The NFL Combine is where Buffalo Bills executives such as G.M. Doug Whaley and Personnel Director Jim Monos will begin their discussions with various unrestricted free agents’ representatives as 2016 NFL Free Agency approaches. The Bills are tight on cap space, as they’re projected to have just a little over $1 million when the new league year begins. Now, there’s some obvious cuts coming and a potential Charles Clay restructure that could free up to around $20 million after accounting for the rookie class.
The team’s priority is, and should be, re-signing both left tackle Cordy Glenn and left guard Richie Incognito, who will each eat up a significant portion of Buffalo’s salary cap space. Doug Whaley stated that the team wouldn’t be active early in free agency, noting that they’d be looking for “dust settle guys” or veteran players that are in the second or third tier of the 2016 NFL Free Agency talent.
So, here at Building the Herd I put together a 2016 NFL Free Agency Big Board geared towards the Buffalo Bills’ needs with players that fit the scheme and shouldn’t cost too much. There’s 40 players I’ll highlight in two separate posts. Here’s the top 20.
1. LT Cordy Glenn, 26, Bills
Cordy Glenn has gotten better and better since being selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. In 2015, he was one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the league—both in pass protection and run blocking. He’ll command a deal with a floor of an average of $10 million per year, and he’s worth every penny.
2. LG Richie Incognito, 32, Bills
The guard position has been a revolving door ever since Andy Levitre left in free agency a few years ago. The Bills took a chance on Richie Incognito, who was blackballed from the league after his bullying scandal in Miami and it paid off. Incognito was one of the best guards in the league and was utterly dominant in the run game.
3. LB Nigel Bradham, 26, Bills
Nigel Bradham didn’t have the season many fans and analysts predicted after he stepped up in 2014, but he’s one of the more athletic linebackers in the NFL. He’s stated that he wants to return and with another year to absorb the playbook, bringing Bradham back on a short-term “Prove It” deal makes too much sense.
4. NT Damon Harrison, 27, Jets
Rex Ryan’s defense relies on the big men up front to shut down the run and proceed to pressure opposing passers. Damon Harrison played under Rex during his time with the Jets and the 6’4” 350 pounder is the ideal 0-technique nose tackle for a 3-4 front. Harrison has graded out as ProFootballFocus’ best run defender in consecutive years, making 54 tackles and 49 “stops” against the run last year. Getting a true nose tackle would allow the Bills to move Marcell Dareus around the defensive line and maximize his talents.
5. DL Akiem Hicks, 26, Patriots
Akiem Hicks is a 6’5” 320-pound defensive lineman with the versatility to play the one, three and five technique positions along a three-man front. Despite seeing limited snaps in 2015, Hicks graded out as PFF’s No. 16 run defender and No. 7 in Pass Rush Efficiency. His value in the 2016 NFL Free Agency market is vague at the moment, but he’s played under Rob Ryan in New Orleans and sould be a major upgrade to Buffalo’s defensive line.
6. Quinton Coples, 25, Dolphins
Quinton Coples was a first-round pick by the New York Jets in 2012 while Rex Ryan was the head coach, but after the team picked up his fifth-year option for the 2016 season, he was released and claimed by the Miami Dolphins, but the Bills also put in a claim for the “tweener” defensive end/outside linebacker.
Coples stands 6’6” and weighs 285 pounds and was a relatively productive edge player for the Jets under Ryan. In 2014 he racked up seven sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 21 hurries and his 39 total pressures ranked 20thamong 3-4 outside linebackers, while his 18 tackles against the run ranked 18th. In 2013, Coples recorded six sacks, 15 hits and 23 hurries. His 44 pressures ranked 18th and his 21 run stops ranked 10th at his position. Coples has the size, athleticism and versatility to play as an edge rusher in addition to sliding to inside as an interior defender in nickel situations.
