by Mario Granata, Paul Wanecski and Ryan Lasal
For much of the past 16 years, the Buffalo Bills were hammered for letting talent get away and move onto to greener pastures across the NFL landscape. Well, in 2015 they opened up their checkbooks and bought some new toys. They re-signed Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes to keep their (at the time) 4th ranked defense in tact, trading for and extending LeSean McCoy from Philadelphia, stole Charles Clay from Miami, and took a gamble on two others with Richie Incognito and Percy Harvin. All of those moves were a direct result of not having a 1st round pick in 2015 (which was part of the cost in acquiring WR Sammy Watkins in the 2014 NFL draft). The aggressive offseason last year places the Bills in a less-than-ideal salary cap situation now, which will require additional focus on acquiring talent in the draft and in reworking contracts of current players that will either need to be extended, restructured or released. It is about to be very interesting at One Bills Drive.
Head Coach: Rex Ryan
Career Record: 54-58
Offensive Coordinator (Rank): Greg Roman
13th YPG, 28th Pass, 1st Run
Defensive Coordinator (Rank): Dennis Thurman
19th YPG, 19th Pass, 16th Rush
With a complete overhaul of the coaching staff, 2015 was bound to have some growing pains. On offense, they unveiled a barrage of new weapons in Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay with Sammy Watkins emerging as a force. They also drafted John Miller and signed Richie Incognito to give their offensive line some help. On the defensive side of the ball, they dropped from 4th overall to 19th, which was a direct result of two things: communication and players buying into the system. Rob Ryan and Ed Reed have been brought in with the hopes of restoring what was a dominant defense. Both should help with the players ‘buying into the system’. The Bills seem headed on the right path to break the 16-year playoff drought, however, they have some notable names that have to return to Orchard Park to keep their aspirations of playing games past January. They have very little wiggle room (update: on 3/1/16 they released several players to free up approximately $15m in salary cap space) and with the 19th overall selection in the draft, they will have needs that simply cannot be filled for a reasonable price in free agency.
Mario Williams was very vocal in his role on the Bills defense and overall philosophy, which has effective put a target on his back (update: target was an understatement, Mario was released to free up roughly $13m) Time will tell if the wounds of his words have healed both on the coaching staff and in the front office (another update: nope). His agent should have reminded him that he was 31 and wouldn’t get more than a 1-2 year deal at about $5-7 million per year if he left the Bills. Buffalo would save 14.5 million if they designated him as a post-June 1st cut, so his angle to ‘play nice’ was really a business decision. Also, with a very deep defensive line draft class, it would be wise of him to stay where he is, and even if he makes $10 million per year over the remainder of his contract, he would still be making out. Convert $7-9 million of his base to bonus would help the Bills and keep his pockets full as well. Details of his contract are below:
Guard Kraig Urbik was previously one of the higher paid guards in the league. According to Ryan Lasal, Urbik is done in Buffalo (update: Urbik was released on 3/1/16)
Running Back Anthony "Boobie" Dixon came from San Francisco and, at the time, didn't have many nice things to say about leaving Greg Roman's offense. So, needless to say, Dixon finding out the Roman would be joining the coaching staff probably didn't make him very happy. Also, not to mention, the Bills were signing running backs off the street and starting them over Dixon. His days are numbered with the Bills according to Lasal and staff writer Paul Wanecski (us again: Boom)
The team will likely need to revisit Dareus' contract to free up even a few million dollars.
Gilmore is under contract this year for $11m as part of his rookie contract, which offered the Bills a fifth-year option. They could free up some immediate space by building him an extension. Gilmore should be making over $12m per season (on average) with an extension, but by giving him a five-year, $60m contract with a $24m signing bonus sounds about right.
First things first, for those of you who have been banging this drum for a few months, let’s set the record straight: Tyrod Taylor doesn’t need to be resigned. He is already under contract and the Bills don’t have to make any moves as of yet. Greg Roman has at least proven that he can take a quarterback and make him successful in the NFL by bringing him along in an offense step by step. (Google Colin Kaepernick for further proof).
Cordy Glenn is number one on the list of players that the Bills absolutely need. Rumors have been circulating that he will be franchise tagged (update: that happened, which will pay him about $13m, which is basically the money the team saved by releasing Mario Williams), which is a good move for the Bills. He was a steal when they drafted him in the 2nd round and will get the contract that he deserves when the Bills can open up some more cap room in 2017 and beyond.
