-crunching statistics, Wallace improved significantly from a year ago. For starters, he allowed a 57.7 percent completion percentage when covered, down from 65.7 a year ago. And his yards allowed after the catch dropped from 222 to 160. Not bad for a once undrafted cornerback.

But a significant improvement in Wallace’s game was his missed tackle rate. In 2019, Wallace whiffed on 13.6% of his tackles. But 2020 was a different story, as Wallace missed only three all season.

And while he had only two interceptions in 2020, one of them was the most crucial momentum swings the Bills needed all season. For example, look at Wallace’s interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers below.

As Wallace sees the pass going towards the sideline, he rips free of Washington and makes his move. Look how Wallace keeps his eyes on the ball and uses his six-foot frame to snag the interception. Sorry Josh Norman fans, but there is no way he would have picked it off.

But Wallace’s interception had a deeper meaning, as the Steelers’ momentum was instantly halted. The Steelers never recovered, and Josh Allen and Zack Moss sealed the deal on the ground.

These are the kind of plays you want from a young cornerback, and Wallace made the most of his chances.

2.) Wallace’s Emotional Story of Stardom

If you have not looked inside the life of Levi Wallace, then you do not know the hurdles he jumped over, as I reported on in December.

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, Wallace learned hard work and determination by servicing the vending machines at the family laundromat his parents opened. 

But while Wallace worked for his parents, he worked towards a more extensive goal of making the Alabama Crimson Tide Football team, his father’s hometown team.

And while his high school stats garnered only one college offer, Walter Wallace used his GI Bill to pay for his son’s education at Alabama.

Wallace eventually made the team as a walk-on and was ready to suit up for the Crimson Tide in their annual Spring Game. That was until he found out via social media that his father passed away from ALS.

Full of grief, Levi Wallace could have walked away. But he had to make his father proud.

Levi Wallace made the most of his opportunities playing for the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Alabama Athletics)

And he did, earning an athletic scholarship after his sophomore season and looked to compete for playing time.

But Wallace ran into more roadblocks. In a cut-throat type of program at Alabama, Wallace had to wait until his senior season to get in the starting rotation. He made the most of his opportunities, however, finishing with 48 tackles and three interceptions in 14 games.

After his dream to play at Alabama came to an end with two College Football Playoff National Championships, Wallace could have walked away. Instead, he declared for the NFL Draft, furthering his father’s dream.

Teams Pass on Wallace in NFL Draft

Seen as a 7th round draft pick, Wallace hoped to improve his draft stock at the NFL Combine. But after a below-average combine performance, Wallace’s draft stock slipped. And on draft weekend, he sat around waiting for the phone to ring. But it never did.

That was until Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane gave him a ring and signed him to a three-year, $1.7 million contract on May 1st, 2018.

And while Buffalo cut him on the final day of training camp, Wallace must have shown enough for the Bills to keep him around, as he landed on the Bills practice squad days later.

Now, if that is not enough to root for Levi Wallace’s return, here is the main reason why. He is exactly what Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane built this team around: players who trust the process.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines process as “a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result.”

That definition is Wallace’s MO: proving the doubters wrong and gradually improving his craft and technique to become a potential CB2 starter.

Plus, it also helps when your head coach said this about you as a rookie, “If you want to write about anything, that’s a great story to sink your teeth in this weekend here.”

Wallace’s story to stardom is powerful. But, the Bills should also understand that the 2021 free agent options to potentially replace Wallace are not solid.

3.) Slim Pickings in Free Agency

Buffalo could decide to move on from Levi Wallace. But while the Bills could look elsewhere for a cornerback, there is not much available on the open market.

With their current cap situation, the Bills cannot afford to sign veteran playmakers like Patrick Peterson and A.J. Bouye. According to Spotrac, each of these players has a market value of at least $10 million.

And Bouye is already in deep water with the NFL. The former Jaguar has to sit out two games after violating the NFL’s policy on Performance Enhancing Substances.

But other sites such as Pro Football Focus suggest former Seahawks and 49ers CB Richard Sherman will sign with the Bills. Here’s the problem, though: Sherman is 32 years old and struggles to match-up with fast receivers.

There have been rumors that CB Richard Sherman would sign with the Bills this off-season (Photo by:
Roy K. Miller | Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

And with teams like Kansas City having explosive offensive weapons, Sherman would be left in the dust. Also, Wallace and Dane Jackson can run with some of the best route runners in the game.