7. S Baccari Rambo, 25, Bills (RFA)
Baccari Rambo was signed during the middle of the 2014 season and quickly made a name for himself, picking off two Aaron Rodgers passes to seal a win over the Packers. Since then, Rambo worked himself into a backup role, before an injury pushed him into the starting lineup. He performed admirably, showing great instincts in coverage and awareness of route concepts. He’ll be tendered or offered a relatively inexpensive contract, and it’s worth it.
8. OG Alex Boone, 28, 49ers
If the Bills can’t bring back Richie Incognito, Boone will surge up this list, but after rookie third-round pick John Miller’s struggles last year, it’s definitely not out of the question for the team to bring in a veteran that knows Greg Roman’s system and has thrived in it.
9. LB Derrick Johnson, 33, Chiefs
Derrick Johnson is getting up in age, but he still graded out as PFF’s No. 3 inside linebacker last season after excelling against the run and the pass. His 60 stops ranked 3rd and surrendered just 338 yards on 63 targets, holding receivers to 7.7 yards per catch while quarterbacks posted a 68.1 passer rating when targeting him, the sixth-lowest number among inside linebackers. The veteran 6’3” 245 pounder would be a great, inexpensive asset for Buffalo’s defense.
10. TE Jermaine Gresham, 27, Cardinals
The Buffalo Bills signed Charles Clay to a lucrative deal last offseason, but offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme frequently relies on multiple tight ends—particularly ones that can block—and Jermaine Gresham could be an ideal fit. The former first-round pick never lived up to his pre-draft hype, but he’s been one of the league’s best run and pass blocking tight ends over the years.
The 6’6” 271 pounder played about half of the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive snaps, primarily as a blocker. He didn’t allow a single sack and surrendered just one quarterback hit and three hurries. The Bills brought in Matthew Mulligan last season to be a blocking specialist but it didn’t work out, so signing an established veteran is definitely a possibility.
11. DL Stefan Charles, 27, Bills (RFA)
Stefan Charles began seeing an uptick in playing time during the second half of the 2015 season and while he didn’t show up on the stat sheet much, the 6’5” 327 pounder executed his role as a two-gapping nose tackle very well. He’s a restricted free agent that can be tendered at a minimum $675,000 contract and with the needed depth on the defensive line coupled with his fit in the scheme, the Bills would be smart to bring him back.
12. EDGE Courtney Upshaw, 26, Ravens
Courtney Upshaw hasn’t lived up to the pre-draft hype that surrounded him when he was coming out of Alabama, but he’s been one of the best run defenders at his position over the last few years.
Due to playing behind Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Pernell McPhee, Upshaw’s never played more than 50-percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps until this season, as McPhee signed with the Chicago Bears as a free agent and Suggs suffered a torn Achilles.
In 2014, Upshaw saw 239 snaps against the run. He recorded 17 stops 25 solo tackles, the 11th most among 3-4 outside linebackers, an impressive feat considering nine of the players with more tackles played at least 300 snaps. This season he’s had a similar impact, recording 13 stops (3rd-best) and 15 tackles against the run (3rd-most). Upshaw stands 6’1” and is a bulky 275 pounds, is physical at the point of attack and rarely surrenders ground in the run game. Due to being more of a one-dimensional player, Upshaw could be a value signing of the 2016 NFL Free Agency period.
13. WR Mohamed Sanu, 27, Bengals
Mohamed Sanu is a talented wide receiver with decent size (6’1” 211 lbs) and speed, but he’s been the third option behind A.J. Green and Marvin Jones in the Cincinnati Bengals passing attack. Last season he had 36 catches for 411 yards and he’s never eclipsed 800 receiving yards in a season during his career. Depending on the price tag, Sanu could be a nice complement to Sammy Watkins, as he can play both inside and out.
14. QB Matt Moore, 32, Dolphins
The Bills’ front office has made it clear that they want to have security behind Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel. Matt Moore is a veteran that’s proven to be a capable starter when needed. He’s got a good arm, decent mobility and is content with his role as a backup. He could be a player the Bills acquire as insurance in order to keep themselves from forcing a pick on a quarterback.
