Kawika Mitchell and Spencer Johnson aren't sure bets to succeed in Buffalo.
Buffalo's acquisition of former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud for third- and fifth-round picks last weekend has understandably been the Bills' most talked about move this offseason.
But what about the decisions the Bills have made in the free-agent market so far?
For starters, the Bills signed weakside linebacker Kawika Mitchell to a five-year, $17.5 million contract last Friday. Mitchell, a five-year veteran, is a player who seems like a big upgrade over Buffalo's former right-side starter, Keith Ellison. In addition, Mitchell, previously a Kansas City Chief and New York Giant, brings credibility to the Bills as their only player with a Super Bowl ring. He was a key member of the Giants' title-winning team in 2007-08, racking up 76 tackles and 3.5 sacks during the season; he was also fantastic during New York's four playoff games.
However, the addition of Mitchell doesn't come without its share of concern. The 28-year-old was run out of Kansas City last offseason because he was a poor fit in its Cover 2 defense, the same scheme the Bills run. The 6-foot-1, 253-pound Mitchell, who played the middle for the Chiefs, was below par in pass coverage; however, that was masked somewhat when he moved to the outside for the Giants and demonstrated his run-stopping prowess.
Another issue is that Big Blue didn't exactly put forth a major effort to re-sign Mitchell, who only spent one season in the Meadowlands. Why? Because he wasn't viewed as an overly important cog in their defense; one has to wonder how positive the impact of the Giants' star-studded defensive line was on Mitchell, who was free to roam the field as stalwarts like Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck took care of upfront blockers. The Bills are obviously hoping their line, which will include Stroud at nose tackle and ends Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay -- neither of whom is on par with any of the Giants' ends -- will have the same effect on Mitchell's game. Whether it does remains to be seen, of course.
Without question, Buffalo's most under-the-radar move this March was its signing of ex-Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Spencer Johnson to a five-year, $17.5 million contract. Before they added Johnson, the Bills wisely released veteran Larry Tripplett, a former Colt who was a major disappointment in two seasons with Buffalo.
As far as Johnson goes, one has to wonder why the Bills handed so much money ($6 million in guarantees) to a player who frankly hasn't proven much in his four NFL seasons. Backing up the Williams Wall (Vikings DTs Pat and Kevin) in 2007, the 286-pound Johnson—a former undrafted free agent from Auburn—totaled 22 tackles, 16 quarterback hurries and three sacks. The 26-year-old is a good pass rusher and decent against the run, but is he ready to fulfill a larger role on a worse D-line than Minnesota's? No longer will Johnson be overshadowed by the Williamses; instead, he'll be expected to rotate with starter John McCargo and accrue a lot of playing time as a three-technique tackle in Buffalo.
As long as the 30-year-old Stroud is healthy, the Bills know they'll be getting one of the league's foremost D-tackles; however, the jury will be out on both Mitchell and Johnson until they fare well in new settings that include more responsibility for the duo. Until the two actually demonstrate they weren't products of their respective surroundings, enthusiasm should be curbed regarding both.