by Rich Bystron, Paul Wanecski, and Mario Granata
The 2017 season went better than ANYONE expected. The Bills under 1st year Head Coach Sean McDermott and 1st year General Manager Brandon Beane somehow managed a 9-7 record, and along with a miraculous week 17 (Thank you again, Bengals) broke the longest playoff drought in all 4 major sports. However, even the playoff curse being broken couldn’t prevent the Bills from making changes to the Offensive Staff, firing Rick Dennison and replacing him with WNY native Brian Daboll.
Rich: The Bills came into 2018 without much money to deal with. But after some very impressive trades restructures and “prove it” deals, the Bills opened about 35 million dollars in cap room and sign several players. They currently sit at about 16.5 million in available cap dollars. After rookie contracts, approximately 9.7 million dollars the Bills are left with about 7.8 million in cap space. I believe its safe to say they are done making any moves.
Paul: Well, you have to give it to the Bills for being creative. With $35 million in “dead money” for the 2018 season, filling the rest of you roster needs to be with precision since you really don’t have money to waste. Of course they added $17 million in dead money with the trades of Tyrod Taylor and Cordy Glenn, players that would have cost the Bills more money than that to retain. As far as money goes, Eric Wood is still counting towards the team’s 2018 salary cap since we have seen no paperwork filed with the league. With the current draft selections, the Bills also have $9.7 million in commitments to rookie contracts, unless of course they bundle draft picks to move up the board.
Mario: The Bills will have a lot of room under the cap going into the 2019 offseason, however, they had to make due with some of their signings this year. They were able to get some players that they otherwise wouldn't due to their improvements compared to other regime changes. Usually, a player would sign with Buffalo on a 1 to a 2-year deal, and prove what they were worth and then go to another team. That doesn't seem to be the case (for the time being) in the 716.
Rich: To say the Bills and their staff had a busy offseason would be a vast understatement. With his first full offseason as the General manager of the Bills, Brandon Beane has been busy. After replacing Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator with Brian Daboll, the Bills managed to sign legitimate NFL players in Vontae Davis and Chris Ivory and the trades of Tyrod Taylor and Cordy Glenn have positioned the Bills to be able to move in any one of several directions in the 2018 draft.
Paul: Patience pays off. AJ McCarron enters the pre-draft season as the starting QB with one Nathan Peterman on the roster at the position. McCarron found himself without many options once all the big names came off the board, but I challenge anyone who says Case Keenum will be more effective than McCarron. For the money, I will take AJ all day. The Bills are paying their kicker and punter more money than they are spending on the QB position right now.
Vontae Davis brings a great veteran presence at a value price. Would the team have rather retained EJ Gaines? Maybe but Gaines often didn’t finish the games he started. It’s a similar price tag for either player and honestly, the fact that Gaines offseason went the way it did tells me the Bills got it right by not breaking the bank for him.
Adding Russell Bodine from the Bengals is curious given the signing of McCarron, giving the impression that the team is willing to give McCarron the advantage to start with his familiarity with Bodine.
They also brought in Marshall Newhouse to presumably play right tackle but he is only on a one year deal.
The team did make a splash signing former Panther Star Lotulelei who should be able to plug up that interior that was pretty porous last season. Kyle Williams also returns along with the resigning of fan-favorite Eddie Yarbrough. Trent Murphy should be able to provide some pass rush on the outside coming over from the Redskins, likely taking over the roll we saw Lorenzo Alexander play.
Let’s not forget adding Chris Ivory and resigning Travaris Cadet, two moves that indicate the team will not be adding RB depth in the draft this year.
Mario: The biggest signing (in my humble opinion) would be Star Lotulelei, a former first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers whose relationship with Sean McDermott was the catalyst for his arrival in Buffalo. Sure, a $50 million dollar contract didn't hurt, but nevertheless, he fills a hole in a defense that traded Marcel Dareus earlier in the 2017 season.
When one looks at the deals that were made this offseason, the Bills are positioning themselves (if needed) to part with some 2019 picks. By signing veteran players to 2-year deals (instead of 1-year) the Bills are able to trade their picks in 2019 and still have those newly signed free agents on the roster before they have to draft again. With the available cap space that the Bills are projected to have next season, they could make some more waves in free agency if needed and bypass the draft entirely, or get developmental players that fit their system with those picks.
