The Buffalo Bills took a back seat in the first part of the free agency period, but made a splash as the second wave of free agents became more accessible. Debatably the most significant move the Bills made this offseason was to keep the offensive line intact. With LT Richie Incognito’s resigning, LT Cordy Glenn’s $13.7 million tender contract being signed, and still having pro-bowler Eric Wood under contract, the offensive line has very high expectations in 2016. Additionally, the Bills went out and signed seven-year veteran center/guard Fernando Velasco from Carolina, and restricted free agent T Jordan Mills signed the qualifying offer he was tendered on March 7. With all these additions and added depth, the offensive line is the most stable position going into the 2016 season.
The Bills have taken an active role in addressing their lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, but is still the main point of improvement moving forward. LB Zach Brown and CB Corey White both visited Orchard Park on April 4th, and it didn’t take very long for them to make a decision as they signed with the Bills just hours after arriving in Buffalo.
Brown, who played all five of his professional seasons with Tennessee, is a perfect fit to work alongside current starter Preston Brown. The pair will complement each other very nicely; Zach Brown is an experienced player at the linebacker position, while Preston Brown still has room to mature and develop as a player. The linebacker from Tennessee saw a very productive first two seasons as a starter with the Titans, totaling 90-plus tackles before suffering a torn pectoral muscle and missing the entire 2014 season. In his impressive return in 2015, he contributed 77 tackles and 2 interceptions.
Meanwhile, with the departure of cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks opening up holes in the depth chart, Corey White will provide much-needed experience that will be valuable to the Buffalo secondary. The 5th year player out of Samford was drafted in the 5th round by New Orleans in 2012, and found himself playing for the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. The most successful season of his career came in 2014 when he recorded 50-plus tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Although the Buffalo Bills are taking steps in the right direction, they still have holes to fill throughout their roster. With a seemly-disappointing 8-8 record in 2015 and suffering from their 16th straight season without a playoff berth, the expectations are astronomical for the 2016 season. It is tough to imagine what the town of Orchard Park will encounter if the Buffalo Bills end the 2016 season without a playoff bid. That being said, here are the most important positions of need that the Bills still need to address as we approach the draft.
1. Defensive End
The Bills released DE Mario Williams in early March, so there is definitely room for improvement here. Currently their most productive end is Jerry Hughes, who found his fair share of inconsistency in 2015. That leaves 3rd year player IK Enemkpali, who didn’t start a single game in 2015, as their second edge player. The Buffalo defense struggled unexpectedly last season, and a main issue was rushing the passer. While the Bills’ aggressive defense piled up a league-high 54 sacks in 2014, this past year they only totaled a woeful 21 sacks. The lack of depth and talent-level at this position, or at any position in the front seven, is the main concern of the Buffalo Bills.
The linebacker position is definitely a focus moving forward for the Bills. Starter Nigel Bradham signed with Philadelphia in March which certainly leaves a gap to fill for next season. Especially when monitoring in the 3-4 system, talented pass rushers and run stoppers on the edge are at a premium, so the Bills will need to make a splash at this position. Starting LB Preston Brown had a good year in 2015, but his inconsistency is still concerning for the Bills, considering he is the only returning starter at the linebacker position (excluding Manny Lawson who plays both LB and DE). The depth at this position is discouraging as well since rookie AJ Tarpley found himself retiring prematurely, but the recent signing of Zach Brown could help with this problem.
3. Wide Receiver
The Buffalo Bills could use some additions at the receiver spot. Sammy Watkins was very productive in 2015, but not many other receivers gave significant contributions throughout the season. The talented veteran Percy Harvin had a roller-coaster season in Buffalo; he produced in some games, was irrelevant in others, and constantly battled injuries for the duration of the season, not to mention he is an unrestricted free agent as a result of his contract being voided. The production of backup WR Robert Woods decreased tremendously, and Chris Hogan, who was a reliable target for Tyrod Taylor, recently signed with New England this offseason. Although Buffalo resigned Leonard Hankerson who only played a handful of plays in the last game of 2015 against the Jets, the wide receiver position could use either a big talented player from the draft, or a very reliable veteran to top off the already-talented offense.