BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) Today we follow up on yesterday’s article about tough personnel decisions facing the Bills in the offseason. Yesterday we talked offense, today it’s defense.
Again, I am not a GM or a capologist, so these are pure opinions.
Lets start with the biggest question facing next year’s Bills defense: linebacker. Matt Milano has been a stalwart on the Bills defense and is due a massive upgrade from his rookie deal that was paying him an average salary of $665,000 a year. His results on the field have the free agent in line for a top 10 outside linebacker payday. That could have him in the the $12-14 million dollar range.
I find it hard to think the Bills could fit that in their salary cap. In no way do I (or I think the Bills) not think Milano is worth it. But the reality of drafting well and hitting big on a 5th round pick means tough decisions have to be made.
First off, is he in the top two or three elite outside linebackers in the entire league? Probably not. Is he in the top 10, probably. But, is there another diamond in the rough currently on the team, a possible higher draft pick, or lower priced free agent out there than can do a good job filling his shoes? That player may not be as good as Milano but could be serviceable and not hurt the defense.
Coupled in with that decision is Tremaine Edmunds. His rookie deal is up at the end of the 2021 season. Can the Bills afford to have two linebackers and a corner being paid in the top 5 at their position at the same time. That’s a lot of cap space on 3 defensive positions.
Here’s the thing, the Bills could decide that Milano is the new leader of their defense and give him his big deal and then decide to move on from Edmunds after the 2021 season.
Here is what I think will happen. I believe the Bills will move on from Milano, as I said earlier, not because of his ability, but just because of a number crunch with the salary cap. I would then see them looking for another future gem in rounds 3-5 of the draft. With that perhaps they go into the free agent market for a low or mid range outside linebacker. They could roll the dice with oft injured linebacker Sean Lee (if he chooses to not retire) or K.J. Wright.
Believe me if you hate the prospect of losing a player like Milano, I agree. Just think of how Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott will feel, while Beane started just after Milano was drafted and McDermott was here for the draft, no GM/Coach likes to find a diamond in the rough and then lose them.
We move on to the defensive backs. Jordan Poyer is locked in through the 2022 season and continues to earn every dollar he makes with the team. Micah Hyde is signed through the upcoming 2021 season. Some decisions to be made at safety but that’s for next year’s article.
Cornerback is a position I feel definitely needs an upgrade. Tre’Davious White signed his big deal this year and thankfully is under contract through the 2025 season. It’s the second cornerback spot that needs to be upgraded. Whether it’s through the draft or free agency, this is an area I think the Bills should spend some of the money they would save by not signing Milano.
Levi Wallace played ok for the team as the second corner, but his inconsistency is a major concern. He is a restricted free agent so it would be interesting to see what other teams feel he is worth. I wouldn’t rule out Wallace returning in a backup role.
Josh Norman is also a free agent. For having what some would say questionable attitude before coming to the Bills, Norman was an outstanding citizen in the community and really bonded with his teammates. With that said, I don’t think he will be back next season.
I think Bills fans are really curious to see if Dane Jackson could come in next season and take over the number two spot. In his limited time in the lineup he played well.
Now to free agents. Two names that could be possibilities are Troy Hill from the Rams or Jason McCourty from the Patriots. Both could shore up the position and keep the seat warm for Dane Jackson or another young corner. Plus, in McCourty’s case it would be fun to take a guy from Bill Belichick for a change.
Now to the defensive line. The interior of the Bills D-Line took a lot of criticism for how they played the run this year. But with a lot of new faces in the lineup, it took some time for this unit to gel.
Also, remember that Harrison Phillips is still not back to 100 percent from his knee surgeries from the 2019 season, he seemed to be playing much better through the playoffs and said he was beginning to feel better.
Another big plus for the Bills interior D in 2021 will be the return of Star Lotulelei. Star was terrific against the run and is a great space eater freeing up linebackers to make more plays. He opted out the 2020 season because of Covid concerns.
Other than the addition of Lotulelei, there will most likely be just one lineman not returning to the Bills and that is defensive end Trent Murphy. Murphy never seemed to produce what the Bills were looking for from him when they signed him as a free agent.
Age is a concern amongst the defensive ends. The Bills starting defensive ends Jerry Hughes will be 33 years old at the start of next season and Mario Addison turns 34 in early September.
Rookie A.J. Epenesa had a decent rookie campaign and seemed to improve as the year went on. He will need to take a much larger role in 2021. Darryl Johnson played well in 2020 and was a big contributor on special teams.
But I look for the team to add more here, be it through the draft or free agency. In either case whomever they add should be on the younger side. You’re looking to the future not to add another aging end. The problem with that theory in free agency is that the younger the player, the higher the price tag. It may be a guy you take a bit of a gamble on like the Rams Morgan Fox.
Well that covers the offense and defense, now just a bit on the special teams.
Punter Corey Bojorquez is a restricted free agent and had a good year this past season. He had the kind of season that Bills brass thought he was capable of when they signed him off waivers fromthe Patriots in 2018. I would look for him to be back in 2021.
Free agent return specialist Andre Roberts will make for an interesting decision for Brandon Beane and crew. Yes he is one of the top returners in the game. It may come down to cap space if he returns. While he remains one of the top returners in the NFL, he isn’t getting any younger and will be 34 when the season starts. It’s just a matter if it works out financially to bring him back. If there were no salary cap I’m sure the Bills would have his signature on a new contract already. I don’t have a feeling how this one will go, but it is definitely tied to all the other moves that have to be made this offseason.
Here’s hoping all the Bills moves this offseason turn out for the best. Thank you for reading.