Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for the Buffalo Bills
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Most NFL talk this week is focused on the NFL combine, but free agency is slowly creeping up upon us. Starting on March 12, a free-agent frenzy will begin for all 32 NFL teams.
Among them, the Buffalo Bills will be looking to update their roster. With about $20.9 million in cap space, Buffalo has money to spend. That said, the money will most likely be going towards their own free agents. Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News breaks down how the money could be spent:
The Bills need about $5.5 million in cap space for their 2013 draft choices. They need $6.8 million for a franchise tag to retain the rights to safety Jairus Byrd. A tender offer for restricted free agent David Nelson is $1.3 million.
These totals come to $13.6 million and Buffalo will also need to set aside money for their draft class as well.
Could Buffalo find money elsewhere? Absolutely.
Today, Russ Brandon told Joe Buscaglia of WGR550.com that some veterans could still be cut.
Russ Brandon said a lot of decisions have to be made soon. He wouldn't rule out anything, including cutting more veteran players. #Bills
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) February 21, 2013
If Buffalo frees up more money, they may throw money at a "big name" available.
Buffalo certainly needs to upgrade its roster if it wants to make any noise in 2013. Here are six positions the Bills may explore in free agency.
No. 6 Tight End
Myers had a great season in 2012, but he won't break the bank in free agency.
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In truth, I expect Buffalo to address this need in the draft, as there is plenty of talent available and the Bills should be able to draft a decent tight end in the later rounds of the draft.
However, the free-agent pool is intriguing at the position.
Some of the notable names hitting free agency include Jared Cook, Dustin Keller, Martellus Bennett, Anthony Fasano, Delanie Walker, Brandon Myers and Fred Davis.
“I would think he would be with us next year. He's a big part of our offense. How it gets done, we'll just have to see.”
Keller doesn't want to be franchised by the Jets, but he's certainly a candidate for their tag.
Of the names above, Myers intrigues me the most. In Oakland, Myers caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns. A lot of Myers' production came late in games when the Raiders were playing catch up, but Myers has great hands and was a mismatch for opposing defenses.
If Buffalo plans on drafting a tight end, they may still add a lower-tier veteran due to Chandler's injury and their lack of depth.
One candidate would be the recently released Kevin Boss. He truly hasn't been productive since the 2010 season, but he'd be a decent option at tight end until Chandler is ready to return.
No. 5 Wide Receiver
Greg Jennings would be a welcome addition to Buffalo's roster.
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The Buffalo Bills need a lot of help at the wide receiver position. They currently have Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, Brad Smith and RFA David Nelson.
Although, according to Nelson, talks aren't exactly running smoothly, or at all, with the Bills:
It's safe to say that the Bills will be adding a wide receiver or two in the draft or free agency. The free-agent wide receiver crop is pretty impressive. Some of the bigger name free agents that may hit the market include: Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings and Brian Hartline.
Buffalo needs help on the outside, so you can scratch Welker and Amendola off from their potential targets.
Brian Galliford of BuffaloRumblings.com wrote a fantastic piece that talks about Bowe's stock falling in free agency. Bowe's effort is questioned in the piece by some notable names at Sports Illustrated.
That said, Bowe is exactly what Buffalo is looking for in an outside wide receiver. No one knows for sure what Bowe will command on the free-agent market, but he may price himself out of Buffalo's range.
The Dolphins are reportedly targeting Mike Wallace, and they certainly have the money to sign him. Back in March 2012, it was reported that Wallace was looking for a contract bigger than Larry Fitzgerald's. Buffalo does not have that type of money and Wallace does not have the track record to earn that large of a payday.
Hartline is more of a No. 2 receiver. This leaves Greg Jennings.
Jennings in Buffalo would be a nice fit. Jennings has played in the elements, so Buffalo's winters would not be anything new to him after playing in Green Bay.
Jennings has also been reported as a candidate to go to Miami due to his relationship with the team's coaching staff. Head coach Joe Philbin was Jennings' offensive coordinator with the Packers from 2007 to 2011.
Jennings had a groin injury for much of the 2012 season, so he may not get a large contract on the open market. Buffalo would be wise to at least see what Jennings is looking for contract wise on March 12.
Writer Update: Well based upon this tweet, it's safe to say Jennings will most likely not be in Buffalo's free agency plans:
No. 4 Veteran Cornerback
Chris Houston would provide the Bills secondary with some veteran experience.
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Buffalo's secondary is young and mistake prone. A veteran presence would help the team immensely.
Heading into 2013, the Buffalo Bills cornerback roster includes: Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Justin Rogers, Ron Brooks, Crezdon Butler and T.J. Heath.
The ages of the cornerbacks? In order from the names above: 22, 22, 25, 24, 25, 25. That averages out to 23.8 years old.
Certainly, a veteran presence in the secondary wouldn't hurt.
Jones and Newman both spent 2012 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Both received significant playing time due to injuries in the team's secondary. Jones was ranked as the sixth-best cornerback in terms of coverage according to Pro Football Focus with a rating of 10.6.
The Bengals reportedly want to bring Jones back, and they plan to meet with his representatives at the combine. There is a strong chance that he may not even hit the market.