Richie Incognito is another player that the Bills should resign, but Bills fans, and NFL fans in general, have to be leery of a player’s performance in their contract year. Players typically have some of their best years when they are up for contract, and couple that with his checkered past, he performed at a level that would probably be the best he will ever be.
Nigel Bradham is a player that the Bills could resign, but he is not a definite need for the team given their current financial situation. Does that mean that the Bills are better off without him? No. However, when you mention the first two players and others that will be coming up for free agents, the Bills cannot spend all their cash on the defense. GM Doug Whaley has proven that he can get quality linebacking play from 2nd and 3rd round picks. Bradham would be a bonus, not a necessity.
Also, they could take another look at resigning Bacarri Rambo, Ty Powell and Stefan Charles. These three have been in the system and are further along than the incoming draft picks. Rambo had a college career similar to Reed (From Reed to Rambo) and could learn from Reed to take Ryan’s defense to the next level. Powell suffered an injury in 2015, but Ryan is very high on his football IQ and ability. Charles came in and was serviceable for the Bills when Kyle Williams went out and with Williams’ age, Charles could be more valuable than originally thought. None of these would be massive deals as the value of safeties has never been lower (because the free agent market is so deluted), linebackers coming off injury aren't hard to find, and this years draft is absolutely stacked with defensive line talent.
Granata: Now, my viewpoint on the Bills draft would be a little different from the two others that you are going to read, which is a direct result from what they were able to do last year. Without a first round pick, the Bills drafted Ronald Darby, John Miller and Karlos Williams in each respective round. They got excellent play from Darby and Miller last season and the impending suspension of McCoy, Williams will carry the load early in 2016. They seem to be able to scout and get players that can contribute right away for them. So what is my play for the Bills for the 19th pick in this draft? Trade back. With their current salary cap situation and the x-factors about their current contracts, the cheapest move would be to trade back into the 2nd round and pick up another 2nd or even another 3rd. The 19th position is important because teams usually grade the top 20 players that they have on their ‘board’ and with the uncertainty of the draft, teams are going to be calling Buffalo to get that pick. When one looks at the needs for the Bills it is the linebacker position. Manny Lawson is still a freak, but will be 32 and with the loss of Bradham and Whaley’s aforementioned ability to find talent, the linebacker position could be the ‘best available’ at 19.
If a deal for Incognito falls through, they could be looking at the 2nd best Guard available, which would be a stretch with the 19th pick.
If they decide to cut ties with Mario Williams, they could take Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Mississippi. Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd underwhelmed at the Combine this week and if they are on the board could be the two that Ryan target, given his connection with Clemson.
Bottom line is that the Bills have to take care of the division first before they think about making the playoffs, so why not take a page out of the New England Patriots book and trade back, acquire players that could fit your system at an affordable price, and develop them accordingly.
Rex Ryan's history associated with drafting defensive lineman is no secret. For obvious reasons, you look to defensive line first, however, I don't think most had cornerback being the first pick off the board in 2015 for the Bills so perhaps drawing such conclusions is a little primitive. The way the draft rolls out will create a really interesting dynamic for Buffalo. Whaley has stated that they are going to draft according to their board, so we have to look at a few different circumstances. While I love thinking what a player like Jeremy Cash (safety, Duke) could do with Ryan, he is not a first round pick. He is an in-the-box type safety who will depend on support in coverage. Even with that limitation, he is a special athlete that could torment a team if put in the right circumstances.
If the 19th selection comes and the top three players on the Bills board are a wide receiver, cornerback and quarterback, I would think they try and move back. While wide receiver is a need, the depth in this draft is just not good. Quarterback is an exciting pick and while I love one prospect (Paxton Lynch flashed some amazing potential), only Carson Wentz and Goff showed they could read coverage.
The team has no reason to stretch for a positional need. Yes, they will need to look at addressing the need as safety, but it is more likely they look at a defensive tackle who could slide to end, or search for a true nose tackle in a transition to a 3-4 front. Trading back and grabbing Chris Jones near the bottom of the first round would fill that need. Andrew Billings falls into this category as well. 19th overall would be a stretch as the Bills could move back and still get one of these two.
On the outside, the Bills will be linked to Dodd. Please, just don't do it. While investing a pick in Jaylon Smith could happen, Buffalo would be banking on the ability to find linebacker talent in the undrafted free agent pool or in the 5th-7th rounds and expecting a player to start. A player like Jordan Jenkins in the second round would be awesome for the Bills.
