It’s finally over and most Bills fans knew 2018 would be a season they would have to “get through”. In order to clear the deck financially, the Bills chose to clear out most of the “bad” contracts in order to have a healthy salary cap going forward.
It was a bitter pill to swallow in 2018, the Bills had over $70 million in dead cap space according to Spotrac.com . Their dead cap was by far the most in the league. The New York Giants were the next closest team with almost $44 million in dead cap. This financial move certainly showed on the roster, mainly on offense and special teams. The Bills allocated the lowest dollar amount towards offensive line in the NFL in 2018 and we saw the result.
A big talking point to help fans get through 2018 was the assets the Bills would have going into the 2019 off-season. As of now, the Bills will start out with $83 million in salary cap space, which is third in the NFL behind the Indianapolis Colts with $122 million and the New York Jets with $98 million. The Bills will also have ten draft picks in 2019.
Just because the Bills have significant cap space doesn’t mean they will be in a rush to spend it. General Manager Brandon Beane spoke about being judicious during free agency. Teams have to be careful during this period because it can easily turn into a bidding war.
Looking at the positions of need for the Bills, the potential class of free agents is somewhat thin with several teams looking to upgrade at the same positions. A significant upgrade on the offensive line is the biggest need for the Bills right now. There’s some veteran options that could be available in the free agent market.
The Bills filled their vacancy at offensive line coach by hiring Bobby Johnson from the Indianapolis Colts. Once they identify the type of blocking scheme they want to use, they will get to work on the players they would like to target.
Center Matt Paradis has quickly shot to the top of the list for free agent centers. There could be stiff competition in teams looking to acquire him if the Denver Broncos let him hit the free agent market.
Despite finishing 2018 on injured reserve, Carolina Panthers (yes, I said it) tackle Daryl Williams is another name to keep an eye on. Williams is starting caliber and would be an immediate upgrade at right tackle if the Bills were to bring him in.
At guard, Roger Saffold from the Los Angeles Rams could become a cap casualty as they will have some tough choices to make in free agency. Saffold could provide a veteran presence while the Bills look towards the future of the offensive line. If there is a position the Bills could be aggressive on during free agency it could be the offensive line. They will want to protect their young quarterback and revive the running game.
The next glaring need for the Bills is wide receiver. As of now, the two receivers with the best chance of making the roster are Zay Jones and Robert Foster. Both showed significant growth in 2019 despite the quarterback carousel throughout the season. The Bills recently signed CFL wide receiver Duke Williams, who is an interesting prospect but is only guaranteed to make it to training camp.
The free agent pool of receivers isn’t eye popping but there are some players that could make a difference. Los Angeles Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams has emerged as a potential favorite among free agents. Williams has a nice combination of size and speed at 6-4 205 pounds and a 4.4 40 time. He was involved in some big plays and became a steady target for Phillip Rivers. With Keenen Allen as the clear number one and Mike Williams coming on strong in year two, Tyrell Williams may end up hitting the market. If he does, Williams will surely be coveted.
If Williams isn’t the most sought after receiver in free agency, it will most likely be Golden Tate. Tate was able to make an impact for two teams in 2018, first with the Detroit Lions, then when he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. During the home stretch of the 2018 season, Tate became a big part of the Eagles offense. At 31, age will be a factor but expect several suitors for Tate.
Adam Humphries is coming off a nice 2018 season, using that quick slot receiver role. He could be another hot commodity in free agency. Randall Cobb is another interesting potential free agent. He has made a nice career for himself in Green Bay but lately has been battling injuries, which could make him a more affordable option.
I would expect the Bills to allocate most of their spending on the offensive line and try to be as financially responsible as possible. As Brandon Beane said in a recent interview, “just because you have it, doesn’t mean you spend it”. The Bills will do their due diligence to bring in players that fit what they are trying to build.
Fans are eagerly awaiting a supermarket shopping spree type off season because they can’t remember the last time the Bills have been in this good financial shape. To those fans I would say temper expectations and focus on the type of players they bring in. Big splash free agent signings have a higher failure rate than success rate.
Editor’s babble: Although a big shopping spree might seem fun it’s probably in the Bills best interest to spend carefully. Thanks to Erik Smeal for his contributions to our blog. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819.