Buffalo Bills: Free Agency Outlook
by Evan Zinger (@evan_zinger)
After an overall successful season with the Bills going 13-3, winning their first playoff game in 25 years, and making it to the AFC Championship, they are left with a roster with few holes but their own impending free agents. There are upgrades to be had, but it, of course, is worth evaluating with of your free agents to prioritize signing and which to let go.
These are quick evaluations and suggestions as to what the Bills should do with those players.
DE Trent Murphy – Let him walk. Murphy was brought in to be another pass rusher in the Bills’ arsenal and he never really lived up to that potential. He did put up solid pressure numbers in Washington before he signed with Buffalo but was also coming off of a torn ACL; this move was a gamble to sign him to roughly $9 million per year. This was one of Brandon Beane’s signings that didn’t really work out, and he was even a healthy scratch in later games of the 2020 season.
TE Tyler Kroft – Let him walk. Another move that was a fair overpay, the Bills chose to void the final year of Kroft’s three-year deal. He topped out as a solid TE2 in Cincinnati when he signed with Buffalo, and he was outplayed to that spot even on a team with one of the weakest TE rooms in the league. Expect a draft pick or cheap signing to replace Kroft here; like Trent Murphy, he was also deactivated for the final few games of the season. His largest contribution of the year was a TD catch in Week 3 to nullify the Rams’ comeback down 28-3.
CB Josh Norman – Re-sign to a one-year deal. Norman was brought in to try to revive his career with his defensive coordinator from his time with the Panthers in 2015 during his breakout season, now Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott. Struggling through injuries and COVID-19, when he finally hit the field he forced and recovered a fumble in his first game. While he didn’t play on a great level, he would be worth signing again with even probably a lower cap hit than $6 million like his last contract; at 33, he would continue to be a good mentor, and he is already well-liked in the Buffalo community and his charitable causes have been much appreciated.
OT Ty Nsekhe – Let him walk. While a solid depth piece and without much tread on the tires, at some point, your body just starts to slow down regardless of how much you’ve used it. Neskhe is 34 and it would be better for the Bills to take a flier on some younger depth.
OG Jon Feliciano – Re-sign to a two-year deal. Feliciano can play all three interior line positions and provides depth at all three whenever called on, and when given time in a starting role he has provided some stability to that position. He is a relatively mediocre pass blocker but is perhaps the only Bills interior lineman who is a net positive in the run game. You could definitely do better than Feliciano, but in a league where the average offensive line is actually below average overall at this point, Feliciano would make a solid starter on most teams, including Buffalo. Add the extra year to give him some stability in his life as well.
OG Brian Winters – Let him walk. Winters is a prime example of why offensive line depth is so important. Originally signed once the Jets released him, he was slotted in at right guard and proceeded to be benched. Players started coming back from injuries and he never received another chance. At 29, it’s difficult to see him being a net positive to the team. The Jets line was historically bad two years ago – what else would a team expect bringing in one of that team’s starters?
OT Daryl Williams – Re-sign to a long-term deal. One of the best signings of the last offseason, Williams provided stability and high-quality play at right tackle, something the Bills have been seeking for a while and never really got out of 2019 second-round pick Cody Ford. He definitely played his way into a large contract, pass blocking well enough to keep QB Josh Allen on his feet and have his breakout year. Both of his great years in the league came when he started all games at right tackle; if the Bills re-sign him they would make Allen a very happy man.
QB Matt Barkley – Let him walk. Endearing to Reddit users under the name u/M_A_T_T_H_E_W, at this point he’s more or less a glorified QB coach. With Allen having made a lot of progress, the Bills could use a flat upgrade at backup QB. Jake Fromm, who was the Bills emergency COVID quarterback this year, could be his replacement.
KR Andre Roberts – Re-sign to a one-year deal. A WRINO (wide receiver in name only), Roberts has been a premier kick and punt returner for the past several years. Just this past season, he led the league in kick return average and was named a Pro Bowler and Second-Team All-Pro. He is getting older, so a one-year deal is probably the smarter route in case of a quick decline.
ST Taiwan Jones – Re-sign to a one-year deal. A special teams ace, Jones provided another solid body to the Bills’ improving special teams and should be kept around until they can find a good replacement. Not as large a priority, but he would be nice to keep for them.
HB TJ Yeldon – Re-sign to a one-year deal. Mostly deactivated throughout the year, Yeldon did provide comfort knowing that you had a solid option at the position after Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, and this knowledge became useful when Zack Moss because injured in the playoffs. He is also a better pass blocker than Singletary and a better receiver than both, so he has a purpose staying. It’s possible he gets a permanent active roster spot somewhere else, however.
S Dean Marlowe – Let him walk. A player Sean McDermott seems to adore, it is likely he will be back, but with as much as McDermott likes to rotate players and have solid depth, you could probably do with an upgrade. The only thing he did of note was intercept two passes in Week 17 in a game that was largely irrelevant to the Bills.
LB Matt Milano – Re-sign to a long term deal. Here’s the big one. One of the elite coverage linebackers in the game, Milano was an extremely impactful player whenever he was on the field. It particularly showed last season, where the Bills defense turned from below average to above average in most statistics just when you put Milano on the field. It is also necessary because the two other starters the Bills use are Tremaine Edmunds and AJ Klein, two of the worst coverage linebackers in the league (don’t let the two Pro Bowls fool you).
CB Levi Wallace – Re-sign to a two-year deal. Perpetually stuck in a battle for his spot as a CB2, Wallace has been a solid, if unspectacular, player for Buffalo since he came into the league as an undrafted free agent three years ago. One of the reasons that he is often looked down on heavily is that it’s hard to play next to All-Pro Tre’Davious White and not get a vast majority of the targets, and naturally allowed yards and TDs. It seems as though he always has to fight off someone for his job, and no doubt that will happen again, hence the shorter contract.
P Corey Bojorquez – Re-sign to a long term deal. He averaged over 50 yards a punt. He can punt a ball ‘over them mountains.’ Just don’t expect to even use him, the Bills scored more often than they punted last season; in fact; Bojorquez wouldn’t have been on record as averaging over 50 yards a punt if he hadn’t punted a couple of times in Week 17.
WR Isaiah McKenzie – Re-sign to a two-year deal. A gadget player, McKenzie can play WR, run jet sweeps, and return kicks and punts if needed (particularly if the aforementioned Andre Roberts is not re-signed). Bills’ coaches have also made a point that he could be used in a Cole Beasley-like slot role if needed. He capped his year off with a 3 TD game, catching two and returning a punt. Among players with at least 30 targets, McKenzie was first in completion percentage (90.9%) and second in passer rating when targeted (141.9). Shorter contracts work better for gadget players as some of them are a dime a dozen, but McKenzie is one that has been incredibly useful for the Bills.
Other free agents that should be given short-term deals: LB Andre Smith, DT Justin Zimmer, OG Ike Boettger
Of course, all these things will come down to the money in each of these deals, especially since the salary cap is getting squeezed a bit tighter. Bills GM Brandon Beane will have to make some tough decisions, but there are recommendations for where to start.