If the Bills decide that the best thing for their offensive attack is the best tight end in the draft (you know, because drafting tight end Jace Amaro worked out so well with Ryan and Jets), watch them snag Hunter Henry. He is, no doubt, the best player at this position in the draft.
Lasal: There are a number of directions that the Bills can take with their first pick. The main needs heading into the draft are DL, OL, LB, S and WR. All could and should be addressed throughout the draft. For the sake of this article, I’ll focus on the first two picks, 19 and 49 and where the Bills should go with those picks.
At 19, it’s important that Whaley sticks to his stance of taking the best available player. This draft is not strong early, but there is a lot of depth at need positions for the Bills. Best case scenario at 19 is that the Bills have a choice between a number of impact players. Three Alabama prospects stand out as possibilities here. Reggie Ragland would add a legitimate run stopping ILB to Rex’s defense. He sheds blocks very well, and has a knack for the football. He’s a liability in pass coverage, but he shouldn’t be asked to do that much in Buffalo. He’s also an underrated pass rusher. A’Shawn Robinson is the other ‘Bama prospect who would be a giant addition to the Bills defense. He’s the best DT to come out of Alabama since Dareus came out and he could turn out to be equally as impactful. He’s a monster against the run, and has upside in pass rush. Last is Jarren Reed, who probably fits more as a 5 technique in Rex’s scheme. He’d be a good addition as he’s very polished for a rookie, but there doesn’t seem to be much upside with him, which is a bit worrisome in the first round.
More likely, the Bills look to go exterior with their draft pick in the first round. Namely, they’ll look at the edge rushers, whether that be in the form of a DE or an OLB. Names to look at here are Robert Nkemdiche from Ole Miss (please no), Emmanuel Ogbah from Oregon State, Shaq Lawson, Leonard Floyd and Shilique Calhoun from Michigan State. The other, much less likely, possibility is that no WRs come off the board and Laquan Treadwell is still available at 19. My money is on a pass rush specialist. If that’s the case, give me Lawson or Floyd.
In the second, with the 49th pick, the Bills very well may look to add another offensive weapon opposite Sammy Watkins. If not, a Safety may be an option here as well. For my money, I think they go WR with Tyler Boyd or Sterling Shepard.
Granata: As mentioned earlier, they have no cap room. They have to first take care of the current players before even thinking of combing the league for talent.
Since the wide receiver talent in the draft is pretty thin, the Bills will look to grab a few place-holders in free agency. If you think they will be able to do anything with Marvin Jones, Travis Benjamin, Rueben Randle, then you are shopping for a Bentley on a Kia budget. Even Nate Washington would be a stretch. Andre Holmes, Leonard Hankerson, Riley Cooper, or Brandon Tate would be players who MAYBE you have heard of. They will sign at least two undrafted free agents at the wide receiver position.
Lots of free agent talent at tight end this offseason, which is without a doubt a major need. Jermaine Gresham will, again, be affordable and available. Dwayne Allen or Chase Coffman will also be targets.
It is also likely that the Bills will be on the market for more safety help. It will likely be some players who, if you follow college football, may sound familiar from three seasons ago. Value here.
Lasal: With not a lot of cap space, it’s difficult to project who the Bills target in free agency. Assuming they already resigned Incognito and Glenn, we can project the Bills will have about $12 mil in available funds; let’s talk free agency.
The logical direction to look here is former Rex Ryan players. Demario Davis immediately comes to mind as a bargain free agent signing. He came off of a down season in NY, so his price tag may not be where it probably should be. He also had over 220 tackles in his last two seasons with Rex. Davis would be a good pick up to add to a thin LB corps.
Louis Delmas is coming off of two torn ACLs and is certainly a risky signing. But if he can be had on the cheap, and he can return to form, he would provide the Bills with a FS option who can make an impact. He’s played in 6 seasons in the NFL and has finished with over 50 tackles in 5 of them. The Bills need to at least add depth to the safety position and Delmas could be a low risk, high reward option.
The Bills should also look to add a receiver in free agency as well. There are a few veteran names that would be intriguing signings for the Bills. The first would be Mohammed Sanu, who has been a good compliment to AJ Green in Cincinnati over the last 4 seasons. Last year was a down year for Sanu, which may allow him to be signed at a bargain, but at 6’2”, 220, he certainly has the size to be impactful opposite of Watkins. Jordan Norwood could add a return aspect to the receiving corps if Percy Harvin does not return. Norwood can return both punts and kicks, and can be a successful receiver when utilized correctly.
A Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale (First Round Breakdown)
On the Clock: 2015 Buffalo Bills