‘State of the Bills’: Defensive Line

Photo of MLB Tremaine Edmunds, DE Shaq Lawson and DE Eddie Yarbrough from 985thesporthub.com.

There is some excitement in the air after a pair of back to back wins by the Bills over their last two games. While the defense has kept Buffalo in games most of the season, it has been the offense that has taken a surprising step forward as of late. While the Bills are still technically in the hunt, logic says that the team is already building for next year.

The remaining games on their schedule will, no doubt, be used to identify players who can contribute to the team in 2019 and beyond. With that, now is a good time to step back and take a bird’s eye view of what this team has and what holes need to be filled. I’ll take a look at each position group here.

Defensive Line

ORCHARD PARK, NY – SEPTEMBER 08: Kyle Williams #95 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates sacking Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots (not shown) at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 8, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York.New England won 23-21. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images).
Returners: Jerry Hughes, Star Lotulelei, Trent Murphy, Harrison Phillips,
Free Agents: Jordan Phillips, Eddie Yarbrough, Kyle Williams, Shaq Lawson
Draft Pulse: Don’t count it out
Free Agent Tracker: Ziggy Ansah, Demarcus Lawrence, Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Graham, Dante Fowler
Brandon Beane and company invested heavily into this defensive front last off-season. Big name acquisitions, Trent Murphy and Star Lotulelei combine with Jerry Hughes to make up three of the five biggest cap hits on the roster next season. Injuries have derailed much of Murphy’s season, but he’ll get another crack at it next year.
Fans have criticized the Lotulelei signing, but the team has to love the production they are getting from him. He’s never going to be a stat sheet stuffer, but his impact can’t be minimized. Hughes continues to show that he can be one of the most disruptive players in the league. At 30 years old, the team may want to think about restructuring his contract, but he should be back in Buffalo regardless.
Photo of DT Harrison Phillips from kiss985.radio.com.
The other lock for this roster next season is the impressive rookie Harrison Phillips. Fans should be excited about his upside and his fit within the culture that McDermott and Beane are trying to build.
The real question for this unit will be about which players they choose to bring back next season. Kyle Williams continues to show everyone that he still has some left in the tank. At this point, Kyle can write his own contract. If he wants to keep playing, then they should offer him another short-term deal.
Jordan Phillips has been an incredible addition to this team. Logic says they will try and offer him a multi-year deal this offseason. Eddie Yarbrough is an exclusive restricted free agent who they should be able to retain for cheap. All of this means that Shaq Lawson may end up being the odd man out, but he has certainly played well enough this season to warrant a new deal.
Early projections have several defensive linemen projected to be drafted early in the 2019 draft. As a result, it is possible that the Bills decide to continue investing in this unit this offseason.  While it isn’t a top need, Brandon Beane will have to give it a serious thought based on who is the best player available when the Bills are on the clock.
Photo of Detroit Lions’ EDGE Ziggy Ansah from Mlive.com.
There are a couple of big-name edge rushers who may be available when the free agency period opens up. DeMarcus Lawrence will likely stay in Dallas, but Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah is likely going to be on the move. Despite having a ton of cap room, this doesn’t seem like the best way to spend that money. Brandon Graham could be a name to watch come March.
I’m perfectly fine with them drafting a generational talent like Ed Oliver if he happens to be on the board, but otherwise, I would rather see them go in another direction. The only way I see them bringing in a high-priced free agent on the defensive line is if they strike out in other areas. You can never have too much talent on the defensive line, but this is a strong group. I’d like to see them bring back the in-house talent they already have and let them continue to grow together. First option should be, and likely will be, to bolster the position groups that need the most help first.
Editor’s babble: Apologies for the inability to format this article properly. Glad to have Joe Geniti back and contributing to the blog. We look forward to his assessments as we enter the last stretch of a volatile 2018 season for the Bills. Agree or disagree with Joe? You can find him and direct any comments to Joe on Twitter @JoeGeniti.