As of today, we are four weeks into NFL free agency and a little less than four weeks away from the NFL draft in one of the craziest off-seasons to date. We’ve seen stars get traded, sign elsewhere, retire and even unretire. But through it all, the Buffalo Bills still remain the Super Bowl favorites for next season.
The Bills have one of the most complete rosters in the league. They have one of the best quarterbacks, wide receivers, and (now) pass rushers in the league. Not to mention, they’ve significantly beefed up their offensive and defensive lines over the first few weeks of free agency; most recently by bringing back OL Ryan Bates and OG Ike Boettger.
But the one position that is still a glaring hole is cornerback.
The current corners on Buffalo’s roster are Tre White, Dane Jackson, Cam Lewis, Nick McCloud, Olaijah Griffin, and Tim Harris. With respect to those players, that will not cut it for a team with expectations as high as the Bills; especially if White misses the start of the season as he recovers from his torn ACL suffered this past Thanksgiving.
Brandon Beane and the Bills know they have to upgrade at the position. More and more rumors are coming out linking the Bills to various free agent cornerbacks. We’ve heard how the Bills could potentially land Giants CB James Bradberry in a trade. Then, before he re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings last Wednesday, CB Patrick Peterson was on Buffalo’s radar. And now, yesterday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Bills are a wild card team for FA CB Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo’s former 2012 first round pick.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here – Beane has said in the past that just because they have reported interest in a player doesn’t mean they are/were close to signing him. They will make a bunch of calls to check in on players and see their asking price before making moves. I would think that is the stage the Bills are at right now.
The Bills currently have a little less than $2 million in cap space after releasing RB Christian Wade on Friday. They can still release, restructure, and extend players, but have to save $6-$8 million in cap space for their rookie class. Given Gilmore’s market value, I’m not sure if he’s a fit for Buffalo.
Gilmore was in the last of his five-year, $65 million deal with New England before the Patriots traded him to the Panthers in October. His market value on Spotrac and our simulator is $14 million. That should likely come down, especially after Peterson’s deal with the Vikings (one year, $4 million). Not to mention Peterson and Gilmore are both 31-years old and in the same spot in their careers.
However, Gilmore has always wanted to get paid. He left Buffalo for the big money in 2017 and then was in contract disputes with the Patriots during his last couple of years there. As you can see in this tweet from last summer, I’m not sure the 2019 DPOY will start taking team-friendly deals now.
Speaking of being team-friendly, let’s also not forget Gilmore’s unfriendly departure from Buffalo that angered many Bills fans:
While there are some negative aspects of signing Gilmore (who has also battled through injuries over the last few years), there are also some positives, given his skillset. So if he’s matured and is willing to come back on a cheap deal to help Buffalo win a championship, I’m all for it. (White, Gilmore, Taron Johnson, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde would be an insane defensive backfield.) But if he still wants the big pay day and wants to go elsewhere, let him.
Gardner, Stingley, McDuffie, Booth
Another option for the Bills to find their CB2 is obviously in the draft. However, the top four cornerbacks (Ahmad Gardner, Derek Stingley Jr., Trent McDuffie, and Andrew Booth Jr.) could all be gone by pick 25. The Bills may have to trade up in order to get their guy. This past Thursday, a rumor surfaced on Twitter that the Bills may do just that; possibly giving up a veteran or two in the process.
The first name that came to mind after I read this was Cincinnati CB Sauce Gardner. This guy is the definition of a lockdown corner. During his three years in college, the 6’3”, 190 pound cornerback NEVER allowed a touchdown. In 2021, he only allowed 131 yards in 14 games, including just 14 yards on four targets against Alabama in the CFP Semifinal.
There is no question that this guy is an immediate NFL starter. I talked about how good the Buffalo Bills defense would look with Gilmore. Well, this would look even better considering Gardner’s talent, contract, age difference, and injury history.
The question is, what would it take to get him?
