Bills' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2021

Bills' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills got a head start on other NFL teams when they re-signed their top two free agents before the window opens Wednesday.

    The reigning AFC East champion re-signed linebacker Matt Milano and offensive tackle Daryl Williams to deals before they could be taken away by other franchises.

    Sean McDermott's team still has some work to do, but it has a major weight lifted off its shoulders now that it does not have to fill voids at linebacker and offensive tackle.

    Buffalo still needs to make some improvements to its aging pass rush and land one or two more weapons for Josh Allen to work with, but it appears to be in good shape to make a return to the AFC Championship Game with the roster it currently has.

Buffalo's Top Priorities Have Already Been Taken Care Of

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    The Bills did not allow Milano or Williams to hit the open market.

    Buffalo signed Milano to a four-year, $44 million deal Thursday and inked Williams to a three-year contract extension Friday.

    Milano only played 10 regular-season games in 2020, but when he was on the field, he made a massive impact in the middle of the front seven.

    The 26-year-old linebacker still recorded career highs in sacks and quarterback hits, and he added 45 tackles. In 2019, he totaled a career-best 101 tackles.

    Milano's improved pass-rushing abilities and the way he limits yardage to opponents in the open field makes him one of the key pieces to the Buffalo defense.

    Williams was vital to the protection of Allen during the AFC Championship Game run. He bet on himself through a one-year deal with the Bills and played so well that he earned a multiyear contract.

    With Williams on the right side of the line, Allen was sacked only 26 times, which was the lowest number of takedowns he suffered in his three-year career.

    With the two major free agents already locked into new deals, the Bills can enter the free-agent period with less stress than they thought they would have a week ago.

Bills Need to Get Younger on Defensive Line

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Buffalo's defensive line setup made it an intriguing candidate in the J.J. Watt sweepstakes.

    Instead of landing the 31-year-old on an expensive deal, the Bills have a chance to get even younger to support Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes.

    Addison, 33, and Hughes, 32, earned two of the three highest sack totals in 2020. Addison tied A.J. Klein for the team lead with five sacks.

    That total simply is not good enough for a team with championship aspirations, so the Bills may have to spend on younger, inexpensive pass-rushers to fill out their roster.

    Buffalo has to hope that A.J. Epenesa develops more in his second season. It could also look at someone like Romeo Okwara, who is 25 and could be available on a cheaper deal than some of the other top defensive end options.

    At the moment, Buffalo has $6.2 million of salary-cap space to work with, but that could be adjusted if deals are restructured or more releases happen.

    If the Bills land someone of Okwara's stature, they will not go over the cap by a ton of money and land more depth and youth on the defensive interior.

More Depth Required in Passing Game

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Buffalo's biggest move of last offseason was the acquisition of Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings.

    The Bills head into this offseason with Diggs, Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley atop the wide receiver depth chart. They released John Brown to save money under the cap.

    For now, Dawson Knox is the first-string tight end, but his role could change in 2021 if the Bills go after one of the available players at his position.

    Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Gerald Everett are among the potential upgrades that the Bills could add to help Allen.

    In 2020, none of the three rostered tight ends reached 25 receptions. Knox and Tyler Kroft tied for the highest touchdown total of three from the position.

    To keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and others, the Bills need to have a more complete offense with a tight end who could record around 50 receptions and find the end zone on a regular basis.

    If the Bills go into the 2021 campaign with Diggs, Davis and Beasley at wide receiver, a one-two punch of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss at running back and a more effective tight end, their offense could be even more potent than it was in 2020.


    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from Pro Football ReferenceContract information obtained from Over the Cap.