The Buffalo Bills have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season, so it’s time to look at the 2016 NFL Free Agents in addition to starting my work on 2016 NFL Draft prospects. Here, we’ll break down the biggest needs of the Buffalo Bills going forward, offering a free agent as well as a draft prospect that could potentially fill that need during the 2016 NFL Offseason.
Key Buffalo Bills Free Agents
Right now, Cordy Glenn should be the Bills’ biggest priority in free agency. The 2012 second-rounder is a solid player that gets the job done on a regular basis. Retaining Glenn is extremely important for the direction of the franchise, especially when you consider the lack of development from 2014 draft picks Cyrus Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson.
Tyron Smith is the highest paid tackle in the NFL with a $99 million deal, but Glenn isn’t near that tier of talent. To find a reasonable contract for Glenn, I thought it best to compare him to players of similar talent and situation at the time of their free agency.
With the projected increase in the 2016 NFL Salary Cap number, those contracts will need to inflate accordingly. I can see the Bills retaining Glenn with a five-year, $45 million deal.
Richie Incognito took a one-year, $1.3 million that could grow to $2.2 million had he met specific play-time incentives. Incognito returned and played better than ever, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 2 overall graded guard for the 2015 season. More importantly, Incognito seems to have changed from the “goof ball, prankster” label that got him blackballed by the league after the Miami Dolphins Incident.
As CBSSports.com’s Joel Corry noted, Incognito’s highest pay was $4.3 million per year in 2011, but should be able to command a deal just below the near $8 million per year of Baltimore Ravens guard Marshall Yanda.
Incognito’s play and personal change speak for themselves, but it will be interesting to see if he looks to take a competitive offer to stay with the only team that would give him a chance to play, or simply go to the highest bidder.
Buffalo Bills’ Biggest Roster Needs
After looking at current and future contracts and studying the schemes ran on both sides of the ball, Rich Fann and I came up with eight positions the Bills need to address this offseason—whether that be in Free Agency or via the NFL Draft.
In no specific order, these needs are as follows: Backup/developmental quarterback, starting inside linebacker, boundary WR with size that can attack vertically, starting RT, starting two-gap/space eating nose tackle, five-technique defensive end (if Mario Williams is released), safety depth and an edge defender to play opposite Jerry Hughes, behind Manny Lawson.
The Bills missed mightily with their second-round selection of Cyrus Kouandjio in the 2014 NFL Draft and Seantrel Henderson is now diagnosed with Chron’s Disease, leaving his future uncertain. The Bills will need to retain left tackle Cordy Glenn and left guard Richie Incognito, but upgrading the right side of the line is a major need as well.
Free Agent Options
Andre Smith, 28, Bengals
Andre Smith will hit the free agent market this offseason after the Bengals drafted two tackles in last year’s draft. The 6’4” 332 pounder is a former top draft pick that’s a bit inconsistent in pass protection, but is a solid run blocker. In the last four seasons, Smith has allowed 20 sacks, six QB hits and 79 hurries while ranking 17th, 3rd, 13th and 19th in total pressures allowed.
Smith is an underrated run blocker, as Bengals running backs have picked up 395 yards and four scores at a 4.1 yards-per-carry average when running behind him. Over the past four seasons, the Bengals have had great success when running behind Smith, as you can see by the table below.
Taylor Decker, Ohio State
Taylor Decker has protoypical size (6’7” 315 lbs) and strength for the tackle position but he’s he’ll need to refine his technique as a run blocker. Too often he’ll rely on his physical abilities to create movement in the run game, displaying sloppy technique that will backfire at times. However, there’s no questioning that he has the potential to improve on the technical aspects of his game, as he regularly shows the ability to drive defenders off the ball.
Decker is a quality pass protector that has the athleticism to get into his pass set quickly and possesses the agility necessary to move laterally while mirroring defenders. His 6’7” stature and long arms allow him to use his hands to fight with opposing pass rushers and assist in recovery when he’s slow to get out of his stance. He has a bit of Jake Long to him and if he can refine his technique and be more consistent, Decker should be a solid player for several years.
It was clear that both Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown struggled adjusting to Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman’s hybrid defense throughout the season. Bradham will become an unrestricted free agent and it’s likely that the Bills let him test the market.
