As of…now, the Bills and the rest of the NFL can legally engage in the “tampering” pre-free agency free agency conversations. While the team housed in Western New York isn’t expected to be too active; in fact, one of their biggest decisions is whether or not they’re going to renege on a deal they’ve already agreed to with their starting quarterback – which I don’t have the patience to debate outside of, “hey, let’s not be stupid Bills, keep Taylor”.
So here are my simple rules to keeping FA a safe, fun time without wailing and gnashing of teeth for both Bills brass and fandom…
Rule 1: Don’t Panic
With an estimated 60 million plus in cap space next year, I’m not too concerned about this year’s FA haul in terms of dollars spent. This team isn’t 1 player or 1 mega-star away; they’re pieces away. You can find pieces in free agency without spending a load of money. In prior years pre-Pegula family, this article would highlight how much cap space the Bills had – and how they weren’t going to use it. What a difference a billionaire makes, eh?
In order to give McDermott what he needs on offense, defense and special teams, they will need to find fits, not names. As I mentioned earlier with regard to the Buffalo nickel spot, the Bills need some specialists to keep up with the ever-changing NFL. You can’t get them all year one, try as anyone might.
Rule 2: Make the Draft as “non Make-or-Break” as Possible
Getting as many inexpensive free agents that can help in wave roles will lessen the need to be all stars in the draft. To that end, going after players like Jack Crawford, as mentioned by Jason Cole of Bleacher Report make sense.
Crawford fits the typical measurements of a McDermott end, and his three sacks in 2016 would be an added boost to a line that will rely on its front four (Hughes-Dareus-Williams-Lawson) to be the leaders in that regard.
I would also focus on free agency being a Seahawks-style affair, that doesn’t just include veterans. Undrafted free agency has been a killer for both the Shanahan tree of offense as well as the 1-gap Tampa/Seahawk/Kiffin defenses in the past – so allowing those players a fair shot would do wonders for competition as a whole on the team.
If done right, you go into the draft knowing there are positions of need, but you’re not screaming “we have to do this or else!” (see rule 1) and panicking player x won’t be there so you have to trade up. Don’t do it Doug.
Rule 3: Bring in a player or two that know McDermott/Dennison
This was a complaint of Rex’s year one (despite having the keys to the kingdom, but that’s a story for another day) – making sure the schemes have players in them that can produce while working with the established players on hand. While both the offensive and defensive schemes’ simplicity have been hailed as hallmarks, a little familiarity goes a long way.
On defense, that to me starts and ends with AJ Klein of the Panthers. Grabbing a younger player that has been percolating in the scheme in Carolina and started last year would be a nice way to kick off the McDermott era.
On offense, I’m less worried, as a lot of the principles were already in place with Roman and the eventual switch to now-Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn.
Shopping List Time
With those parameters in place, here are a few free agents I wouldn’t mind in Buffalo, outside of the above mentioned players:
Don Barclay, OL, Packers: Barclay is a jack of all trades, playing all positions on the offensive line. In 2013, he played right tackle in place of an injured Bryan Bulaga. He’s admittedly more of a buy on the cheap, but I think he’d be worlds better than Jordan Mills manning that spot.
Andre Holmes, WR, Raiders: Holmes is a bigger receiver, at 6’4 and is a long way away from his 47 catch, 693 yard, 4 touchdown 2014. I see him as a potential replacement in terms of depth for special teams and perhaps in the red zone.
Jordan Norwood, WR, Broncos: Norwood has experience with the Dennison offense and also can replace Brandon Tate in the return game, should the street free agent not return to the fold in 2017.
Colin Jones, S/Buffalo Nickel, Carolina: Having a player that fits the Buffalo Nickel spot they will need in their three safety looks that knows the scheme would be great. Prior to Shaq Thompson’s arrival on the scene in 2015, Jones held the spot and performed well in the role. Re-signed in Carolina 3/7
Jelani Jenkins, LB, Dolphins: A player that hasn’t really stood out on a Dolphins defense, bringing Jenkins in to Buffalo would give you a player that can compete for the Will linebacker spot and at worst provide depth behind Reggie Ragland and Preston Brown going into the 2017 season. Should the Bills draft a linebacker at some point in the draft, having him share time with Jenkins prior to taking a full time role would be helpful.
Malcolm Smith, LB, Raiders: The former Superbowl 48 MVP is a perfect fit as a Will linebacker in the defensive scheme. Last year, the former Trojan had 103 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and an interception, ending his 2 year deal signed after the Superbowl win over the Broncos.
DaMontre Moore, Edge, Seahawks: The man formerly known as “DaMonster” has had a pedestrian NFL career, amassing 10 sacks in five years in the NFL, with 5.5 of them coming in his second year in the league. The 6’5, 250 pound end is a little out of the usual measurables for a McDermott end (his typically averaged around 270+ pounds) but having a player that is around the same size as Jerry Hughes would allow the former TCU product to get some rest, as the waves of defenders will be crucial to the defense.
Gerald Hodges, LB, 49ers: Of all the options, Hodges may be the most expensive. The former Penn State product had a solid 2016 in San Francisco, logging 83 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble as a starter. While these stats were amassed on a bad team, the quality of play transcended the tire fire that was San Fran this year. At 26 he’s also the youngest of the folks listed here, which means he knows he can cash in that performance with a solid deal.
Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Vikings: Munneryln has played for both defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and head coach Sean McDermott, so the familiarity with the scheme (and production) are there to see. Because of his size he may be more of a nickel corner, but in the specialized NFL that is enough to be a key cog in the defense.
Leonard Johnson, CB, Panthers or Teddy Williams, CB, Panthers: I don’t think you need to double dip, so to speak, but having one of the two at a cheap price would allow McDermott to have a player that has been in the scheme, but also young enough with the possibility to move from depth hand team wise to perhaps a special teamer/depth guy in Buffalo.
Greg Zuerlein, K, Rams: “Greg the Leg” would be a welcome replacement for Carpenter, who was at the “couldn’t hit broad side of the barn” stage of his career once the NFL moved the extra points back to the 35. The hope would be that Zuerlein can stabilize 1/3 of the new-look Bills specialists, as they also released their punter and long snapper within the past 48 hours.