Trading Up (Using a Player)
Starting with the report that Buffalo might move a veteran, I just don’t see that happening. The first name that comes to mind for me, and I’m sure plenty of other Bills fans, is Tremaine Edmunds. (Other names that come to mind are Cody Ford and A.J. Epenesa, but I think they still want to develop those players.) The middle linebacker has been solid for the Bills in his first four years in the league, but has not developed into the Luke Kuechly type of LB that the Bills were hoping for. Edmunds’ main problems are missing big tackles (like the one on Leonard Fournette this past season in their OT loss to Tampa Bay), choosing the wrong gaps, and getting sucked up by blockers.
However, I don’t think the Bills should get rid of him just yet, and I don’t think they want to either. Edmunds is still just 23 years old (turns 24 in May), calls all of the defensive plays and should improve with the Bills’ revamped defensive line and with another season under his belt. I really don’t see a Super Bowl favorite trading their starting MLB and then drafting one hoping he can take over day one, call all of the plays, and execute them better than Edmunds. It’s just too much to ask.
So then I thought, how can the Bills trade up in the draft for one of the top four corners without moving Edmunds? What will it take?
Trading Up (Without Using a Player)
I went on PFF’s mock draft simulator and started playing around with some trades. The team that I think makes the most sense is the New York Giants, who have the fifth and seventh overall picks and former Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen as their new GM. Schoen may look to trade back and acquire more picks in order to build for the future.
On the other hand, the Bills are in win-now mode and should do everything in their power to preserve that window. With the roster as complete as it already is, you have to believe that at least two or three of the Bills’ eight draft picks won’t make the roster anyways, so why not try to move up?
Now, I’m not sure if the Giants would take this in real life, but man I hope they would. I gave them the 25th pick, this year’s third-round pick (pick 89) and next year’s first-round pick in exchange for the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft. Every trade I tried was rejected unless I gave them a first-round pick, so I figured if these next two years are the Bills’ main window, I might as well give them next year’s first rather than one down the road.
I love how this draft turned out, regardless of the PFF grades. Not only was I able to get Gardner, but the strong, speedy, jack-of-all trades WR Christian Watson fell to me at 57. The Bills can immediately insert him as WR3 behind Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis and in front of Jamison Crowder and Isaiah McKenzie.
In addition, I was able to bolster the offensive line by drafting two big guards, find a potential Edmunds replacement (good depth and special teams for now), and add a dynamic Christian McCaffrey-like running back in round seven. And not to mention, I drafted the “Punt God” in round five before any other team could take him. (Araiza can punt over 80 yards and single-handedly change the outcome of a game.)
If the Bills can’t sign Gilmore or trade up in the draft, there are plenty of other quality prospects, including Kaiir Elam (Florida), Roger McCreary (Auburn), Kyler Gordon (Washington), Tariq Woolen (UTSA), Derion Kendrick (Georgia), and Marcus Jones (Houston).
Other Free Agent CB Options
Regardless, I think the Buffalo Bills need to sign a free agent cornerback and draft one. They are just too thin at the position as of now. So here are some other free agent options who can be used as placeholders:
- Steven Nelson
- Joe Haden
- Xavier Rhodes
- *Bryce Callahan
- Kyle Fuller
- Jason Verrett
- Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins
- A.J. Bouye
- *Chris Harris Jr.
- Mackensie Alexander
- Kevin King
- Trae Waynes
- Vernon Hargreaves
- Jimmy Smith
- Robert Alford
* = Primarily plays in the slot
For what it’s worth, Haden and Von Miller went golfing together last week, according to their Instagram stories. Gilmore liked a tweet implying that Bills Mafia wants him back in Buffalo. And the Bills had reported interest in Nelson this time last year. My perfect scenario would be signing either Nelson or Haden to a cheap one or two-year contract and then trading up for one of the top corners, even if it’s not with the Giants.
You never know what will happen, especially in today’s NFL.