The Buffalo Bills and rookie DE Aaron Maybin have agreed to terms on a five-year contract, with Maybin expected to matriculate to Orchard Park and sign the deal as early as Friday. The signing is not official as of publish time, but for now, it appears that Maybin's four-week holdout has come to an end. Maybin will not travel to Green Bay this weekend for the Bills' third pre-season game; instead, he'll take the weekend to get situated (and plan meal schedules and bag-carrying techniques for his new teammates), then begin practicing on Monday.
With Maybin finally on board, Buffalo's depth at defensive end is now quite crowded. The team has six players that can contribute, or have contributed to the team within the past couple of years. All are solid NFL talents. But it's incredibly unlikely (we'll stop short of saying "impossible") that all six will make the roster.
Veterans Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay are locks. Ryan Denney, who is in the final year of his current deal, also looks to have a stranglehold on a job, though we'd stop short of calling him a lock as well. Clearly, Maybin isn't going anywhere any time soon. If the Bills keep a fifth defensive end - and despite the strong pre-season play from ends Chris Ellis and Copeland Bryan, that is still not a certainty - Ellis and Bryan would duke it out for the final spot.
Our question to you is simple: which end gets cut? Which end would you cut? This isn't a poll, because the poll would be rather predictable. Kurupt, you can sit this one out, because we know how'd you answer. My (not earth-shattering in the least) thoughts on the subject are after the jump.
Denney is a lock, too
A semi-popular opinion making the rounds through the fan base right now is the idea that, if the Bills are keeping five ends, Denney should go. He's in the final year of his contract, his talents are redundant in the sense that he does many of the same things that Kelsay excels at (fingers away from the keyboard, K), and that cutting him loose would open a door for all three of the Bills' younger ends (Maybin, Ellis and Bryan).
This, in my estimation, is a terrible idea. Denney may not be the most exciting player on the roster, but he's dependable. We're also talking about the team's leader in sacks from a year ago. With the exception of 2007, when he dealt with a foot injury for a large portion of the season, Denney has consistently chipped in 3-5 sacks per season as a reserve role. That's not easy to come by, particularly in a package that includes above-average run defense. Denney isn't going anywhere, folks - and that's a good thing for this team.
Ellis vs. Bryan
The idea that Chris Ellis and Copeland Bryan are now in some epic struggle for the fifth DE slot, to me, is faulty. Keeping five defensive ends is not something the Bills would do lightly; they have numbers issues at several other positions, and would only consider keeping a fifth end if that player meets three criteria: he has performed in practices and pre-season games; he has youth, talent and potential; and the coaches believe he can help them on any given game day, including on special teams.
Let's put it this way: Copeland Bryan is a player that the Bills coaching staff loves, but he's not going to play himself onto a roster unless there are extenuating circumstances. That's exactly how he made the roster in 2008 - he had a strong pre-season, and Ellis was not anywhere near ready to contribute. Bryan made the team because, with Ellis a virtual nonentity, the team needed a fourth end. They've already got four ends, and Bryan has missed a significant chunk of practices with a hamstring injury.
Ellis, on the other hand, has two things going for him: he meets all three of the criteria outlined above, and he's out-played several other bubble players on the Bills' roster, including Bryan. Therefore, I believe it very likely that Ellis has earned a spot on the roster. He's not filling the "fifth DE" role, because that role does not exist. He's on the team because he deserves it. So, in perhaps the least climactic conclusion of my blogging lifetime, I'm calling Bryan the odd man out.