Bills' free agent O-linemen may prove too costly
Short of knocking his former team from playoff contention in the final week of the regular season, Rex Ryan failed to achieve anything tangible with the Bills in his first year at the helm. However, the future looks promising after Tyrod Taylor flashed more talent than any of his QBs in New York. Taylor, along with running back Karlos Williams and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, provide Buffalo with enough dynamism on offense to challenge in the AFC East.
The key for the Bills this offseason is ensuring stability on their offensive line. While LT Cordy Glenn has been franchise tagged, LG Richie Incognito is set to hit free agency. They currently have the lowest projected cap room of all 32 teams. In order to retain their offensive lineman long-term, sacrifices will have to be made on the defensive side of the ball. Rex Ryan is capable of scheming pressure, and the Bills already have an impressive set of corners, suggesting both players are expendable.
(Editor’s note: This article was updated on March 1, 2016, following reports that the Bills planned to place the franchise tag on Cordy Glenn.)
LT Cordy Glenn
As expected, the Bills released Mario Williams and placed the franchise tag on left tackle Cordy Glenn. It was a no-brainer for the organization, considering the relative performance of the two players in 2015.
LG Richie Incognito
Both the Bills and Incognito have expressed an interest in continuing their relationship, which is no surprise considering he ended the year as our second-ranked guard. The controversial figure ranked third in the run-blocking department, recording a 90.3 grade, behind the perennially dominant Marshal Yanda and Evan Mathis. While Incognito is at his best as an aggressor, he can hold his own in pass protection, as well. He allowed just 19 combined pressures (two sacks, five hits, and 12 pressures) on the way to an 84.6 pass protection grade. Considering John Miller’s struggles at right guard (35.1 grade), the Bills need to retain Incognito to ensure at least one side of their line is a strength going into next season.
WR Percy Harvin
It’s always a shame when a talented player’s career is derailed by injuries. After ending the season on IR after suffering through injuries in each of the past four years, it appears that Harvin’s career is heading in that direction. When he has been on the field, the former first-rounder has been one of the most explosive wideouts in the game. Although he ended the season with a negative receiving grade, Harvin still posted respectable numbers of 19 catches for 218 yards (one drop), one TD, and four broken tackles in his five games. Considering the lack of production by Buffalo’s wideouts behind Sammy Watkins, the Bills might look into bringing Harvin back if he accepts the veteran minimum. Backups Chris Hogan and Robert Woods ranked 95th and 107th, respectively, at the position in 2015. Ideally, Harvin would return on the veteran minimum, but at what point does the damage to his body outweigh the relatively minimal financial reward? The Bills need to find a legitimate threat opposite Sammy Watkins who is more likely to be on the field than on the treatment table.
LB Nigel Bradham
The Bills’ linebacker situation was a total mess in Rex Ryan’s first year in charge. Bradham was our lowest ranked 4-3 OLB in the entire league. He recorded a measly 29.6 grade against the run, missing one in every six tackles (9-of-55) while making only 14 stops in 237 run-defending snaps. Bradham is clearly ill-suited to Ryan’s scheme, having recorded much better grades in his three years previous. The NFL is only concerned with recent performance however, and Bradham’s were not good. As well as a struggling against the run, he allowed 28 receptions for 331 yards, one score, and one pass deflection. The numbers aren’t bad, but they’re also not good enough to ignore his deficiencies defending the ground game.
DE Wallace Gilberry (Bengals)
Realistically, the Bills will be unable to sign any of the top-tier free agents, or even the mid-tier free agents, considering their cap situation. Cincinnati’s Wallace Gilberry would likely fit in the budget, though. In this scenario, he’d provide a stopgap after Mario Williams was released. Gilberry only ranked 33rd amongst defensive ends, but still recorded a positive grade as a pass rusher. He amassed just two sacks, but added a further 14 hits and 32 hurries. A member of the Bengals’ rotation, Gilberry has the versatility to rush from either edge or inside, and has some talent when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
MLB Rolando McClain (Cowboys)
As mentioned previously, the Bills are in desperate need of some help at linebacker. A resurgent McClain could be perfect in Rex Ryan’s multi-fronted defense. After struggling in his first five games with the Cowboys in 2015, McClain recorded six positive grades from seven to close out the year. He registered a 71.1 overall grade, flashing in coverage in particular. Overall, he allowed just 18 catches on 26 targets for 145 yards, one pick, and one pass defense. QBs had a rating of just 67.0 when targeting McClain. While his production against the run failed to match previous seasons, he still missed just six tackles and made 31 stops in 318 snaps. McClain’s physicality might make him the ideal fit for Rex Ryan.