By Paul Wanecski
Jerry Hughes has been with the Buffalo Bills for five seasons. During that time, he has had 4 different Defensive Coordinators. His most productive seasons are now several years in the rearview mirror so that begs the question “what will the Bills do with Jerry Hughes?”
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Of 4-3 defensive ends, Hughes ranked with the 6th highest cap hit in 2018. All those who rank above him had more sacks this season. You would think that being aligned with a head coach like Sean McDermott would lead to an uptick in Hughes’ total production, but what we saw instead, while his numbers in tackles for loss actually improved this year over last (eight in 2016 versus eleven in 2017), he saw a steep decline in snap count, down 13.6% from last year. Looking deeper into McDermott’s history might provide a better look at how patient he might be regarding Hughes’ production.
Since taking over as Defensive Coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, McDermott never had a season where his leading sack producer fell outside of the top 25 for total sacks in the NFL among all defenders; Jerry Hughes in 2017 ranked 84th with his 4 sacks, which also lead the team. Since being the coordinator in Carolina, McDermott’s defensive total sacks are as follows:
2016-47 sacks – ranked second
2015- 44 sacks- ranked sixth
2014- 40 sacks – ranked thirteenth
2013- 60 sacks – ranked first
2012- 39 – ranked ninth
2011- 31 – ranked twenty-fifth
Unfortunately, the Bills pass rush as able to generate only 27 sacks this year, ranking them twenty-ninth, simply terrible production from the standard set by McDermott previously. To speak specifically about Jerry Hughes, the only time he has ever been ranked inside the top 25 in the sack category was in 2013 and 2014, pulling into the 20th and 19th position. To put that a bit more in perspective, he was ranked third on the team in sacks both of those seasons.
Viewing if Hughes should stay with the Bills will vary depending on how replaceable you feel he is. The draft will be loaded with options when it is time for the team to pick. Shaq Lawson’s shaky health is certainly a part of the conversation regarding the long-term future of Hughes. Now, Bradley Chubb will not be on the board when it is time for the Bills to pick, however, if teams are as hungry for a quarterback as it is currently being predicted, that is an excellent circumstance for a team like Buffalo with two selections. When a position goes hot in the upper part of the draft, it pushes specific positional talent lower on the board. This couldn’t benefit the Bills more if they just stand tall at the 21st and 22nd selection since player who might have gone 16th or 17th will now be available later. Shedding Hughes this offseason would shave $4.6 million against the salary cap.