Predicting Buffalo Bills' Free-Agent Targets
The Buffalo Bills have been very hard to peg in terms of what they will do this offseason. Free agency is only two days away, and the early prognostications have been all over the map concerning which players make sense for the new regime in Orchard Park.
General manager Buddy Nix has already brought back two of the biggest in-house question marks in Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin. The only big name still looming for the Bills is fourth-year left guard Andy Levitre, who reportedly has yet to be offered a reasonable contract by the team.
Byrd had the one-year franchise tag applied to him two weeks ago, so Buffalo will have another full season to negotiate a long-term contract with him.
McKelvin and the Bills reportedly agreed to a contract for four years and $20 million, although the exact terms of the deal are still widely unknown.
Cornerback, safety and guard were three positions that the team likely would have tried to fill if its three most important unrestricted free agents all signed elsewhere. With Byrd and McKelvin back for another season, the team now must decide if Levitre is the answer at left guard or if it will bring in a player from another team.
Levitre makes the most sense for fans of the team, but the new coaching staff may have a few players on its mind that make more sense for the new offensive schemes.
The 2013 free-agent market may have the shine of big names across the board, but there is no telling how much of a player Buffalo will be beginning Tuesday.
Until the 2012 offseason signings of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, Buffalo had spent much of the last decade waiting for the dust to settle in the first week of free agency. With the team looking to build through the draft, it could be a quiet first week for the team again in 2013.
Andy Levitre, Louis Vasquez, Jake Scott
Andy Levitre is the most obvious solution to Buffalo's current hole at guard. Levitre has been on the verge of Pro Bowl status for the last two seasons and tends to be seen as a top-10 player at his position.
The former Oregon State product has two things going form him in a possible reunion with the Bills.
First, Levitre has the familiarity with his teammates and the front office. He has mentioned a few times in passing that he will not give Buffalo a so-called hometown discount, but he wants to remain with the team.
Buffalo has built up one of the best young lines in the league, and taking its most consistent player away from that will mess up the chemistry that has been forming.
Second, Buffalo knows Levitre's value, even more so than other teams. Levitre has played all positions on the line during four seasons due to injuries to other members of the line.
He also has a hard-nosed mentality that the Buffalo faithful love to see in their players. Fans of the team have been clamoring for a new contract since the 2011 season, and the honeymoon feeling of the new direction would fade if Buffalo is unable to retain Levitre.
While it would have been nice for the team to agree to a contract before Tuesday's opening of the free-agent gates, there is still time for the team to re-up with one of its most popular players.
Louis Vasquez would provide a good substitution if Levitre does end up departing. The 25-year-old guard from Texas Tech has improved every season he has been in the league and started a full 16-game slate for the first time last year.
Vasquez ranked as one of the better guards according to Pro Football Focus, including an appearance on the Week 2 list as the best guard of the week.
Jake Scott would be a cheap one-year stopgap at guard if Levitre moves on and the Bills cannot recruit any big-name replacements.
Scott went unsigned until the middle of the season last year, but started seven games for the Philadelphis Eagles after Danny Watkins was benched. The former Colt and Titan guard had started every game for six straight seasons and fits well into a zone-blocking scheme.
Scott Chandler's ACL injury at the tail end of the 2012 season has left a big hole at the tight end spot for Buffalo. Chandler impressed coaches with his big frame and ability to create mismatches in the red zone, but his injury leaves only Dorin Dickerson, Lee Smith and Mike Caussin on the roster.
Dickerson is undersized for a tight end and was purely used as a receiver last year. Smith and Caussin offer very little in the passing game, but are above-average blockers.
Buffalo could find a guy who does a little bit of both with James Casey, a free agent with the Houston Texans.
Casey played the H-back position to perfection last year for Houston, serving as a lead blocker out of the backfield on a good chunk of the Texans' possessions. Coming out of Rice University, Casey was seen as more of a receiving tight end, but he has carved himself a nice niche in the NFL.
With Corey McIntyre searching for greener pastures, Buffalo has a spot open at both tight end and fullback. Casey would be a low-risk player who would provide stability to both positions, depending on how the new coaching staff uses him.
His 34 catches last season was a career-high in his four-year stint in the NFL, and he is now entering his prime as a 28-year-old player with minimal wear and tear.
Again, not a sexy pick, but Buffalo is not going to shell out big dollars for defensive ends for the second year in a row. As nice as it would be to see a combination of Cliff Avril and Mario Williams, guys like William Hayes or incumbent Kyle Moore are more reasonable options.
Hayes was an interesting player coming out of Winston-Salem in the 2008 draft. He did not provide much return on investment in four seasons for the Tennessee Titans, but his 2012 season with the St. Louis Rams was a step in the right direction.
The 27-year-old piled up seven sacks as part of a rotation with Robert Quinn and Chris Long, becoming more of a pass-rusher than a run-stuffer as he was in Tennessee.
Hayes still has the option of re-signing with St. Louis; after all, Jeff Fisher is the reason he went to the Rams in the first place. However, Hayes might look elsewhere for a place with less stability at the position, and he would be a camp competition away from being the opening day starter at end in Buffalo.
Now a world champion, Paul Kruger may receive one of the biggest deals during this free agency period.
Does that probably take the Bills out of contention for his services? Maybe, but the team is so desperate for an outside linebacker that it may be willing to open its pockets for one.
The former Utah defensive end, Kruger reached the pinnacle of his talent last season with a nine-sack effort in the regular season. He was also a disruptive player in the Baltimore Ravens' playoff run, which ended in a Super Bowl victory.
Gary Davenport, a NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, believes that Kruger will be the biggest bust in the 2013 free-agent class.
While Kruger has been slow to develop in four seasons with only 6.5 career sacks entering the year, he looks like a player who could string a few good seasons together under the right staff. Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes athletic players who can play in a 4-3 or 3-4 set, of which Kruger qualifies.
Mike Jenkins is an interesting name only because no one is talking about the former Dallas Cowboys cornerback.
Jenkins is only a few years removed from having a very good season and being named outright to the NFC Pro Bowl roster. The Cowboys replaced him with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, but Jenkins still has the talent to be a third corner.
McKelvin's re-signing with Buffalo may make a move for a corner less likely, but a player like Jenkins may be willing to take a short deal to improve his stock around the league. Jenkins is a more natural corner than McKelvin, and with unknowns surrounding Aaron Williams, Buffalo may be willing to take on another free-agent corner.
Jenkins is still only 27 and has eight career interceptions to his name. The seven corners Buffalo has listed on its roster have a combined 10 career interceptions.