ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills got through Saturday’s 53-man roster cut down without too many surprises. Looks like they saved them for Sunday as Ian Rappoport of the NFL Network reported that the team has released running back Jonathan Williams.
Williams was a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 and looked poised for a big year, taking over as the primary backup to LeSean McCoy. His release comes as a surprise following a productive preseason, but the Bills opted to keep four running backs and two full backs during Saturday’s cuts, so they had some flexibility at that position.
Behind McCoy, the rest of the offensive backfield includes Joe Banyard, speedster Taiwan Jones and notable free agent acquisitions Mike Tolbert and Patrick Dimarco. Williams departure follows this new regime’s trend of moving on from players who were drafted under former general manager Doug Whaley. 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson is the only player who remains on the roster from last year’s draft.
News of the second surprising cut came from Pro Football Talk, which reported that LB Gerald Hodges was also being released by the Bills. Hodges had an extremely productive season with the 49ers last season compiling 83 total tackles, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions and signed with Buffalo this offseason after being released. Throughout training camp he had settled in as the Bills second-team middle linebacker.
Those two cuts helped the Bills clear space on the roster for TE Khari Lee, OL Conor McDermott and LB Deon Lacey, each of whom they claimed off waivers on Sunday. Buffalo also waived WR Philly Brown to make room on the 53-man roster for all three acquisitions.
The team confirmed all the transactions.
Bills Twitter is a wonderful thing today in the aftermath of these moves. There are an understandable amount of fans who think these moves are just further proof that the team is tanking. I’m not completely on board with that. By all accounts, both Jonathan Williams and Gerald Hodges were going to have an active role on this team and were valuable assets to have behind their position’s respective starters, LeSean McCoy and Preston Brown. However, a backup running back and middle linebacker aren’t going to drastically change the outcome of this upcoming season.
Of the two releases, I do think Hodges is a little more surprising than Williams, for the sole fact that Hodges is a guy this new regime went out and signed. We haven’t seen too many players that Sean McDermott hand picked to be part of this new culture, get cut this weekend. Not only that but this team is very thin and inexperienced at linebacker behind the starting three. His presence certainly would have come in handy this season.
In Williams’ case, McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have clearly established that they have no commitment to players who were drafted by Doug Whaley and if you were a product of that previous group, you might as well have a realtor on standby. Perhaps the fact that Williams played well into the second half of Thursday night’s preseason finale was a sign that he was expendable. Either way, I think McDermott views Mike Tolbert as the team’s primary backup at running back and that’s understandable based on how he saw the nine-year vet used in Carolina.
Not only that but nowadays running backs can be found anywhere. Think about where the Bills found Mike Gillislee, and where they drafted Karlos Williams before him. In today’s NFL running backs are a dime-a-dozen. Buffalo could easily find one on the waiver wire, in fact, the Bears just waived Jeremy Langford.
In the grand scheme of things, yes, these moves are perplexing, but are they definitive proof that the Bills are tanking? Not really. If we’re to use the Jets as the standard for what tanking looks like, then the Bills still have some work to do. New York has stripped their roster of almost all of their veteran talent, Buffalo meanwhile still has plenty of it. If anything these latest move, along with yesterday’s trade involving CB Kevon Seymour, prove that this front office is not content with the status quo. They’re always open to adjustments that benefit the team’s future. Which is why you shouldn’t be naive enough to think they’re not at least listening to inquiries for their top veteran players like McCoy or Tyrod Taylor. It’s all part of the process.
Don’t assume the Bills are done yet either. There could be more moves coming before the Labor Day weekend concludes.
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