Setting Odds for Buffalo Bills Signing Top 6 Free-Agent Targets
While it may not be an opinion that some fans want to hear, the Buffalo Bills look poised to be bargain shoppers during the free-agency period in March. A year ago, the Bills made under-the-radar signings of Alan Branch and Manny Lawson, which helped shape one of the most improved defenses in the league.
This year, the Bills will once again be looking for cap-friendly deals while trying to find a middle ground with their own impending free agents.
Not addressing the offensive line with more enthusiasm last offseason was a big mistake for the Bills' popgun offense. Doug Legursky and Colin Brown provided very little value on small contracts last season.
If the Bills want to be taken seriously in Doug Marrone's sophomore season as a head coach, the front office will need to spend plenty of time finding several options on the offensive line—both in free agency and the draft.
The front office has done well in free agency the past two offseasons to add talent across the roster in two different ways. Aside from a potential record contract with Jairus Byrd, the Bills would be better suited waiting until the dust clears from the early signings, despite having more than $20 million to spend, according to Over The Cap.
6. QB Shaun Hill
A backup quarterback is not high on the wish list of any diehard Bills fan, but signing a guy like Shaun Hill might make sense for a few reasons.
First of all, the Bills have the least quarterback experience on the roster out of any NFL team other than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The trio at the most important position on the roster had a whopping one game of starting experience before the 2013 season started.
Although unplanned due to the potentially career-ending concussion to Kevin Kolb, the lack of experience behind rookie EJ Manuel was a glaring issue in the six games he missed. If he is going to continue to have issues with injuries, the Bills will need a better option behind him than Thad Lewis.
Hill makes little sense for the long term, but he has experience with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Detroit. Even though Schwartz will have nothing to do with the offense, the familiarity with the coaches on staff make Hill a slightly more feasible signing than other guys on the open market.
5. DE Arthur Jones
Arthur Jones is another player who would be more luxury than logical, but he fits into the familiarity factor. While he was not recruited by Doug Marrone to Syracuse, Jones played for the Bills head coach during his senior season before being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2010. Jones' brother Chandler played three seasons under Marrone.
Familiarity with a coach is not a guarantee in regard to interest in a team, but new defensive coordinator Schwartz wouldn't balk at ending another multi-functional player on the line.
Jones will never be an outstanding pass-rusher, but his run-stuffing abilities both outside and inside the line make him a valuable commodity on the open market. The Bills have plenty of specialists on their defensive line already, but adding another rotational player like Jones would give them a defensive line that could be rivaled only by Seattle or San Francisco.
4. MLB Brandon Spikes
Brandon Spikes heading to the Bills this offseason would have made more sense if Mike Pettine had stayed on at defensive coordinator, given his multi-look schemes. With Schwartz employing a more traditional 4-3 approach and Spikes having played mostly 3-4 in New England, it may initially look like a bad fit.
However, Spikes has the chance to put up solid numbers at the "Mike" in Buffalo's new defense. In the middle of a Schwartz defense, he would rarely be tasked with coverage. He would be free to roam from tackle to tackle, looking to make a play on the running back.
New England coaching castoff Pepper Johnson joining the Bills only a few weeks ago can only increase the chances of Buffalo being interested in Spikes.
3. OG Jon Asamoah
Pretty much anything the Bills do to address the left guard position this offseason would be an upgrade over what they had last season. Doug Legursky and Colin Brown were easily one of the worst combinations in the league at the left guard spot, with the former being slightly better in the second half of the season.
A more cost-effective approach at guard would be finding a prospect in the second or third round, but in case the Bills want a steadfast veteran next to Cordy Glenn, a guy like Jon Asamoah could do the trick. The Kansas City Chiefs have been a solid running team since the arrival of Jamaal Charles, but a lot of credit should go to their fantastic offensive line.
Asamoah excels more as a pass-blocker, but his positive grade in run blocking at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) means he's not a liability.
2. TE Scott Chandler
Of all the players who are set to become unrestricted free agents for the Bills this offseason, Scott Chandler is the most likely to be re-signed. He led the Bills in receptions this past season, which isn't saying much about their beleaguered offense. Still, he finished near the top 10 in his position in both receptions and yards, despite playing for one of the worst offenses in the league from a scoring standpoint.
The drops and the fumble in Toronto are the easiest plays to remember, but Buffalo doesn't have a surefire option other than him. Tout athletic specimens Chris Gragg and Tony Moeaki all you want, but neither has the track record Chandler does at the professional level.
He will never be an elite player at a position that is becoming one of the most important for creating mismatches for opposing defenses. However, the former Iowa Hawkeye has the size and hands to be a solid cog in the wheel of a young offense.
No free agents at tight end with a better pedigree than Chandler will choose to sign with Buffalo, and even drafting one high won't solve the team's issues in two-tight end sets.
Chandler's asking price won't be high enough for the Bills to pass on his value as a positive asset for their offense.
1. FS Jairus Byrd
There is no doubt the Bills will make a pitch to Jairus Byrd's camp that could make him one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. The problem is whether their pitch will be enough to make him the highest-paid safety in the history of the game.
Both sides need to enter negotiations without harboring any ill feelings after what transpired last offseason. The Bills made the mistake of waiting until his rookie contract was over to begin making serious offers when Byrd's status around the league was astronomically high. Not wanting to lose him for nothing, the team did the only thing it could within the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement—it hit him with the franchise tag.
Byrd was clearly not happy with the one-year tender and held out for all of training camp, but he returned five games into the regular season to play some of the best football of his career.
For as much negativity as there is around the situation, the Bills should still remain one of the favorites to be the team on Byrd's second professional contract. He could still bolt for sunny California, where he grew up, not unlike what former first-rounder Donte Whitner did a few years ago.
The Bills will make the effort to keep Byrd in Orchard Park, but will the safety want to play for the fifth defensive coordinator in nearly as many seasons?