With the NFL Free Agency period about to start March 10th, Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley gave a frank assessment of the possible departure of starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. In fact from his quote it can be seen as Whaley is encouraging his exit stating,
“That one’s going to be more of, ‘Hey, do you want to come back and be a one-, two-down player, or do you want to try to go out there and see if you can [be] an every-down player?”
The statement comes off as a little cold to a player that fans fell in love with, and who contributed quite a bit on the field in his lone year in Buffalo. It will be interesting to see how the Bills replace Spikes, or at least attempt to retain him, because his exit could potentially create a negative affect on the defense.
Now, Bills appear to be set with starters as they bring back a healthy Kiko Alonso, a solid Nigel Bradham, and second-year man Preston Brown who is coming off a great rookie campaign. The issue though, is that despite this wealth of talent, there is a convolution of roles. Alonso and Bradham play the same type of game as instinctive speed linebackers; and Brown can provide coverage ability, which again duplicates Alonso’s abilities.
Neither Alonso, Bradham, or Brown bring an overwhelming ability to take on blockers and play a power game that creates tackling lanes for the others; and that ability is what Spikes specializes in and that’s why he, or another gap oriented linebacker, is needed.
From the comments above it appears the Bills are at least willing to see if Spikes can find a suitable offer and match it if their valuation of him fits the cost, but absent a clear in-house replacement the only other area the Bills can explore is within free agency where David Harris, a Rex Ryan favorite, is set to be available.
In comparing Harris to Spikes the only clear positive benefit of adding Harris is his familiarity with Ryan’s defense. He can act as a coach on the field giving acclimating players direction and calling defensive adjustments during the game, though the reality is that Harris is a rapidly declining player.
Per ProFootballFocus.com (Subscription Required), the numbers show that Spikes is better within that run stuffing role than Harris. Spikes was a +7.3 run defender and average in pass coverage at .08; whereas Harris was -.5 as a run defender, but was better as a pass defender at 1.8. In fact per ProFootballFocus.com Harris hasn’t been an overall positive defender since 2011.
Now one can point out that Harris had double the amount of snaps (1038 vs. 519), which could be a contributing factor into the negative ratings, but it also doesn’t help that Harris is over 30 and will be further declining in the next couple of years.
It’s assured that the Bills have a plan, and they shouldn’t break the bank to keep Spikes, but his role as a run stuffing linebacker is needed, and because of that the Bills shouldn’t slow play their hand too much. With Spikes manning the middle alongside Alonso there is sure to be greater results on the field for everyone involved.