105.5 The Team – The 2017 NFL Year set to take effect at 4 pm ET on Thursday and the Bills have a lot of work to do this offseason to build their roster to 90 before the start of training camp. With several major needs to address and minimal cap space at their disposal, GM Doug Whaley is going to have to get creative.
Of course the first major decision on the table is the one concerning quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s option. The Bills have until 4 pm on March 11 (Saturday) to decide whether or not to exercise the option in the 27-year-old’s contract – which would guarantee him $30.75 million over the next few seasons – or cut him all together, free up an additional $13.06 million in cap space and opening a massive void at QB. Until that decision is made – and according to head coach Sean McDermott, they’ll take their time making it – filling out the rest of the roster sort of takes a back seat.
Here are Buffalo’s Top 5 needs ahead of the new league year along with some options to address them:
Right now, the Bills salary cap projection includes Tyrod Taylor’s $15.9 million hit for 2017, so this isn’t technically a void on the roster currently. However, because the team has yet to make a decision on retaining or cutting him, it remains unclear who exactly will be under center in 2017. Maybe it will be Taylor, then again maybe it won’t be. Answering that question is priority number one and given the importance of the QB position, it’s at the top of the Bills “needs” list.
Options: Tony Romo (Trade or free agency) – There is reportedly interest here. The price tag could be an issue, depending on how he’s acquired, as is his injury history. The biggest dilemma though is luring the 36-year-old to Buffalo.
Josh McCown (Cut by Browns) – McCown certainly wouldn’t be an upgrade from Taylor, but on the outside chance that the Bills decide to move on and bring in a stopgap QB to hold down the fort until they discover the next Jim Kelly, or that they want a veteran backup, he’s an affordable choice.
Mitchell Trubisky (Draft) – Despite only starting 13 games at UNC, he could be the first QB off the board come April 27. Honestly, it’s unlikely he’s even there when Buffalo drafts 10th overall, but if he falls into their lap, it’s something to consider.
DeShaun Watson (Draft) – Watson wowed at the combine this past weekend and his stock is rising by the day, despite initial concerns about how he’d transition to the NFL. Some draft experts have already mocked the Bills taking Watson with the 10th pick.
DeShone Kizer (Draft) – Unlike Watson, Kizer had a disappointing combine, but he still possesses enough upside throwing the football to entice teams that need a QB.
2) Wide Receiver
Currently, the Bills have just five receivers under contract for next season; a group headlined by the oft-injured Sammy Watkins. Behind Warkins are Marcus Easley and Kolby Listenbee, neither of whom played a single snap last season due to injury, Walter Powell and practice squader Dez Lewis. Not exactly a dazzling arsenal. For the sake of whoever Buffalo tabs at quarterback, some serious wide receiver help is necessary.
Options: Robert Woods (Bills UFA) – Outside of Woods saying he’d like to remain in Buffalo there hasn’t been much traction between the 24-year-old and the Bills. At market value, Woods will likely seek upwards of $8 million per year, which may be a little too high for their liking. Maybe they can convince him to “come home” in a sense, for a smaller figure.
Cordarrelle Patterson (Vikings UFA) – A first-round pick in 2013, Patterson has underwhelmed mightily from a receiving standpoint throughout his first four seasons. With 52 receptions, 453 yards and two touchdowns, 2016 was the most productive season of his career. The bonus with Patterson is that he doubles as a kick returner and a good one at that. He’s reportedly seeking around $4 million per year, which is plenty affordable for Buffalo.
Kamar Aiken (Ravens UFA) – The Bills have apparently expressed interest in Aiken after a more pedestrian 29-catch, 328-yard and one TD performance in 2016. It’s his 75-reception campaign the year prior that should help him get paid this offseason, but within reason.
Kenny Britt (Rams UFA) – Coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his career, Britt is an enticing option out on the open market, and, his asking price shouldn’t break the bank.
Mike Williams (Draft) – When Rex Ryan left One Bills Drive, he took his affinity for Clemson with him, but just cause Rex is gone doesn’t mean Buffalo has to stay away from the school’s players. Williams posseses tremendous strength and an uncanny ability to do everything in his power to make a catch. He’s a star in the making and a Clemson product duo of Watkins and Williams would be fun to watch.
Once Aaron Williams went down with a second serious neck injury in as many seasons, the strong safety spot became a revolving door of mediocrity. Additionally, at free safety, Corey Graham isn’t getting any younger and is in the final year of his contract. Williams is still contemplating retirement, but even if he returns the Bills have a dire need to acquire some youthful depth at this position – especially considering how important the safeties are in McDermott’s 4-3 defense.
