Despite inheriting a dog’s breakfast of a salary cap situation, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has ostensibly been able to overhaul his team’s roster to fit the mold that he and head coach Sean McDermott deem suitable. The much bandied about “process” to have high character, hard working players replace incumbents who are injury prone, take plays off and do not fit the new culture is an onerous one. Fortunately, Beane has been up to the task.
Thus far in free agency, the team has managed to address holes at cornerback, defensive end, defensive tackle, as well as adding depth to the running back, safety, center and offensive tackle positions. Oh, and dare I say that quarterback was addressed as well (kinda?).
Beane recently continued his manipulation of the roster by deciding not to retain cornerback E.J. Gaines nor linebacker Preston Brown, restructuring the contract of Pro Bowl guard, Richie Incognito and, somewhat surprisingly, cutting ties with defensive end Ryan Davis.
As per the following tweet from CBS Sports’, Chris Trapasso, the release of Davis will render some much-needed cap savings.
#Bills save $1.225M with the release of DE Ryan Davis
— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) March 24, 2018
According to Spotrac, the Bills roughly have a little over $16 million in salary cap space (top 51), with slightly less than $8 million of that to be allocated towards signing their 2018 draft class. The obvious caveat being that the team may use some of their vast draft capital to move up to draft a top quarterback.
Regardless, there will likely be another move or two to be made prior to the April 26-28 extravaganza in Dallas, TX. Let us speculate what move(s) Beane will make between now and then.
Predicting Brandon Beane’s Next Move(s)
Upon hearing the recent disturbing news pertaining to Zay Jones, Bills Mafia instantly became resigned to the fact that Jones would likely no longer be a Bill, and a replacement would be required immediately. However, in a fortunate turn of events, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News has confirmed that the team has decided to stand by Jones and sees him as part of their future.
GM Brandon Beane said Zay Jones' future with the #Bills will not be impacted by the bizarre incident in which he was shown on video naked & agitated as his brother tried restraining him. Beane said he & Sean McDermott have spoken with Jones.
— Vic Carucci (@viccarucci) March 26, 2018
In spite of Jones’ apparent return, there is a clear lack of firepower at the wide-out position. With the recent loss of Deonte Thompson, the Bills are left with Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, Brandon Reilly, Malachi Dupre and Quan Bray as their contract receivers currently under contract for the 2018 season.
Despite this core unequivocally requiring augmentation, Beane does not seem to be in a rush to do so in the imminent future. He had the following to say to WGR 550’s Sal Capaccio at the NFL Owners Meetings in Orlando.
Brandon Beane on Bills at WR: We're always looking to find fits and bring competition at receiver, at other positions…it's a 12 month process to build this roster and we've got to make sure we have the team the way we want whenever our opening game is….
— Sal Capaccio 🏈 (@SalSports) March 26, 2018
Free Agent Options
Kendall Wright is a name that is not garnering the attention that it deserves. The 28-year old receiver enjoyed a respectable 59 catch, 614-yard season with the Chicago Bears last season, despite being partnered with a very green, rookie quarterback. Although Wright’s production began to decline during his last three years with his previous team, the Tennessee Titans, he is a proven performer that exhibits the ability to stretch the field. Furthermore, he can likely be had on a low risk, one year, $2-3 million contract.
The name Jeremy Maclin may make most Bills fans cringe after he hoodwinked the team last off-season in favor of signing a two-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Suffice it to say, the relationship between the Ravens and Maclin was not a fruitful one, as the receiver was recently released after pulling in a meager 40 receptions last season. Maclin is not the player he once was, but he is still a presence and an upgrade over most of Buffalo’s existing crop. Should Beane look past Maclin’s shenanigans last off-season, the ninth year product out of Missouri could pay nice dividends. From an asking price perspective, Maclin would likely be seeking a one to two-year deal in the $3-4 million range.
Given Beane’s recent comments, coupled with the fact that there will be a healthy crop of wide receivers at his disposal in next month’s draft, the Bills will likely stand pat until then.
With the loss of Gaines to the Cleveland Browns, the Bills are left with budding superstar, Tre’Davious White, as their lone starting holdover from last season at the cornerback position. To help supplement White, Beane made the savvy maneuver of securing the services of two-time Pro Bowler Vontae Davis to a one-year deal. To say that the team is stick thin in depth beyond these two players would be an understatement. The names Lafayette Pitts and Breon Borders likely will not instill fear into opposing wide receivers, but they are the only other corners currently under contract.
Free Agent Options
Will the Bills replace one Gaines at cornerback and replace him with another? Phillip Gaines has enjoyed a moderate amount of success throughout his first four years in the league as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. In those four seasons, Gaines has started 16 games and managed an unspectacular one interception with 14 passes defended. As per Pro Football Focus, he was ranked as the 119th best CB in the NFL last year. Not exactly Deion Sanders.
Despite his less than stellar resume, the Bills did recently bring him in for a visit – as per Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star.
Former Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines is visiting Buffalo on Wednesday, per a source
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) March 26, 2018
Leonard Johnson enjoyed a respectable 2017-18 year overall. The soon-to-be 29-year-old from Iowa State did an admirable job for the team in the slot position when called upon. What stood out to fans, and assuredly to coach McDermott as well, was Johnson’s willingness (and ability) to tackle running backs, wide receivers and tight ends alike. This was something that the Bills had been lacking out of the cornerback position for several years. As it stands now, Johnson is still an unrestricted free agent that will likely seeking little more than the veteran minimum.
The NFL has become a pass-first league and the Bills have Tom Brady in their division. They will need to bolster their cornerback depth and cannot simply rely on the draft and/or preseason cuts. The Bills will sign Gaines or Johnson, or both.
Did you think that the cornerback depth was lacking? Well, the middle linebacker position takes lacking to another level. If the season were to start today, undersized and unproven Tanner Vallejo would be the team’s starting inside linebacker. His back-up you ask? The equally undersized and unproven Xavier Woods-Luster. Ouch. Help is needed ASAP.
Free Agent Options
Did you know that Will Compton ran a 4.52 40 yard time prior to going undrafted in 2013? I certainly did not. Since then, the 28-year-old has played in 57 games, starting 33 of them, for the Washington Redskins. It is no secret that coach McDermott would ideally like an athletic middle linebacker to replace the recently departed (Preston) Brown. Standing at 6’2″, 230 pounds, and being fleet of foot, Compton looks the part. However, his tackle numbers (161 in four seasons) and production overall do no scream difference-maker.
As per ESPN’s Mike Rodak, Compton did visit the Bills a couple of weeks ago but things have gone radio silent since.
Former Redskins linebacker Will Compton will make a free-agent visit to Buffalo, a source told ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim. The Bills lost starting middle linebacker Preston Brown to the Bengals and have no obvious in-house replacement. However,… https://t.co/SaY2gzduYE
— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) March 16, 2018
NaVorro Bowman has been one of the most physically imposing, impactful middle linebackers in pro football over the course of his eight year career. Despite being laden with injuries over the past handful of seasons, Bowman is still a presence on the field and would make the Bills a better team. That said, prevailing thoughts are that he would like to either stay on the West Coast – where he has honed his craft every year of his illustrious career – or go to a Super Bowl contender. Furthermore, he would likely be seeking a deal that would price him out of the Bills’ wheelhouse.
The Bills are in desperate need of a proven middle linebacker. Although Bowman is a far better player, the team is strapped for salary cap space and will likely favor signing Compton (or someone of his ilk) for the right price and term.