15. LB Rolando McClain, 26, Cowboys
The former top-10 pick has kept his nose clean in Dallas after a tumultuous start to his career. The 6’4” 255 pounder has racked up 144 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, three interceptions and a forced fumble since returning to football.
In 2014, McClain ranked No. 1 in “Run Stop Percentage” after recording 46 tackles against the run with 37 coming as stops (6th-best among ILB’s) in 244 snaps against the run. For someone that stands 6’4” 260 pounds, McClain is surprisingly solid in coverage, allowing 16 receptions on 24 targets for a 69.6% completion rate (7th-best among ILBs) allowing 126 yards (4th), 7.9 yards-per-reception (7th), 85 yards-after-catch (5th) and hasn’t allowed a touchdown. Quarterbacks are posting a 64.8 passer rating when targeting him, the fifth-lowest total at his position. McClain could be another “reclamation project” for Rex Ryan and the Pegulas while filling a much-needed hole.
16. OT Donald Penn, 32, Raiders
Even if the Bills are to re-sign Cordy Glenn, there’s still major question marks at the right tackle position. 2014’s second and seventh-round picks Cyrus Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson have struggled and Jordan Mills is a restricted free agent. Donald Penn is 32, but would come with veteran experience and drive after playing in Oakland on a series of consecutive one-year deals.
Penn graded out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 10 offensive tackle in 2015 despite allowing seven sacks, five QB hits and 20 hurries.
17. TE MarQueis Gray, 26, Bills (RFA)
MarQueis Gray is a restricted free agent that had his 2015 season cut short due to a forearm injury. Gray is an incredible athlete with good size, speed and blocking ability. He played just 27 offensive snaps in 2015, but had a strong training camp and preseason leading up to the year. Gray shouldn’t cost more than the minimum to retain and he provides value as an H-Back or an in-line blocker.
18. NT Haloti Ngata, 32, Lions
If the Bills can’t afford to acquire Damon Harrison, Haloti Ngata seems like the ideal “dust settle” player that Doug Whaley mentioned. At 32, Ngata isn’t the force he once was when he played under Rex Ryan with the Ravens, but he still can be a valuable contributor on first and second downs. In 2015 the 6’4” 345 pounder graded out as PFF’s No. 23 defensive tackle, while recording 16 tackles and 13 stops against the run and ranking No. 13 in their Pass Rush Productivity metric after notching four sacks, four QB hits and 25 hurries. His 33 pressures ranked 11th among defensive tackles.
19. LB Ty Powell, 27, Bills (RFA)
Lots of fans are connecting the dots to Demario Davis as a free agent inside linebacker addition, but forget that Ty Powell was getting rave reviews from Rex Ryan throughout training camp prior to his season-ending injury. Powell will come at a much lower cost and provide a similar athletic and physical profile to that of Davis. His restricted free agent tender would cost $675,000 for 2016, so it’d be smart for the Bills to retain him before looking at pricier linebackers that aren’t much of an upgrade.
20. WR Rishard Matthews, 26, Dolphins
Rishard Matthews doesn’t have the speed that Harvin or Marquise Goodwin offers, but he has good size (6’1” 210 lbs) and is a solid all-around receiver. Last season, Matthews stepped up for the Dolphins when their first-round pick, Devante Parker was hurt. In Parker’s absence, Matthews caught 43-of-64 targets for 662 yards (15.4 yards-per-catch) and four scores.
He made 10 receptions of 20+ yards, while 244 of his yardage came after the catch. He provided 2.08 yards-per-pass-route he runs, the 17th most efficient total among 85 wide receivers. Matthews’ quarterback posted a passer rating of 125.1 when targeting him, which ranks fourth at his position. Overall it’s a weak crop of free agent wide receivers so the price points that these players sign at will be interesting, but Rishard Matthews is definitely a player to keep an eye on in regards to the Bills.