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Friday, June 18, 2021

Bills Roster: Fully Loaded?

Written by Greg Boucher

With the recent financial wizardry that converted WR Stefon Diggs’ 2021 salary into a bonus, opening up roughly $7.5 M in additional cap space the question has been where could that money be appropriated at this juncture of the off-season?

Offensive Line? The Bills addressed the offensive trenches heavily this off season, adding 8 newcomers to the offensive line in total, signing depth options tackle Bobby Hart and guard Jamil Douglas, while taking a flyer on former LA Charger and 2nd rounder guard Forrest Lamp. Beane also spent heavy draft capitol up front selecting tackle Spencer Brown in the 3rd, tackle Bobby Doyle in the 5th and G/C Jack Anderson in the 7th. Aside from the new faces they added they also retained 2020 stand out RT Darryl Williams who infinitely out performed his contract last season, while also re-upping with hard charger Jon Feliciano and spot starter Ike Boettiger. There are not a ton of question marks remaining on this unit, the lone one appears to lie with 3rd year man Cody Ford, who has bounced around the line in search of a home and also suffered a season ending injury last year. The hope is that Ford can return healthy and solidify the left guard position, giving this team the consistency up front it desperately needs.

Answer: The truth is the offensive line market was rather barren this off-season, the Bills like most teams value tackle play over guard play and have paid their tackles accordingly. They have some options on the interior as well and it is unlikely, they will be targeting another lineman here.

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Tight End? The Bills have not had a formidable tight end on their roster perhaps in over a generation and with the current roster it does not appear that 2021 will be any different. Dawson Knox has been a love/hate type of player who has done some amazing things on the field while also breaking the hearts of fans with his drops. While Knox still has some upside and came on very strong late last season it does not appear that the decision makers are content with him as the primary tight end. They were reportedly in talks with the Eagles for Zack Ertz prior to the draft and even in Kyle Rudolph but neither deal materialized. They did manage to bring in Jacob Hollister who is a more reliable version of Dawson Knox but even at that the position group is thin beyond them. The Bills are clearly after a veteran player who knows how to get open, how to be the security blanket for Allen and can be the dependable mismatch in the red zone.

Answer: Zack Ertz is more or less no longer an Eagle and their front office has to move him soon to salvage something in return and cut his contract from their books. The Bills were highly interested a few months ago and could still be buyers for Ertz if the price is right.

Running Back? The running back room has changed slightly, aside from the return of youngsters Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, Beane added some home run speed by signing former Dolphins back Matt Bredia who looks to bounce back to his former self in Buffalo. There is also dark horse and fan favorite Antonio Williams who wowed fans last year after being called up from the practice squad in December to take on the Dolphins in the season finale. Williams rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries, scoring 2 TDs in the contest, a performance that has caused a lot of social media buzz amongst the Bills Mafia.

Answer: The Bills have spent back-to-back 3rd round picks addressing this position, they went out and upgraded the speed element as well, and with how little the run factors into this offense it is unlikely the Bills will be spending anymore money on the RB position.

Wide Receiver? The Bills return one of the leagues most potent passing attacks with the likes of Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and 2nd year stand out Gabe Davis. This trio put up some eye-popping numbers last season, none better than Diggs who finished with 127 rec/ 1525 yards/ 8TDs earning a 1st team All-Pro selection. While they lost speedster John Brown this offseason, they did add savvy veteran Emanuel Sanders whose route running and dependability are still coveted at this point of his career. The Bills also retained the services of X-factor Isiah McKenzie whose speed and versatility helped this offense in a variety of ways last year. There is also Isiah Hodgins, the guy who was out performing Gabe Davis last preseason before he was sidelined with an injury, who can possibly be in the mix this season. Beane also went and replaced the speed element of this offense by drafting Marquez “Speedy” Stevenson in the 6th round, while he is a bit underdeveloped from a technical aspect his speed is without question.

Answer: On paper the Bills appear to have reloaded on the receiver position, but none of these guys outside of Diggs is dominant and if the Bills were serious about closing the gap on Kansas City and becoming the number one offense in football the addition of Julio Jones could have done that.

