There wasn’t much doubt what the Buffalo Bills needed to do at the start of free agency, and in his first go-round as a full-time general manager, Brandon Beane attacked aggressively, and successfully.
There were gaping holes along the defensive line for a team that ranked 31st in sacks per pass attempt, as well as 29th against the run in 2017. So, Beane tapped into his old Carolina connection and signed defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to a five-year, $50 million contract to essentially replace the departed Marcell Dareus. Beane then coaxed Kyle Williams back to Buffalo for a 13th season with a one-year, $5.5 million contract. The ink was barely dry when he shored up the end position by signing free-agent pass rusher Trent Murphy for three years at $22.5 million.
And, after trading quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, he filled the need for a veteran replacement by patiently letting the quarterback free-spending play out before pouncing on intriguing AJ McCarron at two years for $10 million.
Before the league year even began, Beane, knowing he wasn’t re-signing cornerback E.J. Gaines, signed veteran Vontae Davis, and he also filled the backup running back spot by signing Chris Ivory.
In the weeks since those splashes, he has methodically plugged away at the missing depth by signing cornerback Phillip Gaines, wide receiver Kaelin Clay, center Russell Bodine (who could actually end up starting, given his 64 career starts in Cincinnati), and tackle Marshall Newhouse.
Here is a closer look at where the Bills are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2017 finish: 2nd AFC East (9-7)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 302.6 (29th)
RUSHING: 126.1 (6th)
PASSING: 176.6 (31st)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 355.1 (26th)
RUSHING: 124.6 (29th)
PASSING: 230.5 (20th)
- Quarterback: Signing McCarron was a smart move, but the Bills have to make every play possible to acquire their potential franchise quarterback in this draft. Thanks to the trade of left tackle Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati, the Bills now have the 12th and 21st picks in the first round, plus two picks in each of the second and third rounds, so they have more than enough capital to perhaps get as high as the Giants’ spot at No. 2, assuming the Giants are willing to deal.
- Linebacker: The Bills did not re-sign Preston Brown, the quarterback of their defense the past four seasons. He ended up in Cincinnati on a one-year, $4 million contract, an indication that Brown really wasn’t a commodity the Bills were interested in. Matt Milano is the lone returning linebacker who figures to be a full-time starter, especially with Lorenzo Alexander turning 35-years-old, so the Bills have major work to do as they need a middle linebacker and an outside linebacker.
- Wide receiver. Signing Clay, who was briefly with Buffalo last season, gives the Bills some much-needed speed, but he has contributed very little on offense to both the Panthers and Bills and is more of a return specialist. Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin need help, and a deep threat is the greatest need.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
–RB Travaris Cadet: UFA; $880K/1 yr, $45K SB.
–LB Ramon Humber: UFA; $1.1005/1 yr, $60K SB.
–RB Taiwan Jones: UFA; $880K/1 yr, $45K SB.
–DT Kyle Williams: Potential UFA; $5.5M/1 yr, $4.5M guaranteed/$2.25M SB/$500K RB.
–C Russell Bodine: UFA Bengals; $5M/2 yrs, $2.15M guaranteed/$1M SB.
–FS Rafael Bush: UFA Saints; $3.5M/2 yrs, $900K guaranteed/$600K SB.
–WR Kaelin Clay: Not tendered as RFA by Panthers; $720K/1 yr, $90 SB.
–CB Vontae Davis: FA; $5M/1 yr, $3.5M guaranteed/$1M SB.
–DE Terrence Fede: UFA Dolphins; terms unknown.
–CB Phillip Gaines: UFA Bills; $675K/1 yr.
–RB Chris Ivory: FA Jaguars; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed/$1.5M SB.
–DT Star Lotulelei: UFA Panthers; $50M/5 yrs, $25M guaranteed (6.5M injury only at time of signing, $13M SB).
–QB AJ McCarron: UFA Bengals; $10M/2 yrs, $6M guaranteed ($1.1M injury only at signing, $4M SB).
–LB Trent Murphy: UFA Redskins; $22.5M/3 yrs, $10.375M guaranteed ($2.5M injury only at signing, $5.25M SB, $500K RB)
–T Marshall Newhouse: FA Raiders; $1.5M/1 yr, $500 SB.
–LB Julian Stanford: UFA Jets; $3M/2 yrs, $550K fully guaranteed/$350K SB.
–WR Rod Streater: FA; $790K/1 yr.
–LB Preston Brown: UFA Bengals; $4M/1 yr, $2M SB/$1M WO.
–DE Ryan Davis (released).
–CB E.J. Gaines: UFA Browns; $4M/1 yr.
–T Cordy Glenn (traded Bengals).
–T Seantrel Henderson: UFA Texans; $4M/1 yr, $1M guaranteed/$500K SB.
–WR Jordan Matthews: UFA Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–QB Tyrod Taylor (traded Browns).
–WR Deonte Thompson: UFA Cowboys; $1.8M/1 yr, $1M SB.
–QB Joe Webb III: UFA Texans; terms unknown.
–C Eric Wood (retired).
–CB Shareece Wright: UFA Raiders; $1.005M/1 yr, $90K RB.
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 12 overall)
Rob Rang (April 5 mock draft):
–Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Bills’ trade of starting left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Bengals is a thinly veiled plan to be in better position to take advantage of the talent in this year’s quarterback class with another trade into the top five possible, if not likely. After working with Tyrod Taylor and Cam Newton, defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott might be more comfortable than most with a dual-threat quarterback like Mayfield operating the offense. Despite signing AJ McCarron in the offseason, the Bills have shown plenty of interest in this year’s top quarterbacks, including Mayfield, who was scheduled for a two-day visit April 9-10 at the team facility.
Dane Brugler (April 6 mock draft):
–Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. The most likely scenario is for the Bills to trade into the top-five picks for a quarterback, and the Giants might be open for business. Hopefully for Buffalo fans, Allen is the long-term answer at quarterback.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks and ratings at NFLDraftScout.com.