By: Paul "The Closer" Wanecski
As the Bills approached this offseason, the team was seen as having a wealth of linebacker talent. Preston Brown, Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes, Nigel Bradham, Ty Powell, Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson all would be useful tools to defensive whiz Rex Ryan. Gone is Kiko Alonso via trade, Brandon Spikes could be lost to free agency, and Nigel Bradham could be traded. Yes, you read that correctly. Before anyone loses their minds, here is why you may see Bradham dealt by day two of the draft.
Buffalo has has opened up extension talks with Bradham, as they should. He is a young and productive player entering a contract year. The time to get him on a team-friendly deal is before he ends up destroying the competition in Ryan's system, which very well could happen. Bradham has good speed and can be a punishing tackler when running down hill, but, against more agile players he tends to reach and can take poor angles against players in the backfield. Do the negatives outweigh the positives? Yes, Bradham is a very solid player and the entire league knows it. Since Bradham's salary cap number is $1.6 million, any contract extension the Bills offer should try and leave as much money off the table for 2015 and 2016 as possible. The team is close to the salary cap, having just over $7 million left for 2015 and already uncomfortably near the ceiling for 2016. The Bills will need to ask themselves if Bradham is worth more to the team on it or off it.
The San Francisco 49ers have lost franchise LB Patrick Willis to retirement. His replacement last season, rookie Chris Borland, has also retired. These are just a few of the names in the parade of players leaving the team and they need to do something about it. Bradham is an attractive target for them. Having plenty of room under next year's salary cap, signing Bradham to an extension wouldn't be much of a problem. His versatility would allow the 49ers to do a lot with him.
The Bills would hold onto Bradham until right after they select at 50. Now dealing Bradham would only save them a little less than a million dollars, but, they would get value for a player whom they might lose next offseason. For the 49ers are no strangers to trading draft picks for players. Blaine Gabbert, Colt McCoy, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson (acquired from the Bills at the draft last year) are all examples of that. While the quality of player Bradham is compared to the players just mentioned is significantly higher, the concept is still the same; acquire a player via trade who has proven they can play in the NFL in exchange for a draft selection. While the value the 49ers have traded in the past has been typically a 5th round selection or later, Bradham might be had for a 3rd round pick given the need at the position. Given the average contracts for 3-4 inside linebackers, Bradham's salary would fall somewhere in the $4.5 million range per season, a number the Bills just cannot really afford.
While this may seem like an insane idea, the Bills have invested a lot of money in the defense. At some point, they will need to find a way to save some cap space. Drafting an inside linebacker at the 50th selection (see the Bills Draft Survival Guide) would be a huge red flag that Bradham may be dealt, so keep your eyes open on draft day.