Rich: The Bills have a lot of draft capital, 2nd to only Cleveland who has been stockpiling for about 10 years it seems. After the draft day trade back in 2017 and the Cordy Glenn trade, the Bills now own the 12th and 22nd picks in the 1st round of this year’s draft. And while I honestly feel a pre-draft trade to move them into the top 6 of the draft is most likely, I for the sake of sanity will assume they stay at 2 and project more likely players being available.
Baker Mayfield: The Sooners quarterback and Heisman Winner has the potential to be a legit NFL stud, he also has the makeup to explode and crash and burn, either way if the Sooners signal caller is available at 12 I think the Bills would love to pull the trigger, especially they have had 4 private meetings with him so far as of April 3rd.
Mason Rudolph: I think this pick would be more logical at 22, however with the way QB’s are overvalued in the 1st it may be necessary to draft him at 12. At 6’5" Rudolph has prototypical size and mobility, ironically, his issue might actually be arm strength. But he reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins, not a lot of flash but will just get the job done.
Vita Vea: The Bills used a large contract on a larger man when they signed former Panther Star Lotulelei to anchor the middle of their defense. But the looming retirement of fan favorite Kyle Williams will leave a massive hole in the defensive line and locker room. Vea can fill both potentially.
Tremaine Edmunds: The Buffalo Bills to me have 3 glaring needs, QB, WR (2nd round pick) and Linebacker. They cannot only fill a need but possibly hit a massive home run with the selection of Edmunds. The 19-year-old OLB/Edge player measures at an insane 6’5 253lbs and has the potential to be an absolute superstar in the NFL. If he slides because of a very likely run on Quarterbacks at the top of the draft he could fall and be an absolute steal.
Roquan Smith: The much more likely player to be available at 12 for the Bills is the UGA standout ILB. A true sideline to sideline player, Smith has the ability, especially in coverage where he excels, to be the quarterback of this Bills defense ala Luke Keuchly.
Baker Mayfield – Just draft the kid. Seriously, I have been pining over him for 3 years now. So what if he drinks? We drafted Leodis McKelvin and he sounded like your drunken uncle who fell off his porch. Marshawn Lynch hit someone with his car while drinking. Actually, he was kicked out of a bar for bringing in his own alcohol…then he hit someone. Really, why not? This is Buffalo. We have made worse decisions.
Roquan Smith – Inside Linebackers rarely go in the top 15 picks and this year will be no exception. Smith is a solid player but we saw Rueben Foster tumble, same with Reggie Ragland. He has great instincts and does everything you want but only a few teams have this need as badly as the Bills do and none of them are drafting higher than 22.
Mike McGlinchey – The Notre Dame tackle is going to be a good one, regardless of what scheme you are going to ask him to play. The Bills need to remake that offensive line and getting a player like McGlinchey to hammer down either side of the line will go a long way to making sure the Bills can protect whoever is in the pocket for the next 5 years.
Rashaan Evans – See everything I said about Roquan Smith. Alabama has been a linebacker factory for a long time. Roquan Smith is the prize here but Evans makes a solid consolation prize at 22.
DJ Moore – Probably the best receiver in this draft and the Bills are in short supply of them. Moore would give the team the ability to move on from Kelvin Benjamin at the end of the season. With the production (and curious off season) from Zay Jones, perhaps investing in this position makes a lot of sense.
Mario: Without sugarcoating it too much, the Bills look to be inching up the draft board to select a franchise quarterback in the 2018 Draft. By trading away Cordy Glenn to move up 9 spots, they now have some viable ammunition if they want to slide up into the Top-10 if needed. When the Bills stayed at 21 and 22 and signed AJ McCarron, it seemed like they were willing to stay and build their defense. With the defensive talent that would slide down the board (because of teams angling to get a quarterback), it appeared that was the road they were taking. But with an incentive-based deal, and moving to 12, the Bills are making moved to get 'their' guy in the fold and set up their franchise for the next decade...or so it seems.
Rich: While many, myself included believe the Bills will certainly do whatever it takes to move up the draft board to secure their franchise quarterback, there are other options and several that can help immediately. The days leading up to the draft are going to be interesting as rumors swirl surrounding the Bills and their plans.
Mario: The Bills (and their fans) seem to be in unchartered territory due to the moves that have been made and the direction the organization is headed. Prior to free agency, the Bills had two paths they could take: use their cap space to sign one of the free agent quarterbacks and use their draft capital to fill the holes on the defense and offense, or fill the holes in free agency and draft their quarterback. It seems the latter is in play, which will make for a very exciting time on Draft Day for any Bills fan.
Paul: (Drops Mic)