However, throw all the analytics out the window because there is one big issue. Buffalo does not have the cap room to sign Peterson, Bouye, Sherman, or any big-name free agent. The only way that happens is if Brandon Beane restructures contracts or cuts players. And with Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds needing extensions soon, it may be best to stay away.

But back to the main focus, as Levi Wallace’s current situation could benefit the Bills in resigning him.

4.) Restricted Free Agent

While Levi Wallace is a free agent, he is in an intriguing situation. Wallace is a restricted free agent, which allows him to negotiate or sign with any team.

However, according to NFL.com, the players “original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers (“tenders”) that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation.”

Buffalo currently has four restricted free agents on their roster, including three signed by the team as undrafted free agents (Ike Boettger, Corey Bojorquez, and Wallace). 

Ideally, the Bills have three options in resigning Wallace regarding his RFA status. All of these numbers and scenarios are from the NFL’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

1.) Right of First Refusal Only

The first option could be the right-of-first-refusal tender. Buffalo would have to give Wallace a one-year contract worth $2.133 million. If Wallace gets a better offer by another team, the Bills could match the offer. But if they do not, the Bills would not receive any draft compensation from Wallace’s new team.

2.) Right of Refusal and One Second-Round Draft Selection

The second option Buffalo could employ is a second-round tender. In this scenario, the Bills can offer Wallace two choices. First, Buffalo can give him a one-year contract greater than $3.059 million. Or they could give him 110% of his prior-year base salary ($766,764.90).

But if the Bills decline to counter the opposing team’s offer, Buffalo will receive a second-round pick as compensation.

3.) Original Round Tender

Finally, Buffalo could choose the original round tender option. In this scenario, Buffalo has two options. First, they could sign Wallace to a one-year contract worth at least $2.025 million. Or the team can give Wallace 110 percent of his prior-year base salary ($766,764.90).

The draft-choice compensation would not come into play, as Wallace signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.

While each idea sounds interesting, the RFA label could turn out good or bad for the Bills.

Example of Restricted Free Agent Scenario

For example, the Houston Texans signed ILB, Dylan Cole, to an original round tender, paying him the minimum of $2.133 million.

But the 2017 draft pick hit the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list after recovering from a torn ACL in 2019. Paired with a back injury, Cole only played six games in 2020 and is now an unrestricted free agent. Houston spent about $2 million on a guy who had multiple injuries and barely saw the field.

I believe the Bills will avoid dealing with the restricted free agency dilemma outlined in the CBA and potentially sign Wallace to a simple contract. But how much is it going to cost them?

Buffalo Will Not Overpay for Wallace

Looking at the specifics, Levi Wallace has deserved an opportunity for another contract with Buffalo. Even though his stats were not spectacular, he showed up in some big spots to shift momentum, especially in the Steelers game.

Based on this season’s depth chart, Buffalo must decide if their CB2 starter is on this roster. Also, do they resign Josh Norman to a league-minimum contract or re-sign Wallace?

I think the answer is clear that the Bills need to resign Wallace because of two reasons.

First, Wallace is considerably younger than Norman and knows the scheme better.

And second, they have some depth at the CB with the promising play of Dane Jackson and the hopeful return of Cam Lewis from a wrist injury.

Dane Jackson has been an emerging candidate to compete for the CB2 position.

Nevertheless, Levi Wallace should be in a Bills uniform again when offseason workouts begin April 19th.

Contract: Two Years, $4.1 Million

It may seem like a weird contract, but the Bills have done this before. Back in the 2015 offseason, Buffalo signed Nickell Robey-Coleman to the same agreement. And if you look at Coleman’s stats compared to Wallace in their first three seasons in Buffalo, there are some similarities.

Yes, Coleman played in more games, but his specialty was blitzing the quarterback from the slot corner position. But much like Wallace, Coleman turned the momentum with some spectacular plays.

Nickell Robey-Coleman and Levi Wallace stat comparison before their second contracts (table via stathead.com)

Ideally, the contract is perfect for both sides. For Wallace, he gets two more years to prove himself for a larger deal. And Buffalo retains a cornerback they can trust to make big plays when they are needed.

Do you think the Bills will resign Levi Wallace? And if they pass, do you believe the answer at the CB2 position is currently on the roster. Let me know by leaving a comment or connect with me on Twitter @benblakely18.

Stats and Contract Considerations From:

Spotrac

Pro Football Reference

Pro Football Focus

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