In his first full offseason as general manager, Brandon Beane wasted little time addressing the Buffalo Bills roster needs. Even before the “legal tampering” period, he was quick to pursue recently released veterans Vontae Davis and Chris Ivory, but he didn’t stop there. On March 14th it was officially announced that the team had signed defensive linemen, Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy, as well as a reserve safety in Rafael Bush. Beane added the “cherry on top” that evening with the addition of quarterback A.J. McCarron. Fans could barely keep up with the barrage of breaking news.
This week, the organization added some much-needed depth on the offensive line, inking Marshall Newhouse and Russell Bodine to contracts following their visits to Western New York. Despite all of the activity at One Bills Drive, the team still has a few holes that need to be addressed prior to training camp. A majority of the depth concerns were addressed right away, but they still lack starting caliber players in several areas on both sides of the ball.
The front office has been extremely active in their pursuit of help at linebacker. This week they hosted free agents, Will Compton, Kevin Minter, and for what seems like the hundredth time, Karlos Dansby. On Tuesday, the franchise came to terms with incumbent linebacker Ramon Humber on a one-year contract extension, but there is still work to be done. While Humber certainly helps from an overall depth standpoint, an upgrade up the middle is still a priority.
Compton, Minter and Dansby have not signed with other teams at this point. It remains unclear whether Buffalo has made formal offers to any of them, but with cap space at a premium, they simply cannot afford to overpay.
Compton is at best a fringe starter despite registering 106 tackles in 2016, and Minter’s play has declined substantially over the past three seasons. Dansby continues to perform at a high-level at 36 years old, but he may be a bit long in the tooth. With Lorenzo Alexander turning 35 before the start of the 2018-19 season, the Bills should pursue younger options to bolster the linebacker corps.
Beane’s decision on whether or not he is willing to pay the price to trade up in the draft next month will play a big role. It’s easy to speculate that their “plan A” would be to find a way into the top-five, which will certainly cost them a few of the six draft slots they currently hold in the first three rounds. It might explain why the organization has been so aggressive in plugging as many holes as possible in free agency.
Should the Bills stay put at picks 12 and 22, there are a handful of highly-touted youngsters like Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech) and Roquan Smith (Georgia) who could be available to them. Another name climbing up the draft boards is Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State. If Beane does decide to pull the trigger and move up, Rashaan Evans (Alabama) and Josey Jewell (Iowa) are also viable options in round two.
In the secondary, Buffalo is pretty well set at the top, but as they saw several times last season, depth is critical. Though Davis and rookie sensation, Tre’Davious White are pencilled in as the starters, in a league where passing is king, the more talent the team have at corner, the better. E.J. Gaines is still on the market, though he will visit the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns’ facilities in the coming days. Gaines struggled with injuries last year, but when healthy, he played at an elite level in Sean McDermott’s system.
Should he choose to sign elsewhere, Beane will have to either wait for the draft or try to find an inexpensive contributor on the open market. He could pursue players like Delvin Breaux and former-Bill, Ross Cockrell, both of whom would carry a modest price tag on a short-term “prove it” deal.
Breaux spent all of last season on injured-reserve, however, if he has fully recovered from his fractured fibula, he could resurrect his career in Buffalo. Cockrell, on the other hand, started nine games for the New York Giants last season with three interceptions and 11 deflections. At 26-years-old, he is entering his just entering prime. He appeared in seven games with the Bills as a rookie in 2014.
Shifting gears to the offense, Buffalo desperately needs to address a lack of skill and depth at wide receiver, right tackle, and most importantly, quarterback.
It was reported this week that the team has expressed interest in former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver, Allen Hurns.
Free agent WR Allen Hurns should have a strong market. During recent interview with @wfnz, Hurns said about 10 teams have reached out to him with interest, including the Bears, Bills, Saints, Texans, Jets, Raiders and Panthers. Hurns' first visit was with the Cowboys on Wednesday
— Brandon George (@DMN_George) March 22, 2018
The Bills will certainly have competition for his services. Hurns hauled in 39 passes in 10 games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. It remains to be seen whether a team will be willing to open their wallets for a player who has missed 11 games over the past two seasons due to injury.
Though the upcoming draft isn’t very deep in terms of top-flight wide receiver talent, should the Bills retain the 22nd pick, they could select Alabama standout, Calvin Ridley or SMU product, Courtland Sutton who would give the team another big target alongside Kelvin Benjamin.
Despite the recent additions of Bodine and Newhouse on the right side of the offensive line, Buffalo could still look for additional depth. Though it is unlikely that Beane will elect to spend any more money via free agency, there are several intriguing prospects projected to go in the early rounds of the draft. While it isn’t exactly the highest priority considering all of the players the team currently has under contract, if the front office manages to retain most of their early picks, they could feasibly another player to compete for playing time with incumbents Jordan Mills and Vlad Ducasse.
The biggest need on the Bills roster, as it has been for two decades, is a quarterback. Yes, McCarron could prove to be a serviceable starter, however, it is clear that the plan is to add a QB early in the first round. For almost a year, fans have speculated, and the time has nearly arrived. Buffalo simply cannot wait any longer to make an aggressive move toward the top of the draft and get their man. It’s the reason the front office has continued to acquire draft picks in the first three rounds over the past year.
The Jets certainly muddied the waters last weekend when they traded up with the Indianapolis Colts for the third overall pick, effectively eliminating one of the Bills’ options. They will either have to swing a deal with the Giants to climb to second overall or hope that one of his desired signal callers falls down the board.
The Bills have been incredibly aggressive in scouting the top prospects over the course of the 2017-18 season. Team scouts appeared multiple times to scout players like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson in person. They’ve also met with each player at the NFL combine, Senior Bowl and at their respective pro days.
As of late, it has been reported that the Browns will almost certainly choose Darnold first overall. Assuming the Jets select a QB at third, it all but guarantees that two of the top options will be gone well before the Bills pick at 12.
Beane knows the situation. He knows what is on the line. With the fan base essentially split on whether or not the franchise should elect to forfeit the king’s ransom it will likely take to get into the top-five, the anticipation has reached a fever-pitch. The Bills faithful will undoubtedly have their collective eyes glued to their Twitter feeds until April 26th, and who could blame them? This decision could change the course of the organization for years to come.
The Bills have waited for an elite talent under center for too long. Never in the history of the organization have they possessed the draft capital to make a move. The time is now.
The process continues. Stay tuned.
Editor’s babble: We are proud to have Anthony Sciandra