The Bills have many important off season decisions to make; while not as important as Josh Allen’s new contract, the decision to pay RT Daryl Williams or LB Matt Milano could loom large for the future of the team. Both players have been paramount to the Bills’ success in 2020, but the question of who to pay poses a bigger question of which side of the ball you should prioritize? A solid defense or a high flying super-efficient offense?
One thing that we know for certain, is that winning in the NFL cannot happen without an efficient QB and pass protection. Josh Allen has put together the greatest 3rd year jump in NFL history setting career highs in almost every statistical category. One of the biggest contributing factors to Allen’s historic improvement is the OL creeping back towards average, by the accumulation of veteran free agents who have been able to work well together as a unit. Per PFF, the Bills’ pressure rate has gone down over the last 3 seasons going from 27% in 2018 to 25% in 2020.
Daryl Williams has been the best FA signing for the Bills last offseason. Getting him for a bargain price of 1yr/$2.25m. Williams was the 9th most efficient pass blocking tackle; posting the highest rating of his career at 98.1 and earing his highest PFF pass blocking grade at 80.3, which was tied for 18th among qualifying tackles. During his career year he’s played every game while having his best game against the NFL’s number one rated defense the Los Angeles Rams. Perhaps, the performance that was most impressive was his work against the NFL’s sack leader TJ Watt; holding him to a grand total of 0 sacks and 1 pressure when both went head to head. Williams has given the Bills one of the best tackle tandems in the league with both him and Dion Dawkins both posting above average PFF pass blocking grades. However, one must ask, should Brandon Beane jeopardize the continuity of a top ten rated OL for a luxury LB? If the Bills were to give Williams a new contract it would be in the ball park of 3 years/31.5m with 15m fully guaranteed at signing which would be 10.5m per year. A projected contract for Milano would be something around 4 years/45m with 20m in guarantees which would average out to 11.25m per year.
When on the field, Matt Milano has been one of the best coverage LBs the past 3 seasons; the converted safety turned linebacker has the 11th highest PFF coverage grade among linebackers since 2018. He has uncanny versatility with the ability to cover running backs and slot receivers which makes his coverage skills, in today’s NFL a valuable commodity. While Milano is excellent in coverage, he struggles with tackling. Milano has a career missed tackle percentage of 16%. To give this some context, in the last 4 seasons, the LBs who have led the NFL in PFF’s Tackling grade have an average career missed tackle percentage of 7.3% with the lowest number coming from Bobby Wagner at 5.6% and the highest coming from Rashad Evans at 9%. 2 out of the last 3 seasons the Bills have been at the bottom of the league in tackling, while that isn’t solely on Milano; he’s led Buffalo in missed tackles every year except for this season where he missed 6 games.
Despite Buffalo’s struggles tackling they have improved their win total steadily, since Josh Allen’s rookie year. There is no coincidence that as Josh Allen’s completion percentage from a clean pocket has improved (2018-36th out of 39 qualified QBs at 71.4%, 2020- Best among all QBs at 85.8%) and his number of clean drop backs has improved (2018-224, 2020-395) that the wins have followed. Clean pocket completion percentage is one the most stable metrics for quarterbacks; imagine if Allen is able to complete around 80% of his passes from a clean pocket for the next 10 years (while factoring in a little regression) behind an above average offensive line.
Having a great defense most certainly matters but it’s not paramount. Out of the last 5 super bowl winners only 1 team had an offense that wasn’t graded in the top 10 and out of those same teams only 1 team had a defense that was graded in the top 10 (2015 Broncos). As the NFL has trended towards a pass happy league, the quarterback’s efficiency in the passing game has become one of the most important metrics correlated with winning. Your quarterback can’t pass efficiently if he is not protected, simple! Every decision Buffalo makes going forward, should have Josh Allen all over it. Rewarding Daryl Williams would help send the message that the Bills are committed to keeping a contending team around Josh Allen and also committed to his promising development.
The best option for the Bills is to sign Williams to a 3-year deal, let Milano test free agency and hope they can get him back on a team friendly deal. His projected cap number as previously stated would be higher than Williams’ in guaranteed money and annual salary; while signing Williams would be a cheaper move it’s also the most competitive move by solidifying Josh Allen’s OL. If Milano tests free agency, Brandon Beane will once again have to display his wizardry in free agency and the draft by finding solid and affordable players at key positions. By prioritizing Buffalo’s sensational offense Beane will ensure that the Bills are contenders for the coming years.