Options: Jairus Byrd (Saints UFA) – Getting younger at safety is ideal, but if the Bills are looking for a veteran option at safety then reuniting with Byrd is an option. That fact that Byrd’s father (Gill Byrd) is the team’s new CB coach could be a factor, although unless Buffalo cuts Graham this move seems unnecessary.
Tony Jefferson (Cardinals UFA) – Jefferson found his niche as a strong safety this past season and went on to start 14 games for Arizona, accumulating 92 total tackles, two sacks and five passes defended. At 25 His market value is projected at over $5 million.
Malik Hooker (Draft) – To be completely honest, Buffalo’s best bet at upgrading is probably through the draft, where a deep safety class stands out among other positions. Hooker is considered one of the best overall players, garnering comparisons to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. He’s a skillful ball hawk, who hauled in seven interceptions in his sophomore season at Ohio State. The Bills would be foolish to pass on Hooker should he still be on the board at 10.
Budda Baker (Draft) – There are varying opinions on who the next best safety in this loaded class is, personally I think it’s Baker. He’s got great range, ran a blazing 4.45 forty at the combine and can change directions quickly. He’d be yet another solid, young addition to the back end of the Bills defense.
Jabril Pepper (Draft) – The Michigan product entered combine weekend with no true position – having bounced around all over the offensive and defensive side of the ball for the Wolverines last season – but seems to have settled on safety. With his muscular frame and impressive speed, the position should suit him well, especially as he improves his coverage skills.
Top corner Stephon Gilmore is essentially a goner after Buffalo opted to not franchise tag the five-year vet. His price tag is just much too high for the Bills given their financial situation. As if the position could get any thinner, they also released Nickell Robey-Coleman to save $1.65M, leaving just four CBs on their roster for 2017 and only two – Ronald Darby and Kevon Seymour – who saw substantial playing time in this past season.
Options: Morris Claiborne (Cowboys UFA) – Claiborne bet on himself in 2016, after Dallas declined his fifth-year option from being selected sixth overall in the 2012 NFL draft, signing a one-year deal worth $3 million ahead of last season. Unfortunately, his campaign was cut woefully short after suffering a groin injury, but his play in seven starts was solid. He may end up being too expensive for the Bills, but there’s no harm in pursuing him.
Brandon Flowers (Cut by Chargers) – Flowers played just six games in 2016 due to injury, which led to his release this week. Regardless, he’s a proven veteran in this league, who can still play at a high level. The 31-year-old may consider playing for a team on a one-year “prove it” deal.
Marshon Lattimore (Draft) – Just another exceptional product of DB-University, aka Ohio State. Lattimore is the crown jewel of the 2017 CB class and could be an option for the Bills in the first round of the draft.
The linebacker play is essential to the success of McDermott’s defense, and there are plenty of questions over whether or not Preston Brown and 2016 second-round pick Reggie Ragland will fit the scheme. Assuming Brown and Ragland fill the Mike and Sam linebacker spots, having a quick and instinctive Will backer is a necessity. Also, behind Brown and Ragland, there is a noticable lack of depth at the position that the Bills must address.
Options: Lorenzo Alexander (Bills UFA) – While the veteran had a renaissance season for the Bills in 2016 (76 tackles and 12.5 sacks), retaining him would be beneficial more for depth purposes than for adding an every down LB.
Zach Brown (Bills UFA) – Another pleasant surprise for Buffalo last season, Brown finished second in the NFL in total tackles (149). Prioritizing Brown over Alexander actually makes more sense, given his age (27) and athleticism. His quickness and coverage ability would be a vital asset in McDermott’s scheme, especially considering the lack thereof from Preston Brown and Ragland.
A.J. Klein (Panthers UFA) – Klein, like Alexander, could be another solid option for the Bills to add some depth at LB and coming from Carolina he has familiarity with McDermott’s defense. Since being drafted in 2013, Klein has served as the top backup at the position during his Panthers tenure.
Ruben Foster (draft) – This latest Crimson Tide linebacker would fit nicely alongside Brown and Ragland, given his terrific sideline-to-sideline speed and range. He’ll have to answer for last weekend’s outburst towards a nurse as he waited for his combine medical exam, but the talent is there and in the NFL talent tends to trump off-the-field issues.
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