NFL free agency 2014: Buffalo Bills need a starting DE

Doug Pensinger

The Buffalo Bills are changing back to a four-man defensive line, but may not have anyone to plug in at starting defensive end opposite Mario Williams.

The Buffalo Bills' defensive line is talented. With three players coming off of Pro Bowl seasons in Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Mario Williams, a quick look would say it's one of the team's strengths. But a shift in philosophy leaves a glaring hole up front, as well.

2013 Review

Three Pro Bowlers emerged from Buffalo's defensive line, so things went pretty well. Then Mike Pettine became the new head coach in Cleveland, and the Bills hired Jim Schwartz, who has always used a four-man front. Jerry Hughes contributed 10 sacks as a situational pass-rushing linebacker in 2013, but he also leaves much to be desired in run support.

What the Bills could add

Adding a starting defensive end - even if he is out there mainly on run downs - would be of great help to the Bills' lackluster run defense. They need someone who could start right away, so free agency makes more sense than the draft. Don't look for a big-money, Michael Bennett style signing with so much money tied up in the defensive line already.

Who fits the Bill

Robert Ayers: He started in Denver in 2013 and had a career year. Ayers has a first round pedigree, but hadn't lived up to it yet, especially as a pass rusher. His strength has been against the run, something the Bills are looking for, and he could be a plug-and-go player. At No. 12 on Rotoworld's list of available free agent defensive ends (and not in Pro Football Focus' top 75 free agents), he won't get a big payday. It harkens back to the Manny Lawson signing from a year ago.

Corey Wootton: After the dust settles, Wooten will likely still be available; he won't be healthy until July after undergoing labrum surgery. Wooten started 22 games for the Bears over the last two seasons, and at 270 pounds has some positional versatility. He's only 26 years old, and would be a solid rotational player with the aforementioned Hughes subbing in on passing downs.

Willie Young: Schwartz drafted Young in the seventh round while with the Lions, so this connection makes a lot of sense. He started 15 games in Detroit a year ago, making 29 tackles and garnering three sacks. PFF had him as the No. 16 overall 4-3 defensive end in all of football last season, and he was No. 41 on Greg Bedard's list of top free agents. The well-regarded up-and-comer could actually be out of Buffalo's price range.

Best Case Scenario

It really depends on how much you want to spend. Mario Williams' $18.8 million cap hit isn't going away, and Kyle Williams is making over $6 million, too. Hughes is also entering a contract year, and a decision needs to be made on Dareus for the long term, as well. The Bills would be wise to sign a guy for now and draft one for later, too. That's why the 28-year-old Ayers might be the best fit as the cheaper alternative to Young.

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