by Paul Wanecski and Mario Granata
The Buffalo Bills have plenty of money under the salary cap to handle needs in the free agent market this season, with nearly $29 million under an estimated $143 million cap. There are a lot of questions about what will transpire at One Bills Drive in 2015 but the ultimate questions have a few answers.
After securing their first non-losing record since 2002 the defense was one of the best in the league, the Bills look poised to make a run in the AFC East and the playoffs. The Bills will be on their 4th defensive coordinator in as many years and 5th in the last 6. Bills fans hope that the puzzle pieces fit together to end the longest playoff drought currently in the NFL. New HC Rex Ryan brings attitude, DC Dennis Thurman brings the aggressiveness, and OC Greg Roman brings the simplicity, as the Bills could play a brand of ‘throwback’ football in 2015.
G Kraig Urbik has the 10th most expensive contract at his position. Along the offensive line, G Chris Williams was brought in last offseason but suffered an injury in the preseason and was never able to get back on the field. Releasing Urbik as a Pre-June 1st and Williams as Post-June 1st designation (which would allow the team to spread the salary cap impact across two seasons and free up immediate cap space) would open up near $5 million. This immediate cap release will allow a critical signing – see Free Agency Section below
Restructuring DE/OLB Mario Williams contract is an easy way to free up salary cap space but the Bills will most likely not need it. They could look to restructure his deal by pushing future bonus money and renegotiating it into his base salary for 2015, allowing for a reduced salary cap figure for the two seasons after this, where his cap number is $19.9 million in 2016 and $16.5 million in 2017.
LB Manny Lawson is in line for extended snaps in the Rex Ryan scheme as he has both experience as a defensive end and strong side linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front. He played only 30% of defensive snaps last season so even though it is expected that his workload will be increased this season, the team would be justified in asking him to rework his contract to lower his $3.1 million cap charge.
It is unlikely the team will retain both WR Marquise Goodwin and WR Marcus Thigpen. While both have similar salary cap numbers, Thigpen will be given a chance to show what he can do at the wide receiver spot this off season. Goodwin has battled injury issues these last 2 seasons. He is a dynamic player on the field…when he is
physically capable to be on it.
DE Jerry Hughes is the topic of major discussion. While the stance of most fans regarding the future of Hughes with the Bills depends on if you feel is he replaceable or not with Rex Ryan as a head coach, the fact remains that in the last two seasons, he has developed into one of the league’s top pass-rushers. When you look at comparable contracts signed recently, when it comes to production, Hughes has put himself in a different category. Looking at comparable contracts signed recently, he could easily make $10 million as season if he were to hit free agency. While Hughes could be given the transition or franchise tag, the Bills do have the cap space to bring him back. Check out Tag! You’re It: The Jerry Hughes Breakdown.
DT Marcell Dareus, currently only 24-years old, is entering his team-exercised option year and is a free agent going into 2016. While it is the best for him to wait until the market value for the defensive tackle position is set with Ndamukong Suh before negotiating an extension, Dareus is the type of tackle that can fit in both a 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
HC Rex Ryan loves to load up his defenses with defensive backs. S Da’Norris Searcy can be an interesting resigning given he played under Mike Pettine in 2013. While the Bills should not extend more than a 4-year offer in the neighborhood of $4 million a year, Ryan will probably salivate at the rotation of Searcy, Corey Graham and Aaron Williams at the position. Securing Searcy will also mean the departure of
LB Brandon Spikes. Both players are strong against the run but Searcy is the more versatile of the two.
RB CJ Spiller did not pick up his option for the 2015 season and will be testing free agency. Given his injury history, the Bills are probably alright with letting him hit a saturated open market with a wealth of talent and depth available at running back this offseason. His potential may out weight his injury history but that is a chance they are willing to take.
WR Chris Hogan will be brought back, while WR Marcus Easley will be given the opportunity to test the market. While he is a great special team talent, he has been unable to crack a depleted wide out group the last 2 seasons.
T/G Erik Pears will be 33 at the start of the season, but was essentially grooming Seantrel Henderson last year. Pears struggled at times last season, which resulted in GM Doug Whaley quoting his play as "lackluster". He will more than likely not be resigned.
Holding the 50th selection in the NFL draft, it is probably best to address the elephant in the room; The Buffalo Bills will not be selecting a quarterback with their 2nd round selection. While the team needs to look at the future of this position with great objectivity, the chances of them dropping the first selection they have at that position is near impossible to imagine. They will not invest in projects but they will handcuff the position in the 5th round or later.
This draft class is deep in wide receivers and it is no surprise when we say the Bills current roster is lacking height. They could look into drafting a player like Darren Waller (Georgia Tech) who has tremendous speed and is a raw pass-catcher. If he slips to the 3rd, he could be in a Bills uniform come the start of training camp. He could also slide into the tight end position but would need to add some bulk. It would not be unheard of for the team to look at another wide receiver with the first selection they have but the player would need to be of taller frame.
Another player who could slip to the Bills is TE Clive Walford (Miami). A big target and physical player who could give Roman some much needed blocking help on the edge for the “ground and pound” offense that he wishes to implement.
Take a deep breath because you may need it. What if I told you the Bills were going to take a running back early? Hey, we warned you to take a breath. It is projected that only 2 running backs will be selected in the top 32 picks, it is conceivable that the best place to grab a running back would be in the 2nd round. Our favorite target is David Johnson (Northern Illinois). He was impressive at both the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine and he might not make it to the 3rd round.
Cornerback could be an area of need depending on if the team is able to secure another defensive back with the thought of shifting Graham back to safety and the pending free agent signing of Searcy. While the depth to address this position will be available in the 2nd round, the priority on this will be based on the weeks leading up to the draft. Free agency does not offer much for cornerbacks outside of Revis and this could cause the team to force a defensive back selection early.
Quarterback is a position of great debate at One Bills Drive. This will be left to future articles and our Buffalo Breakdown episode which can be found in our podcast section available. Buffalo Breakdown, Part I: Quarterbacks
G Mike Iupati and T/G Orlando Franklin enter this offseason as the premier available players along the offensive line. While Franklin has the ability to play both tackle and guard, the Bills show no pressing need to address the tackle position. This makes Iupati who played for Greg Roman with the 49ers the top target. With the release of Urbik and Williams, they will be able to sign Iupati and still leave plenty of headroom for other signings
The dream of having CB Darrelle Revis reunited with Rex Ryan is something most Bills fans would welcome. While he will cost in excess of $11 million a season to sign, his acquisition would allow the move to CB Leodis McKelvin down to his best fit as a slot cornerback. While this is a possibility, don’t hold out hope.
While the Bills could be content with the starting linebacker front they have on the roster, LB David Harris was the general for Ryan when he was with the Jets, who will have plenty of salary cap space to try and negotiate and extension with him.
Tight end is the next area of need for Buffalo. The draft is noticeably absent those amazingly athletic-type players. Scott Chandler has been solid and MarQueis Gray was a nice signing last season. Jermaine Gresham will be available this offseason, so making an offer certainly wouldn’t hurt the Bills. Jordan Cameron and Owen Daniels are also available but injury history on Cameron and Daniels age make them both less likely.
S Kyle Wilson could make the move from the Jets to Buffalo. He is 32-years old but is no stranger to the defensive scheme. He will not be expensive and should give the team great flexibility with the cornerback depth already on the roster. Drawing a parallel: Jim Leonhard is to Mike Pettine what Kyle Wilson is to Rex Ryan.
Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale, (First Round Breakdown)