Assessing the Value of Buffalo Bills' Upcoming Free Agents
The first step in offseason preparation is to assess the talent on the roster. This process is not only in order to find out where improvements need to be made, but also to find out who should stay and who should go.
The Buffalo Bills have several free agents due for new contracts this offseason, but one big-ticket free agent trumps them all: safety Jairus Byrd.
Nonetheless, each decision will be important, but fortunately for the Bills, they don't have too many decisions to make this season. They have just 13 players with expiring contracts, and only seven of them are set for unrestricted free-agent status.
Here's a primer of each player who's due for a new deal this offseason.
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Role: Byrd is the team's starting free safety and plays a large majority of the snaps. He played 83 percent of the team's snaps in the 11 games he played. He has the burst and closing speed to play sideline-to-sideline as the lone deep safety in Cover 1 and the ball skills to make his share of ridiculous interceptions.
Production: Byrd tied with three others for the team lead with four interceptions, despite playing just 11 games. He finished among the top-three Bills defenders in tackles in each of his three seasons playing a full 16-game slate.
Need: When Byrd was out with plantar fasciitis (more later), Da'Norris Searcy was the safety charged with being Byrd's replacement, and he filled in admirably. The Bills drafted two safeties, Jonathan Meeks and Duke Williams, in 2013 in an attempt to provide themselves some insurance for Byrd, who was franchise-tagged and had yet to sign his tender at the time. Williams played just 36 defensive snaps in 2013, while Meeks didn't play at all.
Injuries: Byrd has stayed relatively injury-free in his career up until this past season, in which he missed the first five games with a foot injury known as plantar fasciitis, which is hard to recover from without rest.
Value grade: A-
Role: At 6'7" and 265 pounds, Chandler is the big-bodied tight end who creates matchup problems in the red zone and packs punch as a run-blocker. He played 78.9 percent of the offensive snaps in 2013, with 519 of his 931 snaps coming as a pass-catcher and the other 412 snaps coming as either a run- or pass-blocker.
Production: Chandler is not a big-time playmaker but caught 53 of the 79 passes thrown his way this year, dropping five passes. He has a reputation as a sure-handed receiver, but has dropped 10 of 106 passes to hit his hands over the past two years and ranked among the 15-worst tight ends in drop rate both years.
Need: If the Bills don't bring back Chandler, they'll have a pretty significant need at tight end, with no other notable names on their roster. The only other tight end to play a significant role last year was Lee Smith, who was primarily a blocking tight end (292 of his 437 snaps).
Injuries: Chandler tore his ACL near the end of the 2012 season but came back for Week 1 of 2013 and didn't miss a single game. Other than that, there's nothing alarming in Chandler's injury history.
Value grade: B+
Role: Leonhard was signed just days before the 2013 season began, in an effort to ease the defense through the absence of Byrd. He played a vast majority of the snaps from Week 1 through 7 and became more of a rotational player when Byrd returned to the lineup. He was used primarily in pass coverage, 353 of his 634 snaps in that role.
Production: Even at 31 years old, Leonhard found a way to make plays. He finished in a four-way tie for the team lead with four interceptions, the most interceptions in any year in his career, and he also contributed on 41 tackles (30 solo, 11 assists).
Need: As mentioned earlier, the Bills drafted both Meeks and Williams to develop at the safety position, and the transition of young defensive back Aaron Williams from cornerback to safety showed signs of promise. The need at safety is far from dire.
Injuries: Leonhard tore up his knee at the end of the 2011 season and dealt with some nagging injuries prior to that, but he has avoided the injury bug over the past two years.
Value grade: D+
Role: Dan Carpenter is the Bills' starting kicker.
Production: The Bills signed Carpenter as a castoff from the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, and he rewarded their confidence with the best season of his professional career, making 91.7 percent of his field-goal tries (10th best in the NFL), and his only three misses came from 40-plus yards.
Need: The Bills have an alternative if they choose to move on from Carpenter. The Bills drafted kicker Dustin Hopkins in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, but the rookie injured his groin during practice in prep for the team's Week 1 game against the Patriots.
Injuries: Carpenter dealt with groin injuries in 2011 and 2012 and was placed on season-ending injured reserve with the groin injury in 2012. He was injury-free in 2013, as he was in each of his first three seasons in the league.
Value grade: B
Role: Alex Carrington was drafted to be a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme and has played various roles as the Bills have switched schemes over the years. At 6'5" and 301 pounds, he is a better fit as a defensive tackle in their current four-man line. Before Carrington's season ended prematurely, he played 66.5 percent of the team's defensive snaps in the first three games of the season.
Production: Carrington has logged four sacks in his NFL career and didn't log a single sack in his three-game 2013 season. He has played almost an even split of snaps in run defense and pass defense over the years.
Need: With defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams taking up the two starting spots on the inside, there isn't a dire need for more big men up front. Alan Branch is a solid third option as well. The Bills could probably get Carrington on the cheap, considering the lingering concerns about the recovery from his injury.
Injuries: Carrington tore his quadriceps in 2013, ending his season after just three games. He's stayed relatively injury-free other than that, however, and should make a full recovery in time for the 2014 season.
Value grade: C
Role: Arthur Moats has worked his way up from the special-teams squad and earned the dubious distinction of "starting" outside linebacker for the Bills in 2013, by virtue of being the first linebacker on the field for them in 11 games. However, he played just 301 snaps (28.8 percent of the team's defensive snaps), and an overwhelming 190 of those snaps came in run defense, which more accurately paints the picture of Moats' one- to two-down role with the team.
Production: Moats logged 54 tackles (30 solo, 24 assists) and has not logged a sack or a forced fumble since the 2011 season. Further punctuating his lack of ability in pass defense, Moats has not logged a single interception in his four-year career.
Need: Quite simply, the Bills don't have a ton of options. Linebackers Kiko Alonso and Manny Lawson were the primary sub-package linebackers, and the Bills spent a large majority of their time in that front. Moats fills a similar role to Nigel Bradham as the team's third linebacker in the base 4-3, a role which Moats and Bradham shared in 2013.
Injuries: Moats' 2012 season ended prematurely when the linebacker suffered an ankle injury, and he missed the first few weeks of the 2011 season with a calf injury, but he hasn't dealt with any major injuries since.
Value grade: C-
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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