This year in Ryan’s defense, Preston Brown, who played the “Mike” made the calls, while Bradham was the “Buck.” In this scheme, the Buck needs to be gap conscious at all times, something that was an issue this year, as Bradham routinely over-pursued on countless slow-developing run plays or play-action passes. He also needs to be able to stack and shed blockers, to allow the “Mike” to make plays, while possessing the athleticism to scrape laterally over the play and shoot gaps when needed.
Free Agent Options
Demario Davis, 26, Jets
Demario Davis was a full-time starter at the inside linebacker position next to David Harris under Rex Ryan’s tenure with the New York Jets. The 2012 third-round pick stands 6’2” and weighs 240 pounds, flashing great speed, physicality and leadership that had Ryan raving about him as a rookie.
Since 2013, Davis has recorded 301 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, eight pass breakups and an interception while playing within Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive system until Todd Bowles brought his hybrid 4-3 scheme this past season.
Davis hasn’t been outstanding by any means, failing to rank in the top 20 run-stoppers per ProFootballFocus’ “Run Stop Percentage” stat since 2013, and he’s inconsistent in pass coverage, but he’s a solid all-around player. As a blitzer, Davis is one of the best at his position, registering 6.5 sacks, 13 QB hits and 36 QB hurries in 393 pass rushing snaps over the last three seasons.
Davis knows what Rex expects from his players and he knows the system as well, having played over 2,200 snaps in their three seasons together.
Rolando McClain, 26, Cowboys
Rolando McClain was a top ten pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, but off-field issues forced him out of the league before he retired. The Cowboys lured him out of retirement last season and the 6’4” 259 pounder showed that he was still the talented thumper that anchored the Alabama Crimson Tide defense to a National Championship.
Since returning, he’s played 21 games after serving six games of suspensions. He’s racked up 144 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, three interceptions and forced a fumble. 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.
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Reggie Ragland is a 6’2” 252-pounder that is the heart and soul of Alabama’s front seven. In the last two seasons, he’s racked up 185 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, eight pass breakups and an interception. According to CFBFilmRoom.com, Ragland missed just seven tackles during the 2015 season, the 23rd highest of full-time linebackers, trailing highly touted players such as Jaylon Smith, Darron Lee and Deion Jones.
He’s an instinctive player and plays with a physical, downhill mentality when defending the run. Ragland has the athletic ability to perform whatever tasks will be asked of him coverage-wise. He can cover the flats, drop into intermediate zones and has adequate range to close to the sideline.
Rex Ryan defenses have consistently fielded massive nose tackles capable of eating up double teams from the zero-technique in order for his surrounding teammates to make plays. This role has been held by Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Tony Siragusa, Kris Jenkins, Sione Pouha, Kenrick Ellis, and most recently, Damon Harrison. Marcell Dareus played this role well in 2015, where he used his power and quickness to anchor against doubles on a regular basis. However, for a guy making $100 million, you probably want him being that teammate making plays, rather than the guy eating up blockers to allow it.
Free Agent Options
Damon Harrison, 27, Jets
Damon Harrison signed with Rex Ryan’s Jets as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft. The 6’4” 350-pounder burst onto the scene in 2013 and established himself as one of the league’s top nose tackles and run defenders. In the past three seasons, Harrison has recorded 183 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, two sacks and broke up two passes. The stat line isn’t flashy, even when you add his 34 quarterback pressures, but when looking at his impact against the run it’s easy to see why he’d be a valuable asset to the Bills’ defense.
Harrison has ranked No. 1 in each of the last three seasons in ProFootballFocus’ “Run Stop Percentage” metric, as 125 of his 183 tackles came against the run, with 107 resulting in a “stop” or a stuff. He did this in 743 snaps against the run, posting a ridiculous 14.4 run stop percentage—more than double the league average among defensive tackles.
Andrew Billings, Baylor
Andrew Billings is a 6’2” 320-pound disruptive force in the middle of the Baylor Bears’ defense. Billings has an ideal build for the nose tackle position, possessing a strong, thick lower body that allows him to anchor, or hold his ground against double-teams, with a compact upper-half and long arms that he knows how to use to his advantage. He’s an incredible athlete with a relentless motor and from all accounts, he’s a fantastic person off-the-field as well.
He’s a versatile, explosive and physically gifted defensive lineman that has a skill-set that will allow him to play a variety of positions along the defensive line. He’s strong enough to line up directly over the center as a true nose tackle and defeat double teams when two-gapping. He’s also quick and powerful enough to create pressure and penetration with his athletic ability that projects well to the one-technique (in between the guard and center– a “shaded” nose tackle.