Defensive Line? The Bills have spent serious money and draft picks on bolstering this unit, with little success unfortunately. The Star Lotulelei contract has been a heavy burden to bear and his opt out of 2020 hurt the interior of this defense, while the money spent on Trent Murphy, Vernon Butler and Mario Addison have also been disastrous financial moves that offered little to no return. On the other hand, the Bills have devoted the top of their past three drafts adding defensive lineman, drafting Oliver 7th overall in 2019, Epenesa overall in 2020 and selecting Rousseau and Basham in back-to-back rounds this past April. While the optimism is extremely high for this unit that appears to be bigger, faster, longer than they have been in quite some time the jury is still out with the verdict. Star will return, which is great news for a lot of people, none more than Ed Oliver who will return to his natural position. Phillips came on late last season as he recovered from his knee surgery and Justin Zimmer was a pleasant surprise on the interior. Jerry Hughes looks to get a ton of counterpart help with Epenesa emerging and the additions of Rousseau and Basham. Beane also made a very intriguing move this off-season when he signed Efe Obada, the versatile pass rusher from Carolina, with his length and speed the Bills can field one of the best pass-rushing attacks in the league.

Answer? Despite all of the talent in this group, it is still widely unproven and Beane seems to be willing to do almost anything to better this unit. It would not surprise me to see him use that extra cash to bolster the interior of the line, Star is back but he has not been great, outside of him there really is not a true 1-tech who can bolster the line. Former Carolina Panther Kawann Short is still available and while he is not the block-eater this defense needs; he is active and can play well against the run while offering some pass rush up the middle. There is also Sheldon Richardson who can play both the 1T and the 3T and looks to still have some juice left in the tank and Damon Harrison could be the 1T this defense needs to solidify the position as well as being a failsafe behind Lotulelei.

Linebacker? The Bills shocked many when they resigned OLB Matt Milano this off-season after many thought he would price himself out of Buffalo, they also picked up Tremaine Edmunds 5th year option in a no brainer move. While they Have the two backers locked in going forward, they also bring back veteran AJ Klein who after a rough start filling in for Milano came on as a run defender and pass rusher. They also went out and built on their depth adding former Houston Texans LB Terrell Adams, who is capable of spot starting outside and was extremely active last year racking up 120 plus tackles. They also brought in MLB former Raider middle linebacker Marquel Lee, who is limited in some regards but was a thumper in the middle prior to his injuries. While the play from Milano and Edmunds has been decent at times but far too inconsistent, they do have the potential to form a dynamic linebacking duo and Beane just paid the price to find out if that can happen.

The Answer: The Bills run a 4-3 but predominantly only field two LBs as the third is subbed out for the slot CB, given the money they spent on retaining both Milano and Edmunds and the amount of quality depth with starting experience they have backing them up it seems a move to acquire another LB would be far fetched at this point.

Secondary? The Bills have a very solid secondary that starts with their duo of safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde who have been two of the leagues best in both stopping the run and covering the pass. There is also All-Pro CB Tre White who is coming on as one of the leagues best cover guys. The Bills also resigned incumbent starter Levi Wallace to a cheap deal and while he has limitations, he has been a capable starter, aside from Wallace the Bills bring back last season’s diamond in the rough, 7th round pick Dane Jackson, who in limited time impressed with his play and can make the move to unseat Wallace this year. There is also slot CB Taron Johnson, who is most known for his 101-yard INT return last year in the playoffs to put the game out of reach vs the Ravens. Aside from those heroics, Johnson has been a consistent run defender and disruptive blitzer, however he has been a liability at times in coverage. The Bills also added two defenders later in the draft with safety Demar Hamlin from Pitt and CB Rashad Wildgoose from Wisconsin, two players who have the skills to make this team and be contributors as depth pieces.

DECEMBER 07: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Answer: The Bills have gambled for far too long on Levi Wallace, his lack of speed has limited this defense’s ability to play man and shutdown passing attacks, it is possible with players like future Hall of Famer Richard Sherman still available and former Pittsburgh Steeler cover guy Steven Nelson still unsigned the Bills could be making a final push to bolster the CB2 position by adding a proven veteran who comes onto this roster as an instant upgrade to Wallace.

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