Newman may be a decent option for a one- or two-year contract. When the 2013 season begins, Newman will be 35 years old. That said, he was ranked as the 19th-best cornerback in 2012. In coverage, Newman had a +4.8 rating and in run defense he was a +4.0.
Chris Houston was the 23rd-ranked cornerback in 2012. He was a +3.1 in coverage and a +3.4 against the run for the Detroit Lions. He'll turn 29 this year.
A few other names that may draw interest include Joselio Hanson, Leodis McKelvin and Brent Grimes.
Hanson had a decent 2012 season in Oakland, where he was rated as a +3.4 in coverage.
McKelvin is familiar with Buffalo and says he wants to stay in Buffalo. His only condition? He wants to start. While McKelvin played decently in 2012, he still hasn't shown the consistency you'd like in a starting cornerback.
Brent Grimes is a personal favorite of mine. He was looking looking for a large contract entering 2012, but was instead franchised by the Falcons. Unfortunately for Grimes, he tore his ACL and missed most of the 2012 season.
I fully expect Grimes to sign a one-year deal that will allow him to prove his worth. Then in 2014, Grimes could look for a large contract.
No. 3 Linebacker Help
Dannell Ellerbe would be a big upgrade at the LB position for Buffalo.
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The linebacker situation in Buffalo is a mess.
Currently, the Bills roster has the following at each position:
OLB: Nigel Bradham, Bryan Scott, Chris White and Greg Lloyd
ILB: Kelvin Sheppard
It's safe to say that Buffalo needs upgrades and depth in both positions.
In the draft, I'd be shocked if Buffalo didn't draft two linebackers. As for free agency, there are plenty of possibilities.
My top two targets in free agency would be Brad Jones of the Packers and Dannell Ellerbe of the Ravens.
Bart Scott or Calvin Pace, both familiar with Mike Pettine's defense, may also draw interest from Buffalo.
Brad Jones was ranked on Pro Football Focus (PFF) as the 10th-best ILB in 2012. His strongest rating came in run defense, where he was rated as a +8.1. Jones was also a +2.5 in coverage and would be a valuable asset for Buffalo.
Dannell Ellerbe ranked as the 14th-best ILB on PFF in 2012. Ellerbe was rated as a +6.2 in run defense and a +4.5 in pass rush. One area where Ellerbe struggled, however, was in coverage. He was rated as a -5.0, 48th best at the ILB position.
As for the former Jets, Bart Scott ranked as the 18th-best ILB in 2012 with an overall rating of a +1.1. He was a +1.5 in terms of pass rush and +0.6 in run defense. His knowledge of the defense would benefit Buffalo greatly.
Pace was a nightmare in 2012 according to PFF. The site ranked Pace as the 31st-best OLB in a 3-4 base defense. Overall, his rating was a -17.4. In the pass-rush category, Pace had a horrendous -16.3 rating. He was a -4.4 in pass coverage and only a +0.7 against the run.
Jones or Ellerbe would be immediate upgrades over Kelvin Sheppard, who was rated as the 34th-best ILB in the league in 2012.
No. 2 Re-Signing Andy Levitre
Levitre is one of the best guards in the game. He may be too expensive for Buffalo to keep.
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The last two priorities are player-specific for the Bills. First up is offensive guard Andy Levitre.
Levitre is one of the top guards in the NFL. Today, Russ Brandon, the Bills' team president, announced that they'll talk with Levitre's representatives at the combine:
#Bills Team President Russ Brandon said they have meetings this week with both Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre's agents.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) February 21, 2013
According to Pro Football Focus, Levitre ranked as the fourth-best left guard in 2012 and the ninth-best overall offensive guard.
Levitre's overall rating was a +17.3. In terms of pass blocking, his rating was the best in the league at a +15.7. His screen block rating was a +2.5 and his run blocking was a -0.7.
Last season, Carl Nicks signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Buccaneers. Levitre won't be getting that much money, but I wouldn't be shocked if he's looking for at least $7 million per year on the open market.
Levitre may price himself out of Buffalo's plans due to his strong play and many teams desperate for offensive-line help. However, if Levitre gives Buffalo a bit of a "hometown discount," he may be a Buffalo Bill for many years to come.
No. 1 Re-Signing Jarius Byrd
Byrd is one of the few bright spots on Buffalo's defense.
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Jairus Byrd should be Buffalo's top priority in free agency. He's one of the top free agents available and Buffalo is too wise to let him hit the market.
If a contract extension cannot be reached, Byrd is the perfect candidate for the franchise tag. The safety franchise tag is $6.8 million, which is quite affordable considering Byrd's talent level.
In 2012, Jairus Byrd was Pro Football Focus' second-best safety in the league, behind only Eric Weddle.
Byrd's overall rating was a +23.8. In terms of coverage, Byrd was the top safety in the league with a +20.0 rating. Against the run, Byrd was a +3.7. His only negative rating was in the pass rush category where he received a -0.5 rating. Byrd was not sent on many blitzes in 2012, so the negative rating should not faze anyone.
Byrd was responsible for 76 total tackles, four forced fumbles and five interceptions in 2012.
Buffalo's defense needs plenty of help, but Byrd was one of the few bright spots on the defense. It's almost a certainty that Buffalo will keep Byrd around long-term.